Israel and the United Arab Emirates have reached a deal to normalise relations, with Israel agreeing to suspend its controversial plans to annex parts of the occupied West Bank.
In a surprise statement by US President Donald Trump, who helped broker it, the countries called the accord “historic” and a breakthrough toward peace.Until now Israel has had no diplomatic relations with Gulf Arab countries. But shared worries over Iran have led to unofficial contacts between them.
Palestinian leaders were reportedly taken by surprise. A spokesman for President Mahmoud Abbas said the deal amounted to “treason”, and the Palestinian ambassador to the UAE was being recalled.
President Trump said:
“Now that the ice has been broken I expect more Arab and Muslim countries will follow the United Arab Emirates,” he told reporters in the Oval Office, saying there would be a signing ceremony at the White House in the coming weeks.
A US foreign policy victory?
In a TV address Mr. Netanyahu said he had “delayed” West Bank annexation plans, but those plans remain “on the table”. Annexation would make some West Bank areas officially part of Israel.
Mr. Netanyahu said Israel would co-operate with the UAE in developing a coronavirus vaccine, in energy, water, environmental protection and many other fields.
Analysts say the deal could mean a foreign policy victory for President Trump, who will seek re-election in November, and give a personal boost to Prime Minister Netanyahu, who is on trial for alleged corruption.
The UAE’s ambassador to the US, Yousef Al Otaiba, said the deal with Israel was “a win for diplomacy and for the region”, adding: “It is a significant advance in Arab-Israeli relations that lowers tensions and creates new energy for positive change”.
The White House was first off the mark in announcing the deal; it is perhaps a small diplomatic feather in President Trump’s cap at a time when his re-election prospects are looking more difficult.
For Israel’s embattled Prime Minister Netanyahu, it gets him off a hook of his own making; his much-vaunted promise to annex key parts of the occupied West Bank. This has proved undeliverable, not least due to US ambivalence and significant international opposition. Mr. Netanyahu may see this “peace initiative” with the UAE as something that could bolster his chances if he precipitates a further Israeli general election.
For the UAE, it is harder to say precisely what the immediate benefits are, though its relations with Washington will be strengthened and the deal with Israel may yield significant economic, security and scientific benefits.
Overall this is an agreement that potentially could offer both more and less than might first appear. And as far as the Palestinians are concerned, it is hard to see this news creating anything other than frustration, that they have once again been pushed to the sidelines.
What has been agreed?
In the coming weeks delegations from Israel and the UAE will meet to sign bilateral deals regarding investment, tourism, direct flights, security, telecommunications, technology, energy, healthcare, culture, the environment, the establishment of reciprocal embassies, and other areas of mutual benefit.
“Opening direct ties between two of the Middle East’s most dynamic societies and advanced economies will transform the region by spurring economic growth, enhancing technological innovation, and forging closer people-to-people relations,” the joint statement says.
The UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Anwar Gargash, said the UAE’s recognition of Israel was “a very bold step” to stop the “ticking time bomb” of Israel’s annexation of the West Bank. He said the UAE saw this as “a stoppage of the annexation, not a suspension”.
Asked aboutPalestinian criticism of the UAE move, he recognised that the region was very polarised and he expected to hear “the usual noise”. “We agonised over this,” he said, but eventually decided “let’s do it”.
The joint statement says Israel will “focus its efforts now on expanding ties with other countries in the Arab and Muslim world”, and that the US and UAE will work to achieve that goal.
How have others reacted?
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said “it was my profound hope that annexation did not go ahead in the West Bank and today’s agreement to suspend those plans is a welcome step on the road to a more peaceful Middle East”.
Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi welcomed the deal while Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said the agreement could help push ahead stalled peace negotiations.But a senior Palestinian official, Hanan Ashrawi, condemned the deal, saying the UAE had “come out in the open on its secret dealings/normalisation with Israel” and telling Prince Mohammed: “May you never be sold out by your ‘friends’.”
Iran’s Tasnim news agency, linked to Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guards, called the accord “shameful”. And in Gaza, the Hamas militant group called the deal a “stabbing in the back of our people.”