Israel-Palestine tension: UAE holds key to de-escalation, say experts

Dubai - The root cause of the conflict needs to be addressed to restore lasting peace in the troubled region.


Anjana Sankar

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Published: Thu 13 May 2021, 11:15 AM

Last updated: Thu 13 May 2021, 11:18 AM

International pressure is mounting on Israel and Palestine to de-escalate and exercise restraint amid fears that the ongoing conflict may lead to a full-blown war.

Experts are pinning their hopes on the UAE and believe that the Arabian Gulf nation could use its diplomatic might and the newfound friendship with the Jewish nation to end the spiralling conflict that has claimed more than 60 lives and injured scores of people.

In the most intensive aerial exchanges between the two countries since the 2014 war in Gaza, the Israeli firepower has been pounding the Gaza strip in retaliation for the barrage of rockets fired into Israel by Hamas.

Israeli airstrikes flattened three residential towers in Gaza since Tuesday.

At least 67 Palestinians have died, including 12 children, according to Palestinian officials. Also, six Israeli citizens have died in the raging conflict.

The Palestinian militant group Hamas that controls Gaza has fired more than 1,500 rockets towards Israel since Monday, the Israeli Army said.

Israel said it had killed senior Hamas leaders.

Besides, two persons were killed after a rocket hit a vehicle in the area, Israeli media reported.

Hamas said it fired 210 rockets towards Beersheba and Tel Aviv in response to the bombing of the tower buildings in Gaza City.

Israel has declared a state of emergency in the mixed Arab-Jewish city of Lod near Tel Aviv after riots broke out between Israeli Arabs and Jewish citizens.

Israeli media reported that synagogues and several businesses had been set on fire.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday that he would beef up security to maintain law and order in cities where street flights erupted.

"Nothing can justify an Arab mob assaulting Jews, and nothing can justify a Jewish mob assaulting Arabs," he was quoted by the Israeli media on Wednesday.

A litmus test for Abraham Accords

Dr. Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, Professor of Political Science at the UAE University, blamed Israel for its disproportionate retaliation. He said the ongoing tension would be a litmus test for the Abraham Accords – the Donald Trump administration-negotiated peace deal that was brokered on September 15, 2020, in a bid to normalise ties among the UAE, Bahrain, and Israel. Later, other Arab League members such as Sudan and Morocco followed suit.

“We can see how the UAE and other Arab nations will leverage their new friendship to de-escalate the situation. It’s the biggest test for the Abraham Accords on whether it can put the Israeli aggression on a leash,” said Professor Abdulla.

However, the Emirati academic said, the UAE’s overwhelming support for Palestinians, despite its friendship with Israel, gives hope that the cause remains the Arab world’s top priority.

“The normalising of relations with Israel has not deterred the UAE from throwing its full weight behind the Palestinian cause.”

He said Israelis have gone too far with their “land grabbing” and depriving Palestinians of their rights, as guaranteed by international law.

“They have the right to resist and self-defend. It’s the universal right of any people who are living under occupation,” said Professor Abdulla.

The UAE condemned the violence in Jerusalem and called on the Israeli authorities to take responsibility for de-escalation and to end all attacks and practices that lead to continued tension.

“The UAE stands with the Palestinian right, with the end of the Israeli occupation, with the two-state solution, and with an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, and this is a historic and principled position that does not budge,” Dr. Anwar Gargash, UAE’s former minister of state for foreign affairs, had tweeted.

The Arab League condemned the Israeli airstrikes as “indiscriminate and irresponsible.”

“Israeli violations in Jerusalem, and the government’s tolerance of Jewish extremists hostile to Palestinians and Arabs, is what led to the ignition of the situation in this dangerous way,” Arab League chief Ahmed Aboul Gheit said in a statement.

Rana Tomaira, Lecturer and Research Scientist at New York University, Abu Dhabi, said the de-escalation can be done only through decolonisation.

“We’ve to address the root of the problem, which is a European settler-colonial movement that settled in Palestine claiming religious rights. They want the land but not the people that are living there.”

She said the intensifying clashes during the Holy month of Ramadan have not come as a surprise. “Palestinian access to the mosque has always been hindered by the Israeli police force,” she added.

She said the decades of conflict have fragmented Palestinians into different categories – “those who have citizenship inside Israel, Palestinians in Jerusalem, in West Bank, those in Gaza, in West Bank, and those living in refugee camps and the Palestinian diaspora.”

“But the recent events have brought all these groups to the fore as one nation. All of a sudden the world is seeing that all of them are part of the same struggle for nationhood.”

Urge for international calm

International leaders have urged for calm and diplomatic efforts are in full swing to end the stalemate.

Tor Wennesland, the Middle East peace envoy of the United Nations (UN), has urged leaders on all sides to “take the responsibility of de-escalation”.

He tweeted: "Stop the fire immediately. We're escalating towards a full-scale war,” the official tweeted.

"The cost of war in Gaza is devastating & is being paid by ordinary people. The UN is working with all sides to restore calm. Stop the violence now," he further tweeted.

World leaders have also urged for calm in Jerusalem, which has become the latest flashpoint in the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Earlier on Monday, Israeli police clashed with worshippers inside the Al Aqsa mosque compound during the Holy month of Ramadan, which started on April 13.

On Wednesday, British PM Boris Johnson urged Israel and Palestine to "step back from the brink".

His social media post stated: “The UK is deeply concerned by the growing violence and civilian casualties and we want to see an urgent de-escalation of tensions.”

While European Union (EU) foreign affairs’ chief Josep Borrell told a news conference that: "The EU’s top diplomat has called for calm in Jerusalem. The situation with regard to evictions of Palestinian families ... is a matter of serious concern. Such actions are illegal under international humanitarian law and only serve to fuel tensions on the ground,"

What caused the latest escalation of violence?

For weeks, tensions have been simmering in Jerusalem between the city’s minority Arab citizens and right-wing Jews over the planned eviction of Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of East Jerusalem. The impending court ruling on the fate of the Palestinian families was ultimately postponed due to the unrest.

The violence erupted on Monday after Israeli police stormed the Al-Aqsa mosque compound and fired rubber bullets and stun grenades at stone-throwing Palestinians. The march on Jerusalem Day, an annual event observed by Jews to mark the capture of East Jerusalem in 1967, also intensified the clashes.

By the afternoon, more than 330 Palestinians had been injured, with at least 250 hospitalised, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent.

Netanyahu said Israel would respond with great force.

“Israel will not tolerate attacks on our territory, on our capital, on our citizens, and on our soldiers. Whoever attacks us will pay a heavy price,” he warned.

Jerusalem is often at the heart of the Israeli- Palestinian conflict as the ancient city is home to the holiest religious sites for Muslims, Jews, and Christians.

After the Arab-Israeli war in 1967, Israel annexed East Jerusalem, which is not recognised by most of the International community. Palestinians consider East Jerusalem as the capital of the eventual state that they have been fighting for and is elusive to date amid the shattering of fragile peace.

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Photo: Reuters
Photo: Reuters

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