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Opinion and Editorial

Israel-UAE peace deal opens doors for more initiatives

Amer Al Sabaileh
Filed on August 22, 2020

Mutual interests and cross-border mega projects are extremely appealing for many countries in the region

The move by Israel and the UAE to establish formal diplomatic ties is part of the US objective of warming ties with Gulf Arab states. As part of the peace deal, Israel has agreed to suspend its plan to annex parts of the occupied West Bank. 

The UAE Ambassador to the US, Yousef Al Otaiba, had recently written an op-ed in the Israeli media, highlighting that "annexation will certainly and immediately upend Israeli aspirations for improved security, economic, and cultural ties with the Arab world and with UAE." 

The UAE has been leading efforts to break the ice and keep the peace process alive by normalising relations as a reward for an Israeli compromise to freeze the annexation and be more open to negotiations.

Tactically, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been keen on widening the circle of peace through an Arab-Israeli deal rather than one with the Palestinians. Washington adopted his rhetoric around Israel's need for peace with the Arabs that by default includes the Palestinians. For the American administration this step is also tactically fortuitous as the peace process appeared to have failed in the lead up to the presidential election later this year. This agreement with the UAE and Israel demonstrates the Trump administration is making important achievements as this is the first peace agreement between Israel and an Arab country since 1994. It appears even more significant as it could open the door for other Arab and Muslim countries, such as Bahrain, Sudan and Oman, to normalise relations.

The US plan to mediate between Israel and the Gulf countries began on President Trump's first visit to the Middle East when he arrived in Tel Aviv from Riyadh, and Netanyahu, on receiving him commented that he looks forward to the day when the plane goes back to Riyadh from Tel Aviv. President Trump's trip earlier in his term marked the beginning of renewed relations with Saudi Arabia and a more public understanding between Israel and Riyadh, as well as other Gulf countries and Arab states. 

This week's agreement will put more pressure on the Palestinian Authority, which has used the excuse of Israeli annexation as the key reason for not returning to the table for negotiations. Moreover, Trump has never denied the existence of a Palestinian state. This leaves the Palestinians with very little room to manoeuvre, and should encourage them to adopt a more realistic approach to avoid isolation and identify solutions to critical issues for Palestine and the region. While the region more broadly faces many challenges, and security remains one of the most critical aspects, combined with the current need for economic development, mutual interests and cross-border mega projects are extremely appealing for many countries in the region.

The diplomatic efforts of the UAE highlight its progress in positioning the emirates as a regional hub for culture, art, tolerance, pluralism, start-ups, tourism, and economic mega-projects. While there are both positive and negative impacts from these achievements, particularly in the atmosphere of conflict that dominates the Middle East, these challenges do not appear to be an obstacle for the Emirati ambition to play a significant role in the region. 

Amer Al Sabaileh is a university professor and geo-political expert based in Amman, Jordan


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