On Thursday, US President, Donald Trump, announced of the establishment of Diplomatic relations between the State of Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Israel and the UAE have had unofficial relations for 25 years. Unofficial relations which worked to promote the mutual interests of both sides are now apparently transforming into full-fledged diplomatic relations between the two states. So, what changed suddenly? What are the implications for Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA)?
Let’s start with the winners of the day – President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu, both of whom both could use some good PR. President Trump is campaigning for a 2nd term and the polls are not in his favor. Benjamin Netanyahu is also being pressured at home by the protests directed towards his poor response to the COVID-19 crisis, along with his corruption trials in the 1000, 2000 & 4000 cases. Signing “Peace” agreements are always good for PR, and what could be better than a Photo-Op at the White House Rose garden?! Especially if the signing on the accords are done before the upcoming elections in the USA?!
The immediate political dividend to this agreement will not stay long, as due to the Coronavirus crisis it’s hard to estimate if a signing ceremony will even be held. Regardless, there are still other serious interests and beneficiaries at play in this agreement.
Interests first – Israel and the Sunni Gulf states share an enemy – Iran. Since 1979 Iran has been ruled by a Radical Shia regime. The Sunni and Shia are the two largest streams of Islam, with a history of bad blood between them going back to the 7th century, starting with the death of the Prophet Muhammad and the succession struggles which followed. The Sunni are a majority in the Muslim world, and the Shia are 2nd. For many years, the Shia Muslims have been chased throughout different Muslim countries. Today they make the majority in only 4 states – Iran, Iraq, Azerbaijan & Bahrain. The Iranian regime strives to become the strongest country in the Muslim world and threatens the Gulf states.
Israel has been the leader of stopping a Nuclear Iran for years now. Signing these diplomatic accords opens new opportunities and allows the “new” allies to collaborate (And allow Israel to get closer to Iran’s borders). A collaboration already exists but it was below the radar until now.
The other interest is economic – The Gulf states are deserts. Israel has advanced technology in different fields ranging from irrigation & desalination systems to Hi-Tech, agriculture & security systems. The Gulf States can use some help in all these areas. Diplomatic accords will be mutually beneficial towards the economic interests of both countries. I am also quite sure that the US will enjoy some weapon deals with the UAE as well.
And now for the winners and losers –
Ultimate and immediate winners are President Trump and PM Netanyahu. The timing is not surprising. The negotiations have been going for a while now. The timing works great for the two leaders who are looking for some good PR. In both states, the political leadership is failing to handle the COVID crisis.
With Netanyahu, you can say he use a similar trick back in 2011 when he signed the deal to bring back captive soldier Gilad Shalit in return for 1,027 terrorists (300 of these terrorists having what is called in Israel “Terrorists with blood on their hands”.) Netanyahu executed the deal while the people were protesting in the streets due to the high cost of living. Netanyahu was able to turn the media’s focus and the protests declined (it was part of a couple of moves done at the time). Nowadays, I doubt if it will have the same effect now as the protestors in Israel are now protesting against Netanyahu personally.
Other winners are the people of Israel and the UAE – The people of UAE will gain advantages from Israel’s technological knowledge and progress, as it will serve the UAE’s economy and its people, while simultaneously enhancing Israel’s reputation.
The UAE wins as they can present themselves in the Arab world as the ones who removed the Annexation threat and made sure the two-state solution is still alive.
On the losing side, you have the settlers, the Palestinians & Netanyahu’s “coalition partner” Benny Gantz.
The settlers lost for now as Netanyahu de facto banned the annexation (some will see it as quietly accepting “Land for Peace”, while not really needing to “pay” for the deal. I doubt if the settlers will go back on the street like they did in the Oslo accords era and the disengagement. However, the settlers will continue to focus on lobbying their political allies in support of creeping annexation.
The Palestinians still lost even tough annexation is off the table for now. They were not a part of this deal and Mahmoud Abbas was kept out of the deal entirely. The only ones who may benefit from the deal are Hamas and the people of Gaza as there is a chance the UAE leaders will try to get them some “air”.
Last but not least – The biggest losers of this declaration are Benny Gantz and Blue and White party, Netanyahu’s “coalition partners” to the “Unity” government who were kept out of this agreement on a “no need to know basis”. Netanyahu’s excuse was that he was asked to keep it quiet from them by the US. But Blue and White have two ex IDF chief of staff’s – Benny Gantz (currently serving as Defense Minister) & Gabi Ashkenazi (currently serving as Foreign Minister). If they are unreliable and not trustworthy than I can’t tell who is trustworthy.
Allow me to suspect that it was done by Netanyahu on purpose as part of his moves to weaken Gantz and crash his public prestige. Gantz, who entered the government after setting himself as the alternative to Netanyahu, did that with a pure heart in order to put the state of Israel “above all else”. His voters saw this as a betrayal given that he had been leading the side which had been saying Netanyahu is not to be trusted. Netanyahu’s moves don’t help to prove them wrong. Keeping Gantz & Ashkenazi out of the negotiations proves the low trust and the PM disrespect to his “partner”.
Time will tell what else everybody gains and if there are any hidden costs, but overall, this establishment of relations between Israel and the UAE is a blessing for the Middle East.