Joshua Teitelbaum
Historian of the modern Middle East, activist, Jew, Israeli, American

See You at the Burj Khalifah

Embed from Getty Images

For agreements like the one signed August 13 between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, there is always text and context.

The text is the official announcement of the United States, Israel and the UAE which was first published—no surprise—on President Trump’s Twitter feed. The context is the “music” of the event, the collection of statements by the leaders as they discuss its significance.

No doubt this is an historic event. First the text: full normalization of relations—not “peace.” The main terms in the text are “advance peace,” “peaceful diplomacy,” and the “establishment of reciprocal embassies.” Anyone who would say that we have here the essence of peace—embassies, as well as direct flight, communications, cultural ties, etc., would surely be correct.

And again in the text: Israel agreed to “suspend” the annexation of territories in the West Bank. So what we have here is a twenty-first century version of “land for peace,” as we will see from the context.

Israel and Abu Dhabi have had semi-official relations for many years, cooperating particularly against Iran. But when Prime Minister Netanyahu began to advance his annexation plan because he identified a window of opportunity while Trump was still in the White House, Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince, Muhammad bin Zayd, said “stop!” His skilled ambassador to Washington, Yusuf al-Utaybi, authored an article in Hebrew in Yediot Aharonot in June, where he warned that “it is impossible both to annex and to hope for good relations with the Arab world.”

True, each side has something to gain. It needs to be remembered that international politics is also about ego disguised as “national interests.” For the Emirates, we are talking about a coalition of rulers who run the place like a family business,  at the head of which is Crown Prince Muhammad bin Zayd Al Nuhayyan. Normalized relations with Israel places the Al Nuhayyan clan at the center of Middle Eastern developments, a pioneer not only in openness, innovation and progress—but also in relations with Israel, a world technological super-power and a Middle Eastern military one.

But Abu Dhabi is taking it slow. If peace is the last bit of the salami, Shaykh Muhammad will continue to slice it as thinly as possible. For him, this is a process, not yet peace. The “music,” as played in the UAE, is saying that the main achievement here is the halting of annexation. As Anwar Gargash, the UAE Foreign Minister noted, the agreement is a “death blow” to annexation.

The music emanating from Jerusalem, is, of course, quite different. Netanyahu emphasized that this is an historic agreement, and he is right. According to Netanyahu, this a new breakthrough: peace for peace. The Israeli settlers understood matters differently, saying that Netanyahu had sold them out. But the Prime Minister knows Israelis: after COVID-19, when Israelis discover that Disneyland of shopping malls called Dubai, the suspension of the annexation will not hurt him politically.

And finally, the music from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Anyone who watched the launch of the agreement from the Oval Office would have found it difficult not to cringe as Trump’s sycophants, one after the other, heaped unctuous praise on their leader. Having failed miserably to manage the coronavirus crisis and with a badly damaged economy, his ego needed lifting. But this may be temporary, because Biden-Harris looks very promising, and Americans don’t really pay all that much attention to foreign policy.

While there is no peace with the Palestinians in sight—both sides are to blame for that—Israel will increase cooperation with the UAE on stopping Iran, and there will be UAE investment in Israel.

So see you in Dubai. And check out the Burj Khalifah, the tallest building in the world. Kosher food, two or three synagogues, and a prayer for the UAE leadership are already there. And, of course, Chabad.

About the Author
Prof. Joshua Teitelbaum teaches modern Middle Eastern History at Bar-Ilan University. He has held several visiting positions at Stanford University, including this past year as Visiting Scholar at the Center for International and Strategic Cooperation. A native of the San Francisco Bay Area, he moved to Israel in 1981.
Related Topics
Related Posts