The U.S. Brokered Israeli-UAE Deal: A Hope For The Future?
This Thursday most of the Islamic world was surprised when the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Israel agreed to establish full diplomatic relations—the deal was brokered by the Trump administration—Trump introduced this via a joint assertion from US with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE In return, Netanyahu said he would suspend his plan to annex the West Bank—territory of Palestine west of the Jordan River, claimed from 1949 to 1988 as part of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan but occupied from 1967 by Israel—and the land therein of the Jordan Valley.
Since its formal establishment as an internationally recognized sovereign and independent nation in 1948, Israel, with the exception of Egypt and Jordan, has been forced to settle with the absence of diplomatic relations with the every other Muslim country.
Unlike establishing relations with Egypt and Jordan—both came years after they lost to the Israelis during the Six-Day War (June 5-10 1967)—Israel and the UAE have never had conflictual relations, nor have either one perceived each other as a central security threat. In fact, relations between Abu Dhabi and Jerusalem have been steadily improving within the past few years, especially in areas on trade, security and technology issues.
Despite this agreement setting up the probability of other Arab nations to equally establishing diplomatic relations with Israel, Palestinians reacted with shock and dismay.
“We absolutely had no prior knowledge of this agreement,” Ahmed Majdalani, the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) minister of social affairs, told Al-Jazeera News. “The timing and speed of reaching this agreement were surprising, especially that it came at a critical moment in the Palestinian struggle.Instead of de jure annexation, Israel is furthering its creeping annexation. It’s accelerating and increasing its aggression on the ground in terms of settlement construction, home demolitions and what’s happening in the Ibrahimi and Al-Aqsa mosques, and in lands that fall in area C [West Bank].”
While Abu Dhabi is professing that its decision to normalize relations with Israel is first and foremost a move to save the two-state solution and future Palestinian independence, according to Dr. Anat Berko, a former member of Knesset—unicameral national legislature of Israel—and counter-terrorism expert, the reality is that a growing number of Arabs states are tired of having their national interests play second fiddle to the Palestinian cause.
As a member of the Arab League, the UAE had been engaged in a boycott of Israel—for 30 years, member states are in a “state of war” with the Israelis; the boycott is intended to prevent Arab states and discourage non-Arabs from directly or indirectly contributing to Israel’s economic and military strength. The boycott has been slowly falling apart as countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman and Morocco have negotiated deals with Israel.
In essence, the Palestinian cause has held the interests of the rest of the Arab world hostage. Everything was seen through the lens of “justice” for “Palestine,” but on such impossible terms that mutually beneficial partnerships had to be abandoned for the sake of toeing the party line, i.e., the unending and fruitless attempts to create a sovereign and independent Palestinian state that is to geographically live side by side with Israel.
The last major attempt to achieve a two-state solution (with negotiations led by the U.S. government) took place in July 2013; ended in a stalemate the following April. The geo-politics contained in a would-be deal for peace are complicated at best. The contention revolves around the old city of Jerusalem, which Israel considers its capital—recognized by the U.S.
The disputed land between Israelis and Palestinians has been the scene of tension and violence between Arabs and Jews since the time of the British mandate, which was declared in 1917, ending 400-year-rule of the Ottoman Turks in the region. At he behest of the Zionist protagonist Theodor Herzl, the British occupants drafted the Balfour Declaration that gave permission to create a “national homeland” for Jews in Palestine.
After the World War II, with the extermination of six million Jews by Nazi Germany, the UN General Assembly approved a partition plan for Palestine. UN Resolution-181 called for the partition of Palestine in 1947 between Arabs and Jews; the State of Israel was formally established the following year, though a sovereign Palestinian state was not despite the resolution calling for its creation. Nevertheless, the newly formed Israeli nation welcomed 688,000 Jewish immigrants during the first three years, joining the 650,000 Jews already living in Palestine. Simultaneously, about 750,000 Palestinians—or 75 percent of the Palestinian population—were forced to leave their homes.
This dismemberment led to a coalition of Arab nations launching an invasion of the nascent Jewish state, setting off the First Arab-Israeli War in 1948. This was followed by a second major conflict, the Suez Crisis of 1956 (or the Second Arab–Israeli war), when Israel, the United Kingdom and France staged a controversial attack on Egypt in response to President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s nationalization of the Suez Canal.
The present socio-political dilemma between the Israelis and Palestinians is a juridical one: the occupation of the Holy City—it arose following Israel’s victory in the Six-Day War. The origin of this conflict was the attack on Israel by Jordan, which occupied the Western Wall and the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem, thus preventing any possibility of Israeli access to these holy areas. In 1950, Jordan annexed the territories it had conquered in the 1948 war (namely East Jerusalem and the West Bank), declaring itself “Protector” of the Holy Land. The only countries that recognized their annexation were Britain and Pakistan, while all other nations—including the Arab states—condemned it. In fact, only Britain recognized the annexation of the West Bank.
This June White House officials, including, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Donald Trump’s adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien and U.S. ambassador to Israel David Friedman met for two days at the White House remained undecided whether to give Netanyahu the green light to go ahead with some form of annexation as per Trump’s peace plan released last January—the Trump plan had provided Israel with roughly 30 percent of the West Bank and all of the Jordan Valley and envisioned a disjointed Palestinian state encircled by an Israeli security barrier.
The plan was flatly rejected by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, even though he was open to a quid pro quo deal: annexation in return for a Palestinian state as envisioned by the 1993 Oslo Accords; a watered-down version of the classical two-state solution embraced by the international community and the Arab states.
Saudi writer Abdulhameed Al-Ghobain, during an interview in May with BBC Arabic stated:
“The Palestinians have not contributed anything. We can say that they are emotional people whose behavior is governed by their feelings. People say out in the open that they do not care about the Palestinian cause and about the Arabs in general, and that we must steer our relations in keeping with our interests. It is in our strategic interest, and in keeping with our future economic interests, to maintain real relations with Israel. Israel is an advanced country and we can benefit from it.”
The Palestinians, at the same time, aside keeping the Arab world “hostage” to their nationalist cause, dug their own grave for aligning themselves with Iran and Iran-backed proxies, which are the mortal enemies of the UAE and other Sunni Muslim states. To be sure, the fact that Jews today exercise political authority over lands once under the dominion of Islam is seen by pious Muslims as an affront. At the same time, just as Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin did on September 17, 1978, when they signed the Camp David Accords with the mediation of the U.S., both were able to incorporate the teaching of forgiveness, at least for economic interests, undoubtedly other Islamic countries will follow the UAE’s suit, so long as Israel does not occupy the West Bank and the Jordan Valley. And who knows, if the Islamic nations would likewise refrain from their bellicose position against the Israelis, there may be a chance in the long run to establish a true and lasting peace in the Middle East region.
Mario Alexis Portella is a priest of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore and Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Florence, Italy. He has a doctorate in canon law and civil law from the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome; he also holds a M. A. in Medieval History from Fordham University, as well as a B.A. in Government & Politics from St. John’s University. He is also author of Islam: Religion of Peace – The Violation of Natural Rights and Western Cover-Up.