MS Risk Blog

‘Abraham Accords’ and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

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The violence, which erupted in the final days of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan between Israel and Palestine have brought UAE in a controversial place, where national interest crosses public opinion, as well as the country’s Arab identity. While the majority of the Arab world has rebuked Israeli aggression, and along with Palestine perceived Emirates’ attitude as betrayal, the so-called ‘Abraham Accords’ has offered the UAE long term and strategic benefits that cannot be neglected. Public opinion in the Emirates has openly expressed its support to Palestine, mainly on social media, and wants the leadership to stand firm on this conflict. But US weapon sales, cyber-security cooperation, and more economic-oriented sectors are among the benefits stemmed from the treaty, and constitute determining factors for the government’s attitude towards Israeli aggression.

On 13 August 2020, Israel and the UAE signed an agreement, known as ‘The Abraham Accords’ and mediated by U.S. President Donald Trump, under which the two countries established full diplomatic relations. The main purpose of Trump’s administration, as then-national security adviser Robert O’Brien said was to bring peace to the Middle East and for President Trump to be remembered as a peacemaker. In terms of bilateral relations, the UAE-Israel deal paved the way for an alliance between Abu Dhabi and Tel Aviv aimed at countering regional foes Turkey and Iran in many hotspots around the Middle East, such as Syria, Libya, Yemen, Sudan, and the Gulf states. The biggest win for the UAE from the deal may be a U.S/Israeli concession to overcome restrictions imposed by the Congressional Israel Qualitative Military Edge Act of 2017, which bans the sale of advanced U.S. weapons to Israel’s Arab foes in order to ensure Israel’s ability to defend itself. Consequently, the UAE could also be able to defend its interests against Iran for example, in Yemen. In order to effectively deal with such threats, the normalization agreement also stipulates the cooperation of the two countries in the fields of intelligence and cyber security. In fact, one of the first moves after the signing of the agreement was the meeting between the two countries’ cyber czars in Tel Aviv, where the cyber-security chiefs discussed cooperation. Meanwhile, economically, the UAE would benefit from the economic dividend of normalization with Israel. On the grounds that Israelis are avid investors, consumers, and travelers and that several hi-tech companies already cooperate with partners in the UAE, the agreement would flourish further their cooperation, offering the Emirates access to cutting-edge technology.

Palestinians on the other hand, perceived this agreement as a betrayal, breaking a long-standing Arab consensus that the price of normal relations with Israel was independence for the Palestinians. Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the UAE’s de facto ruler, affirmed that his price for the deal was Israel’s agreement to put a stop to the Israeli plan to annex parts of the occupied West Bank. Therefore, Palestine for many years had the card of the Arab consensus that normalising relations with Israel could only occur after a Palestinian state is established based on the 1949-1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital. However, the world has now become witness of one of the worst conflicts between Palestine and the Jewish State, turning the Abraham Accords into a failure and eroding the Arab consensus. Diplomatic ties ushered in by last year’s treaty, seems to have given UAE little leverage and done nothing to ease the root cause of the Arab-Israeli crisis.

For the first time in the many clashes between the two foes, regional unity over who is to blame and what should be done to stop the fighting has splintered. In the face of ongoing Israeli aggression, protests erupted in many countries with Muslim majorities, such as Turkey and Iran, supporting Palestinians and accusing Israel of incitement at the al-Aqsa mosque last May and committing atrocities in Gaza. Turkey’s foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu was even more pointed during the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation’s meeting, accusing the Abraham Accord countries of having “lost their moral compass” and undercutting regional solidarity. In Qatar, the government allowed hundreds to protest on May 16, as Hamas’ top leader delivered a speech. In Morocco demonstrations have taken place in 46 Moroccan cities following Israel’s deadly assault on Gaza, with protesters denouncing Morocco’s normalisation of relations with Israel, while the Moroccan government has released an official statement concerning the ongoing “violent incidents” in Palestine’s Al Quds and the Al Aqsa Mosque.

On the contrary, other countries, including UAE, have never been more restrained before. UAE now find themselves balancing their recently established relationship with Israel against citizens who have been vocal in their anger towards Jewish aggression. Some citizens have openly donned the black-and-white checkered Palestinian keffiyeh on Instagram while others have tweeted under hashtags supportive of Palestinians. The government simply expressed deep concern about the violent incidents in Jerusalem and condemned the Israeli authorities for the storming of the Holy Al-Aqsa Mosque, as well as the potential evictions. The leadership is aware of the dynamics in the region, not to mention all the benefits the UAE can expect from further development of their cooperation with Israel in various sectors, including investments, science, and technology. Therefore, it was not among its options to be overtly vituperative on UAE’s strategic partner.

It becomes apparent that the more advanced the relations between UAE and Israel, the higher the price that Emirati rulers will likely have to pay politically, in case of an upcoming outbreak of violence between the two foes, Israel and Palestine. The normalisation of relations between Israel and the UAE under the Abraham Accords, although a breakthrough with numerous benefits for UAE, has brought the Arab state’s leadership in a very difficult position, where it needs to weight all variables, pros and cons, in order to serve both national interest and its people. But the economic development, coupled with the backing the UAE might possibly receive in light of their rivalry with Turkey and Iran in the Libyan and Yemeni fronts accordingly, implies a rather restrained stance on Emirates’ ends, in spite of the political cost.