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Israel, UAE normalise relations in historic, Trump-brokered deal

US President Donald Trump applauds Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as they appear together at a joint news conference to discuss a new Middle East peace plan proposal  in Washington, DC, January 28, 2020.
US President Donald Trump applauds Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as they appear together at a joint news conference to discuss a new Middle East peace plan proposal in Washington, DC, January 28, 2020. REUTERS - Brendan McDermid
12 min

Israel and the United Arab Emirates reached a historic peace deal on Thursday that will lead to a full normalisation of diplomatic relations between the two Middle Eastern nations in an agreement that US President Donald Trump helped broker. 

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The announcement makes the UAE the first Gulf Arab state to do so and only the third Arab nation to have active diplomatic ties to Israel

Trump tweeted a statement from the countries, acknowledging the deal. He then told reporters in the Oval Office that it was “a truly historic moment".

“Now that the ice has been broken I expect more Arab and Muslim countries will follow the United Arab Emirates,” he said.

Trump said the leaders of Israel and the United Arab Emirates would sign their historic peace accord in the White House in around three weeks.

The deal grants a rare diplomatic win to Trump ahead of the November election as his efforts to see an end to the war in Afghanistan have yet to come to fruition while efforts to bring peace between Israel and the Palestinians have made no headway.

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Netanyahu hails ‘new era’

For Israel, the announcement comes after years of boasting by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that his government enjoys closer ties to Arab nations than publicly acknowledged. Netanyahu has sought to build settlements on lands sought by the Palestinians and embraced a Trump proposal that would allow him to annex large parts of the occupied West Bank while granting Palestinians limited autonomy in other areas.

Netanyahu said it was a "historic day" that launched  a "new era" for the Arab world and Israel.

For the UAE, home to skyscraper-studded Dubai and the rolling, oil-rich sand dunes of Abu Dhabi, it further burnishes its international campaign to be seen as a beacon of tolerance in the Middle East despite being governed by autocratic rulers. It also puts the UAE out first in a regional recognition race among neighbouring Gulf Arab states. 

The UAE's leader Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan quickly stressed in a tweet that "during a call with President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu, an agreement was reached to stop further Israeli annexation of Palestinian territories".

However, Netanyahu then said in a national television address that he had only agreed to delay annexations in the occupied West Bank, that the plans remained "on the table" and that he would "never give up our rights to our land". 

For the Palestinians, who long have relied on Arab backing in their struggle for independence, the announcement marked both a win and setback. While Thursday's deal halts Israeli annexation plans, the Palestinians have repeatedly urged Arab governments not to normalise relations with Israel until a peace agreement establishing an independent Palestinian state is reached.

President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas voiced his "strong rejection and condemnation" of the deal called for an emergency meeting of the Arab League.

In a statement, Abbas called the deal an "aggression" against the Palestinian people and a "betrayal" of their cause, including their claim to Jerusalem as a capital of their future state.

Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip, rejected the Israel-UAE pact as "a reward for the Israeli occupation and crimes" and said it "does not serve the Palestinian people".

A joint statement from the US, the UAE and Israel was issued immediately after Trump's tweet. It said delegations would meet in the coming weeks to sign deals on direct flights, security, telecommunications, energy, tourism and healthcare. The two countries also will partner on fighting the coronavirus pandemic.

A joint statement from the US, UAE and Israel saying they had "agreed to the full normalization of relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates".
A joint statement from the US, UAE and Israel saying they had "agreed to the full normalization of relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates". © France 24

“Opening direct ties between two of the Middle East's most dynamic societies and advanced economics will transform the region by spurring economic growth, enhancing technological innovation and forging closer people-to-people relations,” said the statement by Trump, Netanyahu and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the day-to-day ruler of the UAE. It said the leaders had a three-way call discussing the deal.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo praised the deal.

“This is a remarkable achievement for two of the world’s most forward leaning, technologically advanced states, and reflects their shared regional vision of an economically integrated region,” he said in a statement. “It also illustrates their commitment to confronting common threats, as small – but strong – nations.”

He added: "Blessed are the peacemakers. Mabruk and Mazal Tov.”

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson also offered warm words. "The UAE and Israel’s decision to normalise relations is hugely good news," he wrote on Twitter.

"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," Johnson continued.

For his part, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said hoped the Israel-UAE deal can help realise a two-state solution with the Palestinians for peace in the Middle East.

Guterres said annexation would "effectively close the door" on negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian leaders and "destroy the prospect" of a viable Palestinian state under a two-state solution.

Among Arab nations, only Egypt and Jordan have active diplomatic ties with Israel. Egypt made a peace deal with Israel in 1979, followed by Jordan in 1994. Mauritania recognised Israel in 1999, but later ended relations in 2009 over the Israel’s war in Gaza at the time. 

In addition to Trump, the main US mediators for agreement were the president’s senior advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner, special Mideast envoy Avi Berkowitz and David Friedman, the US ambassador to Israel.

The UAE is a US-allied federation of seven sheikhdoms on the Arabian Peninsula. Formed in 1971, the country like other Arab nations at the time did not recognise Israel over its occupation of land home to the Palestinians. 

“Arab oil is not dearer than Arab blood,” the UAE’s founding ruler, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, once pronounced when agreeing to an oil boycott over US military support to Israel in the 1973 Mideast war. 

Domestic boost for Netanyahu

The UAE relied on white-collar Palestinians in creating its nation. Over time, it maintained its stance that Israel allow the creation of a Palestinian state on land it seized in the 1967 war. 

But in recent years, ties between Gulf Arab nations and Israel have quietly grown, in part over their shared enmity of Iran and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. Prince Mohammed also shares Israel’s distrust of Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and the militant group Hamas that holds the Gaza Strip.

Iran's Tasnim news agency, which is affiliated to the country's elite Revolutionary Guards, denounced Thursday's deal between Israel and the UAE on as "shameful".

It remains unclear what prompted Israel and the UAE to make the announcement now. In June, the United Arab Emirates’ ambassador to the US warned in an Israeli newspaper op-ed that Israel’s planned annexing the Jordan Valley and other parts of the occupied West Bank would “upend” Israel’s efforts to improve ties with Arab nations.

The agreement gives Netanyahu a domestic boost at a time when Israel’s shaky coalition government is plagued by infighting and facing the possibility of early elections in the coming months. Netanyahu has seen his popularity plummet as the country grapples with a renewed coronavirus outbreak and skyrocketing unemployment as the result of earlier lockdown measures.

Netanyahu also delivered a valuable diplomatic achievement to his good friend, Trump, ahead of US elections.

Still, by dropping the annexation plan Netanyahu may be hedging his bets ahead of a possible change in the White House. Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, has made clear that he would oppose any moves by Israel to unilaterally redraw the Mideast map and annex lands sought by the Palestinians.

Netanyahu also risked criticism inside his own hard-line Likud Party, whose members strongly supported annexation. Netanyahu appears to be betting that Likud members – and the small, but influential settler movement – will agree the peace agreement delivers more benefits than unilateral annexation. Opinion polls have shown that annexation is not a high priority for the vast majority of the Israeli public.

Abandoning its annexation plan changes little on the ground. Israel already holds overall control of the West Bank and continues to expand its settlements there, while granting the Palestinians autonomy in a series of disconnected enclaves. Some 500,000 Israelis now live in the rapidly expanding West Bank settlements.

Next year, Israel will take part in the UAE’s delayed Expo 2020, the world’s fair being hosted by Dubai. A secret synagogue also draws practising Jews in Dubai. The UAE also has announced plans to build the Abrahamic Family House in Abu Dhabi, which will house a mosque, a church and a synagogue.

Israelis traveling with Western passports routinely enter the UAE without a problem, though one still can’t make a phone call between the two countries. Israelis also work in Dubai’s gold and diamond trade as well.

Emirati officials also have allowed Israeli officials to visit and the Israeli national anthem was played after an athlete won gold in an Abu Dhabi judo tournament. Israel also has a small mission representing its interests at the International Renewable Energy Agency in Abu Dhabi.

(FRANCE 24 with AP and REUTERS)

 

 

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