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Explained: Israel and UAE normalise relations; here’s what it means for the Middle East

The agreement comes after Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed to suspend plans to annex parts of the West Bank, one that had been bitterly criticised by these Gulf Arab states, Europe and a few other countries around the world.

Written by Neha Banka , Edited by Explained Desk | Kolkata |
Updated: August 14, 2020 8:58:18 pm
Palestinians burn cutouts depicting US President Donald Trump, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a protest in Nablus in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Reuters/Raneen Sawafta

In a move that significantly impacts geopolitics in the Middle East, Israel and the United Arab Emirates Thursday announced that they will normalise diplomatic relations. In a joint statement released by the US, Israel and the UAE, the leaders of the three countries agreed to “the full normalization of relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates”, calling the agreement a “historic diplomatic breakthrough” that would “advance peace in the Middle East region”. The agreement that will be called the ‘Abraham Accord’ was brokered by US President Donald Trump.

Why is this important?

This move is significant because with the exception of Jordan and Egypt, Israel does not have diplomatic relations with Gulf Arab states owing to its long-standing conflict with Palestinians. Israel had signed peace agreements with Egypt in 1979 and with Jordan in 1994. However, despite the absence of official diplomatic relations, Israel has been engaging with its neighbours with regard to issues like trade.

The agreement comes after Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed to suspend plans to annex parts of the West Bank, one that had been bitterly criticised by these Gulf Arab states, Europe and a few other countries around the world.

What are the politics behind this agreement?

The situation in the Middle East is complex and some observers believe that domestic politics in Israel and the US may also have a little to do with this agreement. Several nations in the Middle East also have contentious relations with Iran and this improvement in relations between Israel and the UAE may be an attempt by the US and Israel to use the leverage to urge other Gulf Arab states to alienate Iran.

Netanyahu, who has been facing mass protests for weeks against his mishandling of the coronavirus outbreak, a drop in popularity in his country, and is on trial for corruption, may be banking on this agreement to revive his image. He does, however, risk alienating a significant portion of his voter-base who had supported his plans to annex the West Bank.

The situation isn’t very different for Trump. With the US presidential elections around the corner, Trump may consider this agreement to be a foriegn policy success.

The UAE’s large reserves of oil have made it the second largest economy in the Middle East, and that has allowed it to grow its military and economy might enough to play an influential role in the region. Over the past two decades, the UAE has also focused on curbing Iran and Islamic militancy.

What do the Palestinians think about this?

Senior Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi criticised the agreement, and particularly the UAE, saying that the country had “come out in the open on its secret dealings with Israel”. Directing criticism at UAE’s Prince Mohammed, Ashrawi said: “May you never be sold out by your ‘friends’.”


Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem said: “This agreement does absolutely not serve the Palestinian cause, it rather serves the Zionist narrative. This agreement encourages the occupation (Israel) to continue its denial of the rights of our Palestinian people, and even to continue its crimes against our people,”

Palestinian groups, particularly members of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), took to social media platforms to criticise the agreement, and particularly express their anger at the UAE, that they believe has harmed the Palestinian cause.

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What are the clauses of this agreement?


In the next few weeks, Israel and the UAE will sit to finalise bilateral ties and cover areas of investment, tourism, the establishment of direct flights, security, telecommunications, technology, energy, healthcare, cultural exchange, environmental issues, and the establishment of embassies, in addition to other areas of cooperation. The joint statement mentioned that Israel and the UAE would also be “forging closer people-to-people relations”.

The statement also said that Israel will “focus its efforts now on expanding ties with other countries in the Arab and Muslim world”, and that the US and UAE would be assisting it in achieving that goal.

How has the world reacted?

Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, Special Aide on International Affairs of the Islamic Parliament tweeted shortly after the release of the agreement: “UAE’s new approach for normalizing ties w/fake, criminal #Israel doesn’t maintain peace & security, but serves ongoing Zionists’ crimes. Abu Dhabi behavior has no justification, turning back on the Palestine cause. W/ that strategic mistake, #UAE will be engulfed in Zionism fire.” Iran’s foriegn ministry called the agreement “shameful”.

In a televised address, Trump said, “The deal that was reached today will enable Muslims to have far greater ability to visit many historic sites in Israel and to peacefully pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque.” Brian Hook, the US Special Representative for Iran and Senior Policy Advisor to Mike Pompeo, called the agreement a “nightmare” for Iran.

Both Egypt and Jordan appear to have supported this agreement, with Egypt’s President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi welcoming it, while Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said it could help restart peace negotiations.

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The UK’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “It was my profound hope that annexation did not go ahead in the West Bank and today’s agreement to suspend those plans is a welcome step on the road to a more peaceful Middle East.”

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First published on: 14-08-2020 at 05:15:08 pm
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