Accordo Israele Emirati (La Presse)

Understanding the UAE-Israel Deal and Pan-Islamic Politics

This has been a busy year politically for the Middle East, with quite a few “groundbreaking” agreements and plans unveiled if you are to believe the Trump administration. From the supposed “Deal of the Century” in January that virtually endorsed the Netanyahu government’s annexation ambitions on Palestinian territories to the recently signed pact that establishes diplomatic ties between Abu Dhabi and Jerusalem, history is apparently being made rather frequently.

Or maybe the standards have been set far too low.

The UAE-Israel Abraham Accord

The deal between the Jewish state and the oil-rich Gulf monarchy is the latest instance of an increasing acceptance of Israel among Arab countries. The Abraham Accord, as it is being called, will establish business, tourism and direct flights between the two nations. 

Trying to save face among Muslims and Arabs, the UAE branded this move as some sort of bargain it struck to stop the Israeli expansion plans. However, soon after Anwar Gargash, the UAE minister of state for foreign affairs, called it “a stoppage of the annexation, not a suspension.”

Meanwhile, Netanyahu said he had only “delayed” enlarging Israel’s border, which is still “on the table”. However anyone frames it, there’s no secret the deal at the heart is about containing Tehran, a goal for which Abu Dhabi is willing to go anywhere, including cutting a deal with Israel and betraying the Palestinian cause. 

The Accord Had Been in the Works for a Long Time

Obviously no one is going to buy that narrative since the move had been a long time coming. The two sides had stepped up engagement over the last decade, including meetings between ambassadors and foreign ministers usually in the United States, secret cooperation to counter Iran and even an invitation to Israel to participate in the Dubai 2020 World Expo (now delayed to 2021).

The pressing question is what’s to come for the Palestinian people who have been denied most rights for far too long. With powerful Muslim states getting cozy with Israel turn by turn, without really making any concrete efforts for their brethren, it is indeed a blow but not a new one. After all, they are used to it. Egypt, after years of wars, gave up in 1978 while Jordan made peace in 1994. 

More Gulf Nations Set to Sign Deal with Israel?

Two other Gulf states might follow suit soon. In fact, just on Aug 17, Israeli foreign minister had a call with his Omani counterpart (who was however replaced just a day after in a cabinet reshuffle) regarding strengthening of bilateral ties. 

Saudi Arabia also broke the silence a day ago as the kingdom’s foreign minister ruled out a deal with Israel unless a Palestinian accord has been reached. Despite the kingdom’s own stance on the Jewish state softening over the years, the statement has some symbolic value, given the country hosts Islam’s two holiest sites. 

Meanwhile Turkey, which is increasingly positioning itself to become the leading, or even the sole, voice of the global Muslim community and its issues under Erdogan, threatened to severe ties with UAE. But more than showing solidarity with Palestine and a hardline stance, it represented sheer hypocrisy as Ankara has had strong diplomatic ties with Israel for much of its history. 

Iran, for its part, also registered a strong reaction as far as words are concerned. The question is whether it will have any real impact on the country’s foreign policy, the possibility of which is quite remote. Tehran doesn’t really have the strongest relationships in the region and thanks to the burden of sanctions, it’s not in the best position to cut ties with UAE, which is not only its second largest trading partner but also serves as a transition port to sell its goods abroad. 

The Palestinian Perspective

To Palestinians though, these deals represent little meaning or change in their plight. This was clear from Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’s statement, who was reported as saying: “We aren’t worried about the nonsense that happens here and there and especially in recent days, when a trilateral agreement between the Emirates, Israel and America was announced.”  

One can maybe hope that things would at least slow down if the Trump administration — which gave a free pass to Israel to do whatever it wants — is gone. But expecting a drastic change would be living in a fool’s paradise. Just a simple look at Biden’s manifesto gives a telling picture as it mentions “settlement” only once while “occupation” is nowhere to be found. On the other hand, the text emphasizes the rejection of the Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement, or sustaining “our unbreakable commitment to Israel’s security” among other things. However, Palestinians have long known that it doesn’t matter to their cause which party has its representative in the White House. 

For a long time now the international community tried to sell the two-state solution, even as it turned a blind eye to illegal Israeli settlements. Perhaps this latest development would deal a final blow to any optimist who thought both things can be simultaneously achieved and the world can finally approach the issue as it is: the relationship between the occupier and the occupied.