A turning point
The UAE-Israel accord is a win-win for all sides with the exception of Palestine whose demand for statehood and Israeli withdrawal has been further relegated to the background
The 'historic' accord reached between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) with the help of the US to have full diplomatic relations is a win-win for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, while it has left the Palestinians in a quandary.
Without yielding much on his policy towards the Palestinians, the shrewd Israeli leader, who has been at the helm of power since 2009, has secured a full-fledged peace agreement with an Arab state that had hitherto been and still insists on its steadfast support for the Palestinian cause.
The agreement struck on August 13 talks about full normalisation of relations between the two countries while Israel forgoes, for now, Netanyahu's explosive plan to annex the occupied West Bank.
The temporary suspension of the annexation plan changes little on the ground as Israel already holds overall control of the West Bank and continues to expand settlement there while granting Palestinians autonomy in several disconnected enclaves.
By dropping the annexation plan, Netanyahu may be hedging his bets ahead of a possible change in the White House. Democratic nominee Joe Biden has made it clear that he would oppose any move by Israel to unilaterally redraw the Middle East map and annex lands sought by the Palestinians.
The accord, known as Abraham (after the figure common to Judaism, Islam and Christianity), gives Netanyahu a domestic boost at a time when Israel's fragile coalition government is plagued by infighting and facing the possibility of early elections in coming months.
The accord marks a historic shift for the Middle East as the Jewish state achieves official legitimacy and broad commercial ties in the heart of the Persian Gulf for the first time. Underpinning the rapprochement is a shared distrust of Iran, its nuclear program and its growing influence in the Middle East through a network of proxies Hezbollah in Lebanon and Houthis in Yemen.
A joint statement issued by US President Donald Trump, UAE de-facto leader and Abu Dhabi Crown prince Mohammed Bin Zayed and Netanyahu, said "This normalisation of relations and peaceful diplomacy will bring together two of America's most reliable and capable regional partners.
"Israel and the UAE will join with the US to launch a strategic agenda for the Middle East to expand diplomatic, trade and security cooperation. Along with the US, Israel and the UAE share a similar outlook regarding the threats and opportunities in the region, as well as a shared commitment to promoting stability through diplomatic engagement, increased economic integration, and closer security coordination…"
Abandoning the annexation plan by Netanyahu has generated a backlash among Israeli settlers and their political allies who have been anxious to establish sovereignty over the West Bank territory as well as from Palestinians who felt left out by an Arab nation, leaving them to remain locked in an untenable status quo even without the threat of annexation looming.
Palestinian leaders have long opposed the normalisation of relations between Israel and Arab states as it would legitimise the continuing occupation. Lashing out against the deal, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas described it as a "betrayal" by the UAE. The State of Palestine has recalled its ambassador from the UAE in protest.
The Hamas, a Palestine Islamist militant group that de facto runs the Gaza strip called it a "stabbing in the back of our people" by the UAE.
The move to take off the annexation plan from the table has given a way out to Netanyahu to climb down from his high pitch agenda. The UAE has portrayed that the agreement has helped in stopping the annexation.
The UAE is the third Arab country to have normal diplomatic relations with Israel after Egypt and Jordan, which signed peace deals with the Jewish nation in 1979 and 1994 respectively. Observers say that Netanyahu has indeed pulled off an unparalleled diplomatic sensation. The deal is historic for Israel, the UAE gets international applause and Trump gets to flaunt it ahead of his re-election bid.
The big losers are the Palestinians who have watched the Arab world move closer to Israel seemingly rewarding Netanyahu for ignoring the Palestinians and undermining Palestinians interests, Aaron David Miller, a longtime Middle East peace negotiator now at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, was quoted as saying by the New York Times.
Until this accord, the 2002 Arab peace initiative emphasised that if Israel is interested in full diplomatic ties, it must first agree to a "full Israeli withdrawal from all the Arab territories occupied since June 1967," the establishment of a Palestine state with East Jerusalem as its capital, and a "just" and "agreed upon" solution to the Palestinian refugee question.
Existence of clandestine ties between Israel and Gulf states is not a secret. Israel's intelligence agency — Mosaad — has invested in clandestine relations with the Gulf states for years.
One of the Middle East strategies of the Trump administration has been to contain Iran by promoting diplomatic ties between Israel and the US' allies in the Gulf.
The rapprochement underscored the shifting political dynamics of the region where Sunni Arab states increasingly see Iran as a greater enemy than Israel. In case Arab states decide to join hands with Israel, which seems very likely in the coming future, it would bring all Sunni nations in forming an alliance against Shiite Iran with Israel, which they have secretly wished all these years.
The rapprochement has also divided the region with Turkey vehemently opposing it. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is trying project himself as the champion of the Muslim world, threatened to recall its envoy from the UAE, saying "the move against Palestine is not a step that can be stomached."
Despite his country having diplomatic relations with Israel for decades, He has increasingly projected himself as the Palestinians' lone regional champion.
Reacting sharply to the deal, Iran described it as a "dagger … unjustly struck by the UAE in the backs of the Palestinian people and all Muslims".
The writer is a former Editor of PTI and served as the West Asia correspondent for the same. Views expressed are personal