Already struggling with multiple conflicts alongside decadeslong disputes, Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) recently took a step that complicated regional politics even more. By signing a deal to "normalize" relations, the countries essentially divided the international realm into two conflicting parties. While some reacted against the move, others supported it wholeheartedly, even to the point of nominating U.S. President Donald Trump for the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in the process. However, according to experts, the deal, although signed with the claims of "bringing peace to the region," has actually broken Arab unity while endangering the already intricate Palestinian cause.
"I do not think that this agreement will affect the political alliances in the region," said Hamad al-Shamsi, an Emirati activist. "But its real and dangerous impact is on two dimensions. The first: On the Palestinian issue, which will weaken the Palestinian position and send a message that the Arabs are ready for normalization with Israel, regardless of Israel's crimes. The second is that Israel will be able to penetrate the Arab world through the trade agreements that will be concluded with the Emirates. It will also have the ability to recruit agents for it in the Arab world through the UAE portal."
As part of the deal, announced at the White House on Aug. 13 following what officials said were 18 months of talks, the Gulf state agreed to normal relations with Israel, while Israel agreed to continue suspending its annexation of the West Bank. Trump and other administration officials have said they expect Saudi Arabia and other countries to follow suit in recognizing Israel.
The deal falls 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 and White House adviser Jared Kushner. The UAE has become the third Arab country to sign a peace agreement with Israel following Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994.
"The agreement violates the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, which represents the Arab vision for resolving the conflict with Israel. If the Arab consensus on the Palestinian Cause is broken, it will be difficult to build it on other issues," said Tariq Hammoud, a Palestinian political analyst based in the U.K., warning over the possible outcomes of the deal.
"At the regional level, such an agreement may entice the UAE with more interventions and increase the paranoia and illusion in Abu Dhabi that it can play a political role greater than its size," Hammoud said. However, at the same, he warned that the fact that the UAE will become a frontline base for Israel close to Iran's borders may "deepen instability" in the crisis-torn Middle East and "increase polarization" in the Persian Gulf.
Following the announcement of the deal, the Palestinian leadership voiced its "strong rejection and condemnation" of the deal and announced it would withdraw its envoy from the UAE. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called 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.
Although it sent shock waves through not only the Palestinians but also the international community, the agreement was not a "spur of the moment" move but rather a decision that was taken years ago, al-Shamsi said.
"In an interview with a member of the Federal National Council, Ali Rashid Al-Nuaimi, Joel C. Rosenberg, the editor-in-chief of www.allarab.news, said that the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed bin Zayed told him in 2018 that normalization with Israel is closer than expected. So, all that is said that the decision is caused by the UAE’s desire to acquire F-35 aircraft or to stop the annexation is nothing but reasons for presenting this agreement to the Arab people," he said.
Al-Shamsi also pointed to the Arab Spring as one of the main turning points for the UAE in terms of approaching Israel rather than the Arab world.
"The real reason is that the UAE intersects with Israel in several projects, the most important of which is the opposition to the Arab Spring, which gave the Arab peoples the ability to choose governments that express the will of these peoples, and the second of which is hostility with Iran, as Iran occupies three UAE islands and Iran is on the Israeli border. The intersectionality in these projects is what makes this agreement possible," he said.
And yet, in al-Shamsi's opinion, a possible danger lies around the corner for the UAE since "Israel will use the UAE as a tool to provoke Iran on its borders whenever Iran uses its bases in Lebanon and Syria to provoke Israel, and this will make the relatively stable Gulf region in a state of instability."
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been ongoing for decades with minimum hope for a solution in the near future. 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 means 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 swelled to more than 5.3 million registered refugees, who live in United Nations-run camps scattered throughout the region – 27 camps 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 to 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.
While Palestinians' demand for justice continues to this day, the U.S. tries to change the game as it initiates one step after another with the claim of searching for "peace" while in reality worsening the situation. In January, Trump announced his proposal, dubbed the "Deal of the Century," to end the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with no Palestinian officials present at the White House event. During the event, Trump referred to Jerusalem as "Israel's undivided capital." The plan unilaterally annuls previous U.N. resolutions on the Palestinian issue and suggests giving Israel almost everything it has demanded.
UAE seeks backing against Turkey, Iran
According to Hammoud, the UAE-Israeli agreement is a tripartite deal driven by the failure of three administrations.
"First is the Trump administration, which failed to achieve a breakthrough in the Middle East peace project, especially the Palestinian-Israeli track, as promised four years ago. Therefore, the Trump administration is trying, somehow, to maximize its achievements and weaponizing the Emirati deal in the election campaign. Second is the deadlock of the Israeli government and Netanyahu's need to offer an achievement to the right electoral base. Third is the UAE's dilemma in three levels: in the Gulf, after the siege of Qatar backfired on Abu Dhabi and Riyadh; in the Arab world, after the failure of military interventions in Yemen and Libya; and in the region, in the face of Turkey and Iran," he said, underlining that the UAE is in need of a regional supporter seeking to undermine the "democratic aspirations of the Arab peoples," while being "hostile" to the main regional actors, Turkey and Iran.
Israel's arch-enemy 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 country with a harsh reaction was Turkey as it 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 deal, revealing the scale of the possible after-effects of such a move. Several Turkish officials also noted that the UAE supports terrorist organizations hostile to Turkey and has become a useful political and military tool for other countries.
The UAE is a part of a Saudi-led coalition that launched a devastating air campaign to roll back Houthi territorial gains in 2015, further escalating the crisis in Yemen. Abu Dhabi also supports the Bashar Assad regime in Syria in its offensive against democracy and civil rights, and Turkish officials have accused it of offering financial and logistical support to the PKK terror group to carry out attacks in Turkey.
In Libya, which is arguably one of the biggest conflict points between Turkey and the UAE, Abu Dhabi supports putschist Gen. Khalifa Haftar and wants to oust the legitimate U.N.-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA). In May, a confidential U.N. report revealed that two Dubai-based companies have been sending Western mercenaries to support Haftar in his offensive. Furthermore, it has been documented that the UAE illegally benefits from the conflict-ravaged country’s oil reserves in order to provide financial resources to Haftar's forces. The UAE also is lobbying the U.S. to intervene in the Libyan civil war, a document obtained by TRT World showed in June, as Abu Dhabi aims to help turn the tide back in the advantage of Haftar.
Arab world incapable of reacting
While Turkey and Iran reacted to the deal in support of the Palestinians, most Arab countries remained silent, while others, such as Saudi Arabia, even pledged its approval. Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, the Saudi foreign minister, described the normalization deal as a potential contribution to peace in the region.
In Hammoud's opinion, there is not an official Arab reaction to the issue since the Arab world is currently not qualified to create a political position for or against such an issue. Still, he expressed that it is strange that Saudi Arabia, the "father" of the Arab Peace Initiative, allowed one of its closest allies to do this.
"When the Arab Republic of Egypt signed the agreement with Israel in 1979, it was expelled from the Arab League, because the Arab regimes were keener on Palestine and more aware of the Israeli dangers. But now the mentality of the Arab regimes has changed, classifying Israel as a friend, and the priorities have also changed. The recent Arab League meeting failed to condemn this agreement, and this is what Kushner considered an evolution in the Arab mentality," al-Shamsi said, explaining possible reasons behind the incapability of the Arab world to give a reaction to the deal.
"We do not expect anything from the regimes," he continued, "but the Arab peoples are able to foil the outcomes of this normalization, such as boycotting Israeli products and boycotting everyone who works with Israel, which would send a strong message to everyone who wants to follow in the footsteps of the Emirates."
Despite the worrying silence from the Arab world, al-Shamsi thinks that the only Arab country that may follow the UAE's path in the future is Bahrain, and no other Arab country would do the same. Hammoud, on the other hand, thinks that although they may not jump on the bandwagon directly, countries like Saudi Arabia would indirectly seek normalization with Israel.
"If the political situation in the Arab countries remains as it is, I do not think that we will see any development in the Palestinian issue, nor will we see a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders, with east Jerusalem as its capital, as the 2002 Arab initiative states," said al-Shamsi regarding his predictions for the region's near future. Hammoud said no possible future scenarios can be worse than the current situation of Palestine.