Israeli conflict: Experts pin hope on UAE's good offices Filed on May 12, 2021
Fire rages in Khan Yunish following an Israeli airstrike on targets in the southern Gaza strip. — AFP

The UAE condemned the violence in Jerusalem and called on the Israeli authorities to take responsibility for de-escalation and to end all attacks

Experts are pinning hope that the UAE could use its diplomatic might and new-found friendship with Israel to end the spiralling conflict with Palestine that has claimed more than 50 lives and injured hundreds.

Pinning the blame on Israel for its disproportionate retaliation, Dr Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, professor of political science at the UAE University, said the current tension will be a litmus test for the Abraham Accords – the US-negotiated peace deal that normalised ties between the UAE and Israel in September 2020.

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

However, the Emirati professor said the UAE’s overwhelming support for Palestinians, despite its friendship with Israel, gives hope that the Palestinian 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 is the universal right of any people who are living under occupation,” said Prof 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, tweeted.

The Arab League condemned the Israeli air strikes 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 have 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 of clashes during the holy month of Ramadan has not come as a surprise. “Palestinian access to the mosque has always been hindered by the Israeli police force.”

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 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.”

What caused the escalation?

For weeks, tensions have been simmering in Jerusalem between the city’s minority Arab citizens and right-wing Jews over 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 began on Monday after Israeli police stormed the 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.

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 their future state.

As tensions and casualties rise on both sides, the United Nations’ Middle East peace envoy Tor Wennesland has asked leaders on all sides to “take the responsibility of de-escalation.”

"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. UN is working w/ all sides to restore calm. Stop the violence now," he wrote.

In the most intensive aerial exchanges between the two countries since the 2014 war in Gaza, the Israeli fire power has been pounding the Gaza strip in retaliation for the barrage of rockets fired into Israel by Hamas. A 13-story residential building in Gaza collapsed after it was hit by an Israeli air strike on Tuesday. The Israeli air strikes left at least 55 Palestinians dead, including nine children, according to Palestinian officials. Six Israeli citizens have also died in the conflict.

The Palestinian militant group Hamas that controls Gaza has fired more than 1000 rockets towards Israel since Monday, the Israeli army said.

Israel has declared a state of emergency in the mixed Arab-Jewish city of Lod near Tel Aviv, after Israeli Arabs rioted. Israeli media reported that synagogues and several businesses had been set on fire.

Two people 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.


Anjana Sankar

Anjana Sankar is a UAE-based journalist chasing global stories of conflict, migration and human rights. She has reported from the frontlines of the wars in Yemen and Syria and has extensively written on the refugee crisis in Bangladesh, Iraq and Europe. From interviewing Daesh militants to embedding with the UAE army in Yemen, and covering earthquakes, floods, terrorist attacks and elections, she has come out scathe-free from the most dangerous conflict zones of the world. Riding on over 14 years of experience, Anjana currently is an Assistant Editor with Khaleej Times and leads the reporting team. She often speaks about women empowerment on her Facebook page that has 40,000 plus followers.

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