The Significance of the Israel-UAE Peace

The new paradigm in the Middle East.

Unlike previous peace treaties Israel concluded with Egypt and Jordan, the impending peace treaty between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), engineered by President Donald Trump, will be a warm peace. It won’t be just peace between the two governments that leaves the people of the two nations apart and hostile. This peace treaty will involve the Israeli and Emirati communities in trade, tourism, economic development, medical cooperation, intelligence sharing, sport exchanges, and cultural and religious activities. Israeli businesspeople are already operating in the UAE, and their Emirati counterparts have visited Israeli technology centers and Jerusalem. Both Emiratis and Israelis are awaiting with eager anticipation to have direct flights from Tel Aviv to Dubai. Thousands of Israelis are ready to visit the wonders of Dubai, the world’s tallest building (Burj Khalifa), the luxurious Burj al Arab hotel, the Palm Islands, the Dubai mall, and of course the upcoming Dubai Expo 2020. Emiratis are eager to visit the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, the biblical antiquities, and the Hermon ski slopes.  Israeli athletes have already been admitted to sport events in the UAE. Emirati athletes will also compete in Israeli sports events. 

Perhaps the most significant factors in the Israel-UAE peace are political, strategic, and psychological. Since there has never been any bloodletting or conflict between Israel and the Emirates, and no border disputes, it makes it easier for a people to people peace. Moreover, unlike previous peace deals that required Israel to make territorial concessions for peace, based on the formula of land-for-peace, the Israel-UAE peace deal is based on a different formula - of peace-for-peace. The former form of peacemaking was the case with Egypt, the Palestinians (Oslo Accords), and Jordan.  The peace with the UAE has no conditions attached to it, and while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed to postpone the implementation of the promised annexation, or more correctly, extending Israeli sovereignty and law to the Jordan Valley and the Jewish communities therein, he could still do it at a future date. 

The most important psychological barrier for moderate Sunni-Arab states to make peace with Israel has been their solidarity with fellow Arab, and Muslim Palestinians. But solidarity alone cannot replace national self-interest, and self-preservation.  Significantly, the UAE has set a precedence for the other Gulf states that the Palestinians no longer have a veto power on matters of their national security. The Washington Post (8/16/2020) pointed out that, “Arab states are increasingly willing to leave aside the question of Palestinian land and rights to seek a variety of relationships with Israel, the region’s dominant military force and economic powerhouse.” The existential threat Shiite Iran poses to the UAE and the other Sunni-Arab Gulf states, trumps solidarity with the Palestinians. It is certainly a major factor, albeit, not an exclusive one in the UAE peace with Israel. The Arab Gulf states support President Donald Trump, and appreciate his tough stance against Iran, in contrast to the previous Obama administration. They are also cognizant of the fact that a Biden administration is more than likely to seek a closer relationship with Iran and resume the failed Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Israel is therefore seen as the only reliable and solid barrier against Iranian aggression. Netanyahu has shown his resolve to contain Iran’s triumphalist and hegemonic ambitions. UAE leaders also understand that having a formal peace with Israel will provide them with access to previously off-limits U.S. weaponry, including advanced drones.

Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader who sided with Saddam Hussein in his brutal attack against Kuwait in 1990, did not endear the Palestinians to the Arab Gulf states. Hamas, the Palestinian terror organization that controls the Gaza Strip is being supported by the radical Ayatollah-led Shiite Iran, Qatar, (in conflict with the Gulf Cooperation Council) and Erdogan, Turkey’s Muslim Brotherhood dictator. There is no love lost between the UAE and Hamas. Similarly, there is no affection between the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority (PA) and the UAE. Mahmoud Abbas’ (the unelected President-for-life of the PA) refusal to participate in the Trump peacemaking efforts even before anything was presented, didn’t go over well with Mohammed bin Zayed (pictured above with President Trump in 2017), the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, and de facto ruler of the UAE. Additionally, the UAE has, for over a decade, hosted Abbas’ Palestinian rival, Mohammed Dahlan, the former Fatah security chief in the Gaza Strip. The UAE also stopped funding the PA in 2014. The NYTimes (8/14/2020) quoted Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) secretary-general and chief negotiator as saying: “They (The Emirates) don’t even invite us to their national day.”

Israel’s strategic needs are wider and more profound than accommodation with the Palestinians. The peace deal with the UAE answers this wider imperative. It institutionalizes the strategic alliance between Israel and the moderate Sunni-Arab states, and especially with the Arab Gulf states. For Israel, there’s a certain irony in the current strategic situation in the Middle East. Whereas in the 1950’s and 1960’s, Israel sought to break from its isolation imposed on it by its hostile and threatening immediate Arab neighbors, hence, it sought to forge alliances with the non-Arab periphery states of Iran and Turkey. The reverse has occurred in recent years. The aggression, expansionism, and imperial ambitions of the non-Arab Muslim regional powers of Iran and Turkey are threatening both Israel and the Sunni-Arab states, particularly the Arab Gulf states. This common threat of Iranian terrorism, Turkey’s (Erdogan’s) expansionism, and its hegemonic moves in the Eastern Mediterranean, has brought Greece, Cyprus, and Egypt into opposition to Turkey. Erdogan’s championing of the Muslim Brotherhood has put him in conflict with Egypt’s President al-Sisi, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE. Similarly, in Libya, Egypt and the UAE are supporting the Benghazi regime while Erdogan’s Turkey is pushing the Tripoli regime into Egypt’s western border with Libya. The UAE is also confronting Iran’s proxy - the Houthis in Yemen, along with Saudi Arabia.

The Israel-UAE strategic partnership is based on common existential interests. Both are determined nations that are committed to use force when threatened, and Iran is threatening both of them. The two states fulfill each other’s needs. Israel provides the military prowess, advanced technology and innovation. The Emirates, on their part, have the financial resources and strategic location, facing southern Iran. The UAE opened the floodgate in its agreement to make peace with Israel. It is now more than likely that Bahrain and Oman will follow, and according PM Netanyahu, Sudan is another clear candidate for peace with Israel.

The accepted conception among many leading Israelis has been that peace with the Arab World required the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, with East Jerusalem as its capital. The 1979, Camp David Peace Accord with Egypt didn’t change the conception, even though PM Menahem Begin didn’t commit to a Palestinian state but only to Palestinian autonomy. This conception continued after King Hussein of Jordan signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994, following the Oslo accords signed the previous year on the White House lawn. The significance of peace with the UAE is that it finally discards the old concept, that peace with the Arab world must go through Ramallah.

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Photo credit: White House

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