Conflict Alerts # 148, 19 August 2020
In the news
On 14 August 2020, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) became the first Arab Gulf state and the third Arab nation (after Egypt and Jordan) to establish formal diplomatic relations with Israel. The two Middle Eastern powers concluded a historic US-brokered agreement to normalize relations. Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu announced "the establishment of a full and formal peace" that includes "the opening of mutual embassies, direct flights and many other bilateral agreements" and called it the "greatest advancement to restore peace between Israel and the Arab world in the last 26 years". Later, the Tel-Aviv Municipality lit up with the Emirati flag. The White House congratulated itself, and the US President Donald Trump announced that Israel would now suspend plans to further annex the occupied West Bank. Trump said the union of "two of America's closest and most capable partners in the region" was "a step towards building a more peaceful, secure and prosperous Middle East".
Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority rejected the deal, calling for a meeting of the Arab League; the Islamic Republic of Iran called the deal "shameful"; the United Nations' spokesperson said the UN Chief Guterres welcomes 'any initiative that can promote peace and security in the Middle East'; and notably, President Trump's Advisor Jared Kushner said that some Arab states were sorry they couldn't be the first to normalize relations with Israel.
Issues in the background
First, Netanyahu's statement on West Bank annexation. In May, Netanyahu publicized his commitment to the potential West Bank annexation on completion of a conceptual map by an Israeli-US team. Palestinians began protesting, fighting and resisting Israel's proposed annexation of parts of West Bank which the Palestinians are seeking for the future State of Palestine. Since then violence has been rife. The UAE reacted by warning Israel that such a move would be crossing a red line.
Second, the breakup of Arab unity. Saying the recent development was unforeseen would be a folly. There were already signs of Israel's warming ties with the Arab states that share a common fear over Iran. Similarly, the bromance between Netanyahu and Iran's arch-rival Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman is no secret. This also has been on the basis of a shared fear of Iran. The Arab world is now split into Iran's supporters and opposers.
Third, the questions of end to a Palestinian state. Core issues of Israeli occupation, illegal settlement construction, securitization, access restrictions, displacement, deprivation of basic civil rights of Palestinians, violence and the "Swiss cheese" resembling disjointed Israeli-Palestinian map remain unaddressed and unresolved. It will not lead to larger peace. The establishment of UAE-Israel ties is a distinct departure from the traditional understanding of Arab-Israeli peace only post the formation of a Palestinian state. It ends the collective regional arrangement for peace and maybe the strife for a future Palestinian state.
The development may not be a comprehensive Middle Eastern peace deal, but it is a momentous breakthrough in the Arab-Israeli peace process. It signifies formal political, diplomatic, technological and multisectoral cooperation between the two largest economic powerhouses of the region. Palestinians are feeling angry, betrayed and marginalized. However, UAE has attempted to justify its historic move by saying that Israel had now agreed to not execute their annexation plans. Simply put, the world may not witness Israel-Palestine peace but would most definitely see the materialization of a novel Arab-Israeli peace in the near future.