US President Donald Trump announced a “historic peace agreement” between Israel and the United Arab Emirates on August 13, 2020. The White House said President Trump, PM Netanyahu and Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and deputy supreme commander of UAE spoke and agreed to the “full normalization of relations between Israel and UAE.”
The UAE is the third Arab country, after Egypt and Jordan, to establish ties that will include direct flights and a series of bilateral agreements on investment, tourism, health care, culture and other areas.
The normalization of diplomatic ties between Israel and the United Arab Emirates has variously been described by many international experts and political thinkers as a “breakthrough” and an important staging moment towards a comprehensive West Asia peace. Israelis are welcoming this breakthrough with an open heart while Emiratis are having a mixed reaction; whereas Palestinians are furious over this deal and an enraged reaction is coming from Muslim countries; especially Turkey who threatened on cutting its diplomatic ties with the United Arab Emirates.
In Pakistan masses are furious, on the streets, as a major religious political party holds a rally in Karachi against the deal. The recent interview of Pakistan’s premiere on a local media channel clears the air of Pakistan’s stance towards Israel’s issue. But, what nuisance may it cause to Islamabad, if pressurized to incline its foreign policy (regarding the particular issue) on terms of the US or the KSA; on which Pakistan banks heavily?
As part of the agreement, Israel agreed to suspend its annexation of part of the West Bank. The Trump plan had said Israel could annex up to 30 percent of the West Bank, a move Palestinians said would mean the end of any chance for an independent Palestinian state. Gershon Baskin said “The deal is positive because it removes annexation from the agenda for the present time. It also opens new possibilities for influencing Israelis and Palestinians on the possible benefits of direct contacts”. He further added, “Perhaps direct contact between Israelis and other Arab countries can change Israeli attitudes towards the Palestinians”.
The Egyptian and Jordanian streets have remained unfriendly to Israelis and the peace between Israel and Egypt and Jordan has been peace between regimes and not between peoples. Time will tell whether people of the United Arab Emirates welcome the Israelis with open hearts and arms or it will be the same case; as of Egypt and Jordan.
Is the normalization of relations between UAE and Israel is just a deal or the deal broker the US sniffed the bigger perspective to cater to Iran’s growing power and influence in the Middle East? Is this a marriage of convenience?
Israel has done massively impressive work at the diplomatic front by gradually broadening its informal diplomatic contacts with the Gulf States in recent years to the point where a little attempt has been made to disguise these contacts.
These interactions included a visit by Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Oman and making Prime Minister Narendra Modi the first Indian Prime Minister put his feet on Tel Aviv. Israel due to blessings of the US did well and Oman and Bahrain might follow the footsteps of UAE, with Sudan expressing a desire to normalize relations with Israel. Pakistan’s position in this regard to not accept Israel is clear and vivid. This divide in the Muslim world can create a fault line between Arab and Non-Arab states.
The Sunni states, led by Saudi Arabia and backed by the United States in collaboration with Israel, are building a buffer against Iran. It may be simplistic to say this, but a die has been cast. If Israel and the UAE are betrothed in a marriage of convenience, the Trump White House is the matchmaker. Behind the scenes, Saudi Arabia, the dominant Sunni state in the Gulf, will have encouraged the Emiratis to take the first step. It will be observed in the coming weeks that how Pakistan will absorb the pressure.
West Asia peace plan to bring about the “deal of the century”, as the president calls it that would end decades of conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Trump officials believe the Gulf States could be more fully engaged in exerting pressure on Palestinians to make concessions that might enable progress towards such a deal.
The UAE and its fellow Gulf states have been among principal donors to the Palestinian movement over many years. Their funding, for example, helped establish and sustain the Palestine Liberation Organization. However, times change. Oil-producing Gulf states have much less money to splash around given the demands of their own expanding populations. The collapse in oil prices has not helped. In any case, Arab states more generally have found the Palestinian issue increasingly a distraction from their immediate concern of keeping Iran at bay.
All this leaves the much-weakened Palestinian movement in a bind. The UAE’s decisions will be viewed by its leaders as one more betrayal of their cause in a long list going back to the Balfour declaration of 1917. Pakistan, however still stands firm on its stance of not declaring Israel a state, until the decision has been made according to the aspiration of Palestinians.