The United Arab Emirates and Israel have agreed to complete normalization of their relations, an historic deal conducted through US mediation.
In their joint statement, both countries confirm that full diplomatic relations will be established. In return, Israel would give up certain claims to Palestinian-inhabited areas in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke of an “historic day.”
Netanyahu’s Vision Remains Unchanged
At the same time, however, Netanyahu dampened hopes that his annexation plans in the occupied West Bank would end altogether.
“I said that I would extend sovereignty to Judea and Samaria. Nothing has changed in my plan to do that, in full coordination with the US,” Netanyahu told journalists in Jerusalem.
Trump had asked Israel to postpone the plans – “to advance peace with the United Arab Emirates, and I hope with other countries too.” An annexation without US support would, in turn, seriously damage the settlement project.
Nonetheless, Netanyahu also spoke of a “new era in relations between Israel and the Arab world”. After 49 years, full relations will be established with the United Arab Emirates, and embassies will be set up. Economic relations ought to be also expanded.
Both states now seek to negotiate detailed agreements in all of these areas in the next few weeks. The United Arab Emirates is the first Gulf state to conclude such an agreement with Israel. The overwhelming majority of Arab states are – at least officially – hostile to Israel on the diplomatic stage.
However, Israel already has diplomatic relations with its neighbors Jordan and Egypt. Recently a cautious rapprochement between Israel and individual countries in the region has also been discernible. Netanyahu visited Oman in 2018, for example.
The Gulf States’ interest in being close to Israel has become increasingly apparent in the past few years, with the United Arab Emirates as the driving force.
Even if the lively economic and secret service exchange between Israel and the Gulf States is considered the worst-kept secret in the Middle East, at least outwardly, the Gulf states have preserved their facade. Until Thursday. Relations between Israel and the Emirates had gradually improved over the past few years. Despite not having diplomatic relations officially, the Emirates have long since secretly established contacts with Israel.
Above all, the Gulf monarchies, including Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, now see Iran as the greatest threat to the region. It can be considered Arab realpolitik: act according to the circumstances and not by ideology. Israel is therefore seen in Abu Dhabi and Riyadh as a possible partner to reduce Iran’s influence in the Middle East and thus of strategic importance. For Israel, as its immediate neighbor to Iran, the UAE is an essential bridgehead in the event of a military conflict.
The reaction from Tehran came promptly. The agreement was “dangerous and illegitimate,” said the Tehran Foreign Ministry. It was a “shameful measure” with which the Palestinians were stabbed in the back. In the region, however, the action of the Arab Emirates only strengthened the front against Israel. Moreover, Iran claimed that the agreement was a “strategic mistake” by the UAE and would not create peace in the Middle East.
Palestinian Cause Overshadowed by Geopolitical Calculus
For the Palestinians, too, the news is a diplomatic disaster. Little is likely to change for them. However, the deal reveals the loss of importance of the Palestinian cause in the Arab world, mercilessly before the eyes of the world. As expected, the Palestinian leadership criticized the move. Israel was rewarded for not openly declaring what it had been doing illegally since the occupation began,” wrote the Palestinian politician Hanan Ashrawi on Twitter.
The Islamist terrorist organization Hamas ruling in the Gaza Strip also attacked the agreement saying it was a “fraudulent stab in the back of the Palestinian people.”
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas denounced the establishment of diplomatic relations between Israel and the UAE as “aggression”. After an emergency meeting of the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah, the Emirates had committed a “betrayal of Jerusalem and the Palestinian cause” through their agreement with Israel.
The Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki announced that the Palestinian Ambassador to the Emirates had been recalled.
Meanwhile, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi welcomed the agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates. He followed the corresponding communication from Israel, the “brotherly” Emirates, and the USA with “great interest and appreciation”. He appreciated the efforts of those involved who wanted to bring peace, prosperity, and stability to the region.
Much-Needed Win for Trump and Netanyahu
Meanwhile, President Trump can claim to have landed a real coup. The fact that an Arab state extends its hand to the Jews can be seen as significant progress. Trump benefited from the fact that both the Emirates and Israel are close allies of the United States. Moreover, when the superpower pushes, the smaller partners cannot easily evade it. In addition, it was part of the American president’s agenda on the Middle East conflict from the outset to promise more economic stability for the region. The economic impact and radiance of Israel and the Emirates can certainly do something in this direction. Furthermore, Trump can present himself as a successful “deal maker” and present a success on the international stage – both desperately needed and rather seldom as of late.
For Netanyahu too, the deal is a much-needed win. The government is under increasing criticism, and he is cited as a culprit for the missed COVID management. There are also charges and a shaky government that could collapse at any time.