The long-deadlocked Israeli-Palestinian conflict has taken a new turn over the past month, as the decadeslong Arab solidarity against Tel Aviv's policies in the region faltered not once, but twice following deals inked by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain.
These normalization deals with Israel, signed one after another, represent a sharp change in the stance of both countries. While receiving praise from some, many consider the moves a "betrayal" to the Palestinian cause, making headlines for weeks.
However, according to experts, the Palestinians constitute only one angle of this multilayered deal, since when it comes to diplomacy, Iran and Turkey have emerged as the main targets of the move.
"The emergence of the new axis is directed against Iran first and Turkey second," says Abdulghani al-Iryani, a senior researcher at the Yemen-based Sana'a Center for Strategic Studies.
Al-Iryani said this convergence of the UAE and Bahrain with Israel "will probably force Turkey and Iran to move closer and they will be followed by several Arab countries."
The UAE and Bahrain have become the third and fourth Arab countries respectively to sign a peace agreement with Israel following Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994. However, despite the high glorification of the deals in terms of their alleged promise to bring peace to the region, they are actually falling short of any grand Middle East peace plan to resolve decades of conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, despite Trump's pledge to do so with efforts led by the president's son-in-law, White House adviser, Jared Kushner.
Following the announcement of the deals, the Palestinian leadership voiced its "strong rejection and condemnation." The UAE deal, in particular, as the first to fuel the flames, received a greater share of the reaction, with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas calling the agreement an "aggression" against the Palestinian people and a "betrayal" of their cause, including their claim to East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.
A series of protests also took place in both Israel and Palestine, with many protesters tearing down the Emirati flag.
The deals not only lack the capability to establish peace in the region but are also highly likely to strain the already tense ties between the UAE and Turkey even further.
According to John Tirman, executive director and principal research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)'s Center for International Studies, although the normalization is mainly directed at Iran, "it's possible that the firewall against Iran also applies to Turkey."
"The Gulf monarchies are aligning themselves with the U.S. primarily. It's transactional in that they want high-tech weapons like the F-35. The fig leaf of Jewish settlements being halted is a falsehood, and I suspect everyone knows that. It is not a peace deal as Trump portrays it because there was no war between these states," he said, giving the examples of Syria and Yemen, where there are actual wars and no initiatives for peace from the Trump administration.
"The Abraham Accord will probably affect the UAE's already difficult relationship with Turkey more than it will Israel's ties with Turkey," said Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, a fellow for the Middle East at the Texas-based Rice University's Baker Institute.
However, similar to Tirman, in Ulrichsen's view, the primary reason for the agreement was both parties' calculations of the benefits to their own national interest and, in the case of the UAE, an eye on the U.S. politics as well.
Israel's archenemy Iran released one of the harshest condemnations on the deal after its announcement, saying the Palestinian people would "never forgive the normalizing of relations with the criminal Israeli occupation regime and the complicity in its crimes." The move was an act of "strategic stupidity from Abu Dhabi and Tel Aviv which will undoubtedly strengthen the resistance axis in the region," the Iranian Foreign Ministry said.
Another harsh reaction came from Turkey, which called the UAE's move a "betrayal." Turkey may suspend its diplomatic relations with the UAE or recall its ambassador, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan warned after the signing, revealing the scale of the possible aftereffects of such a move. Several Turkish officials also noted that the UAE supported terrorist organizations hostile to Turkey and had become a useful political and military tool for other countries.
Turkey also strongly condemned the normalization agreement between Bahrain and Israel, saying the deal contradicted the commitments made under the Arab Peace Initiative and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).
According to Turkish officials, the step will deliver a fresh blow to the efforts to defend the Palestinian cause and will further encourage Israel to continue its illegitimate practices toward Palestinians.
In Sean Foley's opinion, a Middle East Institute expert and professor of History at Middle Tennessee State University, there is an economic angle to all of these, which may have consequences even bigger than political disagreements when it comes to relations with Turkey.
Recalling that Turkey has had diplomatic ties with Israel for longer than any state in the Arab World – since the 1948 – Foley pointed out that the two countries had in the time since formed robust trade ties.
"440,000 Israelis visited Turkey in 2018. Some 850,000 people flew on Turkish Airlines to Tel Aviv Route in 2019 – many of whom transiting to destinations in Asia," he said.
"Going forward," he continued, "Israeli and Emirati airlines will be able to use Saudi airspace, providing direct routes to Asia and competing with Turkish Airlines."
Yet, according to Foley, more importantly, the Israeli and Emirati partnership could "reinforce the Arab regional block that sees itself as aligned against interests that Ankara seeks to promote in the Middle East."
"Those regional alliances will certainly impact Israeli-Palestinian relations but fundamentally that will be up to the Israelis and the Palestinians," he said.
Known for its unbreakable solidarity with the Palestinians, Turkey has been voicing support for the Palestinian cause in the international realm for decades. Turkish authorities emphasize that the only way to achieve lasting peace and stability in the Middle East is through a fair and comprehensive solution to the Palestinian issue within the framework of international law and U.N. resolutions.
Before the controversial normalization deals, Ankara's latest strong stance along the Palestinians took place after Trump announced a so-called peace plan for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, named "Deal of the Century," back in January. Turkey rejected the plan, saying it would not support any plan that was not accepted by the Palestinian authorities, adding that peace in the Middle East would not be obtained if the policies based on occupation continued.
The country's support continued following the deal as well. Beyond the condemnation statements, Turkey hosted the inter-Palestinian talks between the rivaling Fatah and Hamas last week, which ended up in an agreement to hold the first Palestinian elections in nearly 15 years.
Timing caught Int'l community off guard
According to experts, for anyone interested in Middle East politics, particularly the Israeli-Palestine conflict, the deal did not actually come as a surprise. However, it is the timing that caught the international community off guard since it was not being expected to take place this quick, this sudden.
"The timing of the deal was a surprise to many but the linkages between select states in the Gulf and Israel have been among worst kept secrets in the Middle East in recent years," said Foley.
There have been signs of improving ties, Foley added and exemplified: such as the building of the first official synagogue in the UAE, scheduled to open in 2022.
Ulrichsen stated that the convergence with Israel decreased gradually over the past decade as countries like UAE and Bahrain found themselves on the same page with Tel Aviv in some of the major new geopolitical fault lines in the region.
"So, the normalization agreements were not necessarily a surprise, more confirmation of a relationship that was becoming more and more open anyway," Ulrichsen expressed, highlighting the timing as the one element that was "real surprising."
For David Mednicoff, a professor of Middle Eastern studies and chair of the Department of Judaic and Near Eastern Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, this cooperation reflects a variety of common interests, most specifically around shared concerns about nonstate extremist political groups in Arab countries and the role of Iran in the Middle East.
"The strength of the Israeli economy and high tech sector is an additional reason that better relations with Israel might appeal to the UAE. In terms of economic development and standards of living, the UAE and Bahrain resemble Israel more than they do many other non-Gulf Arab countries," he explained.
Deal's survival depends on U.S. polls
Apart from economic support from Israel and convergence over several political points, aligning with the U.S. itself was a very attractive option for both Gulf countries, experts say. However, this is mutual since for the U.S. administration, which is getting ready to hold its presidential elections being part of an initiative that allegedly promises peace in the Middle East may be quite beneficial.
"The normalization of relations is mainly a service to Donald Trump," said al-Iryani, warning that the deals' survival depends on Trump's survival in the U.S. elections.
"The axis of Tel Aviv-Riyadh-Abu Dhabi against everyone else has little chance of surviving the defeat of Donald Trump in the coming elections, as it is so polarizing and destabilizing," he said.
Still, he acknowledged that Abu Dhabi hoped to solidify its new status as a main U.S. ally in the Arabian Peninsula, and Israel is the shortest way to the "heart of the U.S. neocons."
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been ongoing for decades with minimum hope for a solution soon. The war that broke out in 1948 when Israel declared statehood and neighboring Arab states invaded is remembered every year on May 15 by Palestinians as Nakba Day ("Nakba" meaning catastrophe in Arabic). Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were expelled from their villages during the war.
Nearly seven decades later, their numbers have swollen to more than 5.3 million registered refugees, who live in U.N.-run camps scattered throughout the region – 27 in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, 12 in Lebanon, 10 in Jordan and nine in Syria. Israel rejects the return of all refugees and their descendants into its own territory. However, nearly all refugees are adamant that they will not accept compensation for their homes. International law views both the West Bank and East Jerusalem as occupied territories and considers all Jewish settlement-building activity in the area illegal.
Deal to have minor overall impact
Despite the hype surrounding it, when it comes to the possible future impacts of the deal, the experts mostly agree on two points: First, the deal is pretty premature to predict upon and the second, since it's future is mostly depending on the outcome of the upcoming U.S. polls.
For al-Iryani, this is just an election play, which suggests there will be no lasting impacts.
"I don't think it will have much of an impact soon. except in destabilizing UAE, Bahrain and possibly Saudi Arabia," he said.
Stating that Trump's "transactional foreign policy" has a short shelf life, al-Iryani stated that the world would not accept abandoning 80 years of international agreements for the sake of "the Zionist Christians that Trump is courting for the upcoming elections."
Yet, for Foley, the deal is still in its infancy.
"Israelis still need official permission to visit the Emirates and there are not ambassadors in place. Basic trust and strategic frameworks are still being worked out. But there is little question that the deal enlarges the world – diplomatically – for what is possible," he said. "It remains to be seen how that works and whether it can be a truly warm peace."
Ulrichsen, on the other hand, suggested that although the deal made headlines, most Gold states already have "pragmatic" ties with Israel and thus, this latest move will only be the icing on the cake, rather than causing a substantial change in regional politics.
Still, for others, the deal has already made its impact to some extent by showing the perspective change within the Arab countries toward Israel.
Mednicoff stated that the deal signifies two things primarily, the first of which is the fact that popular Arab solidarity with Palestinians is less of a constraint in Arab politics than it once was.
"This is a significant change that has to do with a variety of other shifts in the Middle East, such as the reframing of conflict into more sectarian terms (e.g., Sunni versus Shiite), perceptions among some Arab elites that the Palestinian leadership shares at least some responsibility with Israel's government for lack of Palestinian progress, the economic and military power of Israel, and the determination of some Gulf states to plan to take care of their own security and post-oil socioeconomic development," he explained.
The second major change, he points to, is the acceleration of tensions in the Gulf region, with a general opposition to Iranian influence the strongest focus of power among Arab states.
"Presumably, leaders in the UAE and elsewhere don't think they have much to fear from breaking with Arab governments that embrace a more populist pro-Palestinian political rhetoric," he emphasized.
More states to follow the UAE, Bahrain
Although both deals received major reactions and condemnation from the international community, while also triggering the Palestinian authorities to come together and take joint steps, many pundits claim that there is a high possibility for the more Arab states to join the bandwagon of normalizing ties with Israel in the upcoming period.
"The pattern of wealthy, stronger Arab states prioritizing what their rulers see as self-interest in working with Israel will continue, whether or not this leads to actual normalization between Saudi Arabia and Israel, or Qatar and Israel in the near future," Mednicoff said, indicating that this will mean the Palestinians will have less capacity to find powerful regional allies to push hard for them and will likely have to rethink their general strategy.
Although all eyes are on Saudi Arabia as a third possible candidate to become buddies with Israel, since it is a well-known ally of the U.S., experts are at loggerheads on this point.
While Tirman self-assuredly states that Saudis will be the next, Ulrichsen expresses otherwise.
"There might be pressure from Washington or from Abu Dhabi on other Gulf capitals to follow suit, but Saudi Arabia, in particular, is unlikely to take steps to formalize anything with Israel so long as King Salman remains on the throne," Ulrichsen stated, adding that there were suggestions that a third Arab country was on the verge of reaching an agreement to normalize with Israel.
In Foley's opinion, that third country might be Sudan. A coup has taken place in Sudan back in 2019, providing an eligible environment for Israel to improve ties to a further level.
"There have been press reports that several countries – such as Sudan – may be interested in following the UAE and Bahrain's footsteps. And Washington will certainly try to press that process forward," he said while indicating that still, the states in the region are likely going to wait and see how the deal develops and also what the political leadership in Israel and the U.S. looks like in the coming months.
Peace still a dream
When it comes to the possibility of having actual peace and in the region, experts mostly refer to the harsh reality of the current situation, pointing out that there are no signs of hope on the horizon, at least in the near future.
"I wish I had a good answer to this question since I would be very happy if I had an idea for a peaceful solution that would please everyone," said Mednicoff.
He expressed that the outline for a Palestinian disconnected state entity that the Trump administration proposed earlier in the year was a nonstarter.
"Israelis are not likely to ever accept a single state in the entire 1948 territories in which Palestinians have anything approximating equal rights," Mednicoff said, adding that it would take new leaders and a lot of goodwill, which is absent for now, for a reasonable solution.
"And I have little confidence that this will happen in five years. I might at least hope in five years for younger, more innovative Palestinian leadership that bridges Gaza and the West Bank and enjoys enough internal legitimacy and the support of some key international actors to have more power to push for a settlement that is at least more satisfactory to all parties than the abandoned Trump plan," he said.
Al-Iryani, on the other hand, pointed to the fact that many Palestinians believed the best solution was a one-state solution, with the Palestinians enjoying full citizenship in a secular Isreal.
"However," he said, "demagogy on both sides stands in the way of a one-state solution. So the two-state solution remains the most likely resolution."
Al-Iryani further warned that if political common sense did not produce this outcome, a dangerous arms race in the region led by Iran would eventually necessitate it.
Still, the two-state solution may also be very easy to achieve, in Ulrichsen's opinion.
"If the land-for-peace model is discarded by key regional states then a two-state solution may become more difficult to achieve, but the best-case scenario might be that bilateral deals with Israel create the space and conditions for new linkages to develop – but this remains to be seen and may not become apparent for some time to come," Ulrichsen said.
Please click to read our informative text prepared pursuant to the Law on the Protection of Personal Data No. 6698 and to get information about the cookies used on our website in accordance with the relevant legislation.
6698 sayılı Kişisel Verilerin Korunması Kanunu uyarınca hazırlanmış aydınlatma metnimizi okumak ve sitemizde ilgili mevzuata uygun olarak kullanılan çerezlerle ilgili bilgi almak için lütfen tıklayınız.