Special: UAE-US ties remain strong, says UN envoy Lana Nusseibeh
A Biden presidency will not affect Abraham Accords with Israel.
More than one week on, and there's still a sense of uncertainty among American voters. While thousands of Trump supporters protested the outcome of the election in Washington on Saturday, Democrats are expressing fear over what could be a messy transfer of power due to the President’s refusal to concede.
While Biden’s victory brought on a sigh of relief among many European leaders, reactions in the Middle East remain greatly divided; some are nervous about a foreign policy shift to their disadvantage, while others express excitement over the opportunity for a comeback.
Following last Saturday’s Presidential announcement, many world leaders were quick to congratulate the Biden-Harris win, while others chose to delay the inevitable -- and their silence spoke volumes. As international greetings poured in, Twitter established its own ‘congratulations police’ noting who submitted a greeting and who did not, and how long it took certain leaders to react in 2020, compared with 2016 when Trump was elected.
One week later and the Twitter competition is almost entirely forgotten. Infection rates are once again making headlines across the United States, and a vaccine could be around the corner for everyone but New Yorker State, according to President Trump who said Governor Cuomo is responsible for any delay. Trump spoke publicly for the first time Friday since results were announced, but failed to mention the election or Joe Biden who will be sworn in as the 46th US President on January 20.
What will a Biden presidency mean for the Middle East peace process? That remains to be seen. Looking at Biden’s win through an Abraham Accords lens, some fear the momentum of the most recent peace agreements (including future peace deals promised by Trump) would slow down or even come to a halt. Faced with an administration that did not spearhead the Accords, a new theory is now emerging, in which Israel, the UAE and Bahrain will come even closer together to strengthen the regional alliance that counters what might soon be a strengthened Iran.
The UAE, however, has not come unprepared to this moment. There were quick words of congratulations both from His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, and His Highness Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces.
The UAE's Ambassador to the United Nations Lana Nusseibeh said that Biden made his support of the Abraham Accords clear, and even vowed to build on the agreement if he was elected to office.
“The UAE has worked with whichever US administration the American people choose, and I have no doubt that the relationship will remain the strong and strategic partnership that it always has been. Over the decades the UAE has been a primary partner for the United States in the region. We have been on the battlefield together countering extremism and terrorism in various theatres.”
Speaking shortly before the Biden-Harris win was announced, Nusseibeh spoke confidently about future US foreign policy and its continued stabilizing role in the region.
“The UAE firmly believes in the importance of the US role in the Middle East — its stabilising role in the region, and I think we’ll continue to have those conversations around the future stability and strategic dialogue that our region so desperately needs. A strong partnership with the US and with its people is definitely at the top of the foreign policy priority of the UAE,” Nusseibeh said.
While the Abraham Accords continue to move fast on the ground, and new partnerships are announced almost daily, the UAE hopes it doesn’t stop there.
“If we can show that this is a successful case study on how to do business in the region, we can widen the tent, bring more people in, and hopefully create a new dynamic that we are seeking to ultimately create — the dynamic for a Middle East wide peace that includes a resolution to the Palestinian Israeli conflict and the two-state solution along the international parameters that we also subscribe to.”
Asked whether the UAE is involved in Israeli-Palestinian back channels, Nusseibeh maintained that the UAE has never been a front-row player in this issue, but highly encourages a return to the negotiating table.
“We have consistently been part of the Arab consensus around the two-state solution and we will continue to be part of that Arab consensus. Of course the issue of annexation was something that we were hearing in European capitals and around the world, it was going to be the death knell of the two-state solution. And so I think by incorporating it into our normalisation agreement with hopefully created that window, that dynamic for a change and it’s up to the sides to step through."
While some have suggested that the Israel-UAE deal is more about Iran than peace, Emirati officials have dismissed this notion, saying neither Iran or any other country influenced the Abraham Accords.
“This agreement stands on its own merits. It doesn’t have to be about any other country, it isn’t about any other country apart from the UAE and Israel, and I think that it’s clear from how quickly we moved from normalisation stage in signing, to the plethora of agreements we are now working on that there is an energy and enthusiasm on both sides to move in this direction quickly.”
While Israel, the UAE and Bahrain, watch carefully to see how the Biden administration will deal with the Islamic Republic, Iran President Hassan Rouhani is sending his own message to the US President-elect — “compensate for past mistakes” and return to the 2015 nuclear deal.
Meanwhile Iran continues to increase its stockpile of low-enriched uranium far beyond the limits set in a landmark nuclear deal, according to an AP report, citing the UN’s atomic watchdog agency.
— The writer is a journalist based in New York
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