On the morning of Thursday, August 13th I woke to my phone buzzing with messages alerting me of the UAE – Israel Normalization Deal. The initial reaction was one of pure joy – I have been following the not-so-secret Israel-Gulf States (minus Qatar) relationship for the past several years. Each time Prime Minister Netanyahu would highlight the strengthening relationships with Arab nations, my heart was filled with hope.
The momentous impact of this deal cannot be denied. The peace treaties with both Egypt and Jordan were essentially promises by those Arab countries to no longer wage war against Israel. Those treaties did not include full diplomatic relations, massive trade agreements, or embassy placements. And most detrimental is that neither Arab country agreed to direct travel with Israel, thereby crushing any hopes of normalization.
Though Egypt’s current President, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, is fairly pro-Israel, his populace is not. Egyptians who are pro-Israel routinely face jail time. And then there is Jordan which frequently acts as Israel’s enemy rather than anything resembling a peace partner. The UAE deal, along with forthcoming rumored deals with Oman and Bahrain, are the fruitful culmination of Netanyahu’s relentless diplomatic hard work. As Prime Minister, he has logged more travel time than any other previous Israeli Prime Minister–to Africa, Asia, South America, and has sent delegates to the Gulf states–in order to develop trade opportunity for Israel and to secure diplomatic ties.
However, scanning down the official news release of the UAE deal, a paragraph caught my attention and it was alarming, that Israel agreed to suspend its sovereignty application in Area C of Judea and Samaria. Why was normalization contingent upon Israel altering its legal and historical truth? Incorrect terminology has been used by the media in Israel, in the Arab states, and even in the U.S. – the term ‘annexation.’ The state of Hawaii was annexed by the US. Applying Israeli law to Area C’s near 500,000 Jews and close to 300,000 Arabs is not annexation. It is following through on the 1920 San Remo Accords, which reinforced Judea and Samaria’s Jewish rights and nature. It was not even in question that Judea would belong to an internationally-recognized Jewish state.
Two chief concerns arise from pressuring Israel into the sovereignty removal concession – this deal is not based on reality, and that most likely, future Gulf State normalization deals will include similar language, if not push for even more Israeli concessions. This current stipulation could propel the Gulf states (and others) to pressure Israel to forge ahead on a historically false, terror-led ‘Palestinian’ state. Both U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, and U.S. Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, have indicated even recently that all deals moving forward with ‘Palestinians’ have to include the reality–that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, that the Golan Heights are legally part of Israel, and that Area C, in any possible land swap, will be part of Israel.
The United Arab Emirates deal does not reflect that reality. Those people who are too hopeful have remarked that this was the UAE paying ‘lip-service’ to the ‘Palestinians,’ but what if it is not? There is a very real possibility that when further negotiations take place to hammer out details regarding trade and diplomacy, that more weight will be placed on Israel.
Recently, UAE Ambassador to the United States, Yousef Al Otaiba, added that, “the move immediately stops annexation and the potential for violent escalation. It maintains the viability of a two-state solution as endorsed by the Arab League and international community. It creates new dynamics and possibilities in the peace process.” Mr. Otaiba seemed to indicate that this deal could be used as a bargaining chip to aid the Palestinian Arabs… “The UAE will remain a strong supporter of the Palestinian people – for their dignity, their rights and their own sovereign state. They must benefit from normalization. We will forcefully advocate for these ends, now directly and bolstered with stronger incentives, policy options and diplomatic tools.”
Yes, attitudes in the Gulf are changing – nowhere more than in Saudi Arabia, in fact, where Saudi leadership has embarked on a top-down philo-Semitic campaign for the past two years, with favorable results. The Saudis now view Israel more positively and are even working on eradicating anti-Semitic teachings from their culture. Aside for Qatar which can’t seem to shake off its love for Hamas, the Gulf states understand that Israel is highly beneficial to them in their coalition against Iran. They also know that technologically and militarily Israel is useful. However, with the US wanting to diminish its presence in the Middle East, the UAE is hoping to one day replace that influence in the region.
It was a mistake not to apply sovereignty first and only then agree to a deal with the Emiratis, ensuring they are agreeing to a deal based on full reality and not ignoring the legal and political rights of close to 500,000 Jews in Judea and Samaria.
Anwar Gargash, the UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, emphasized that “The U.A.E. today is really using its gravitas, its using its promise of a relationship to try really to unscrew a time bomb that is threatening a two-state solution.” Mr. Gargash also indicated that “the U.A.E. embassy wouldn’t be in Jerusalem, where Mr. Trump moved the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv in 2018.” The UAE does not recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel on its own merit. It was reported that a Jerusalem embassy placement is contingent on a peace deal with the Palestinian Arabs.
This normalization deal is generally positive, officially shifting the dynamics in the Middle East – two moderate power-houses coming together to fight against Iran and to collaborate on key issues ranging from technology to medical advances. Normalization will also provide Emiratis travel opportunity to Israel, to see the truth for themselves which potentially could help dispel anti-Israel lies plaguing the Muslim world. But the thought of trade deals and travel to Dubai should not overshadow the very real possibility that the United Arab Emirates, along with the other Gulf states mentioned, could use their collective diplomatic weight against Israel’s security interests.