Why UAE-Israel normalisation will not help regional peace? By Chris Doyle

Why UAE-Israel normalisation will not help regional peace? By Chris Doyle
27 August 2020


That Israel and the UAE may normalise relations is from the narrow perspective of two states establishing ties for the first time welcome.  It could benefit both countries.  Trade and travel will be encouraged and barriers broken. So far, so good. So why are so many equivocal or hostile to this?

In the broader perspective, it could endanger chances for peace rather than advance them.  The UAE and Israel were not at war and have had increasingly warm ties for some years, largely over common foreign policy agendas, notably in opposition to Iran and Turkey.  Therefore, this would be the public expression of a well-known relationship not some dramatic game-changing embrace.

But the UAE did break the public Arab and Gulf consensus on Palestine. This allows Israel to achieve normal relations whilst continuing its military occupation and creeping annexation of the West Bank.  It exacerbates the asymmetry between Israel and the enfeebled Palestinian Authority. Israeli leaders have always wanted to isolate the Palestinians from the Arab World, and they see this as a chance to realise that now.   This will make it harder to achieve a fair and viable peace agreement between Israel and Palestine.

Once isolated, Israeli leaders expect the Palestinians to be airbrushed out of history and just become a forgotten minority that Israel oppresses. Remember that many on the right in Israel still do not acknowledge the Palestinians as a people with rights. Israel will continue to take the land and the resources at will.

The promise to suspend Israeli annexation of large parts of the West Bank is hollow.  There is no detail to this offer.  Suspension can be cancelled at a politically convenient moment. Moreover, Netanyahu had as good as admitted that annexation would not be going forward, blaming this on the White House and his coalition partners. He did not need formal annexation to go through as creeping annexation was arguably more successful, and brings far less diplomatic fall out. There is a precedent for this. The Israel-Egypt peace treaty of 1979 had clauses on Palestinian autonomy and rights but even these minor advances were never implemented, not least after Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982.

Trump and Netanyahu sense clear political benefits.  Trump wanted a diplomatic success prior to the 3 November elections.  He wants to pose as the deal-maker-in-chief.  Netanyahu wants to show his relationship with Trump reaps dividends and given domestic opposition, he too needed this political ‘win.’ He can take this and any other deals with Arab states into yet another Israeli election.  Several Arab states may fall into this category perhaps in the Gulf but also Sudan, desperate as it is to rid itself of US sanctions and be removed from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.  Despite US pressure, the Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok told US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo that Sudan’s transitional government could not normalise relations with Israel. Morocco has ruled out any normalisation as has Bahrain.

The UAE leadership is highlighting a preference for Trump in the forthcoming US elections, worried about the Democrats rekindling the Iran nuclear deal of 2015.  It also is expecting to be able to purchase the advanced F-35 combat aircraft, even though Israel publicly opposes this as it risks Israel’s qualitative edge militarily in the region which the US is committed to maintaining.  Following Netanyahu’s objections, the UAE pulled out of a trilateral meeting with the US and Israel. 

The Palestinians feel betrayed.  They already lacked viable options to get rid of the Israeli occupation but the UAE has diminished their most effective tool.  They fear other states may follow, not least under US pressure.  The Palestinian leadership is aware that the UAE has grown increasingly powerful and assertive in the region and fear the implications.

To advance a meaningful peace deal that can truly change the gloomy picture within the region, it needs to be broader with a genuine and fair solution to the Palestinians.  This requires the end of the occupation that began in 1967 and two capitals in Jerusalem.  The Arab peace deal of 2003 remains the bedrock for this vision, of a full withdrawal for full peace.  The Secretary-General of the Arab League said  that normalisation requires full independent Palestinian statehood based on the 1967 lines.  Saudi Arabia, which is without doubt the Israeli prime target for normalisation, has made similar comments.

Hoping that the Palestinians can just be forgotten about in their myriad bantustans in the West Bank and prison in Gaza dangerously ignores current reality and history.  It risks future conflict and massive suffering. Bullying the Palestinians into abject surrender will not work. It is also profoundly wrong.