On August 13, 2020, The United Arab Emirates (UAE) signed a peace agreement with Israel. The UAE becomes the first Gulf country and third Arab country, after Egypt and Jordan, to normalize relations with Israel.
- As part of the deal, Israel agreed to delay plans to annex Palestinian territories in the West Bank.
In Short: Neighbouring Arab and Muslim countries consider the deal to be “a betrayal” or even “treason”. Western countries however, see the move as a success in stabilizing the area. Many commentators see the so-called “Abraham Accord” as an important breakthrough and a positive note for the Trump administration in advance of the election in November.
- The Israeli delegation was accompanied by White House advisor Jared Kushner, who served as the key negotiator for the United States in brokering the peace agreement.
- Kushner now travels to Bahrain and Saudi Arabia to procure more Arab support for the agreement. Last week, Bahrain’s king, Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, told U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo he supports the creation of a “Palestinian state” and would not establish relations with Israel without it.
- Kushner claimed that the agreement “will make the Middle East safer… [meaning] less American troops will have to be over there.”
- When asked when the next Arab states would normalize relations with Israel, he said: “let’s hope it’s months.”
Proponents of the agreement argue that the deal will not only improve diplomatic and economic prosperity between the two nations, it will also increase security against hostile extremist groups such as the Houthi rebels in Yemen and marauding Hezbollah forces.
Critics have argued this represents a further sidelining of the interests of Palestinians, with this agreement leaving the existing status quo fundamentally unchanged.
The Gulf state’s biggest lender, First Abu Dhabi Bank, later said it would open discussions with Israel lenders Bank Hapoalim and Bank Leumi, following a joint statement from both countries’ economy ministries declaring an intention to cooperate formally.
Reactions of Surrounding Countries and Interest Groups Have Been Largely Hostile:
- Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khameini referred to the deal as a “treachery against the Islamic world, Arab nations and Palestine.”
- Cinzia Bianco, a research fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations said that in Oman, Qatar and Kuwait “popular opposition towards normalisation is still quite high.”
- A government representative of Kuwait has claimed that country would be “the last to normalize relations with Israel.”
- David Elhayani, head of the Yesha Council of Jewish settlers in the West Bank says that “[Netanyahu] deceived us. He has deceived half a million residents of the area and hundreds of thousands of voters,” in reaction to the suspension of plans to annex the West Bank.
- Turkey’s foreign ministry denounced the agreement, stating that “it is extremely worrying that the UAE should, with a unilateral action, try and do away with the  Arab Peace Plan developed by the Arab League.”
The Western World Has Called the Agreement a Profound Success:
- Boris Johnson, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, called the agreement “hugely good news” and a “welcome step on the road to a more peaceful Middle East.”
- Democratic United States presidential candidate Joe Biden said: “The UAE’s offer to publicly recognize the State of Israel is a welcome, brave, and badly-needed act of statesmanship” and that “[a] Biden-Harris Administration will seek to build on this progress, and will challenge all the nations of the region to keep pace.”
- The foreign ministries of France and Germany independently stated that the agreement was “an important contribution to peace in the region”.
A Discreet Arms Deal
What underlines the negotiation is that the UAE have sought to purchase the US military’s most sophisticated warplane, the F-35, for years. They claim that normalization makes such a deal possible, as Israel has long objected the sale, being the only country in the area that has been allowed to purchase the weapon.
- Despite normalization, Netanyahu still opposes sale of the jets to the UAE.
- The UAE are relying on the Trump administration to process a sale before a potential Biden victory. Advisor Kushner spent a morning during the negotiation meeting with UAE military officials at an Abu Dhabi airbase that houses the F-35 jets.
- President Trump hinted that such a deal could occur: “[The Emiratis] have the money, and they would like to order quite a few F-35s. It’s under review, but they made a great advance in peace in the Middle East.”
The Trudeau government briefly endorsed the deal through a statement from Foreign Affairs Minister Francois Champagne, who said it was “a historic and positive step toward peace and security in the region.”
Minister Champagne also endorsed the suspension of the annexation plans, stating that “Canada remains strongly committed to a two-state solution, including the creation of a Palestinian state living side-by-side in peace and security with Israel.”
Canada’s Middle East Strategy involves investing $3.5 billion between 2016 and 2021 to improve security and humanitarian assistance in the region. Canada already has a Free Trade Agreement with Israel, and has been steadily increasing its economic involvement in the Middle East over the past decade.
Canada may stand to benefit from increased economic prosperity in the Gulf region, as trade presence in the Middle East has substantially increased in the last ten years, with an increase in two-way trade of 325% in the last ten years. The Middle East accounts for an increasing percentage of the world’s economic output because of its economic versatility and rapidly growing population. Not only are there several well established markets in the area, but certain sectors, such as technology, are ripe for growth.
- The suspension of any annexation plans in the West Bank will also lighten the load on Canadian humanitarian assistance provided to Palestinians in the region.
Movers and Shakers in the Gulf
It remains to be seen whether surrounding Gulf countries will be persuaded into multilateral cooperation, given Arab antagonism for the Israeli state. Undoubtedly the Palestinian question will be a key factor in the minds of Gulf oligarchs given the suspension of Netanyahu’s annex plans.
Yet, the agreement could genuinely be a stabilizing factor and reduce insurgency and militia warfare in region. Both Israel and the UAE stand from coordinating against the Houthis in Yemen. The Houthis are adamantly anti-Zionist, and the UAE will have cause to prevent further deterioration of Yemen and the expansion of Houthi ideology. For the Arab Gulf countries, coordinating with Israel to suppress the Houthi insurgency will prevent Iranian influence from expanding into Yemen using the Houthis as a proxy.
The Big Picture
Western countries are pleased at the deal which should see a reduction in the number of foreign troops in the area. Economic cooperation could also be a boon for Western allies as economies continue to fight the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Trump administration will be hopeful of brokering similar deals in the area before the election. In spite of this, presidential candidate Joe Biden has made his support of the agreement and of the Trump administration’s activities in the Gulf unequivocally clear.
The agreement has yet to be signed. Nevertheless, it is already clear that the so-called Abraham Accord will greatly influence the future of global geopolitics.
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