1. Why does the deal matter?
Although trade between Israel and its neighbors Jordan and Egypt never boomed despite normalization, it’s expected to be different with the UAE, a federation of seven emirates. Unlike Jordan and Egypt, the UAE never fought in any of the six Arab-Israeli wars. Plus Dubai is a business hub for the region and Abu Dhabi is keen to lessen its dependence on hydrocarbons. As soon as the normalization deal was revealed Aug. 13, ministers from the UAE and Israel rushed to open phone lines and unblock internet access, while companies in the two countries announced new pacts. In addition, the accord puts Israel’s plan to annex parts of the West Bank on ice -- though there are different interpretations of how long the freeze will last -- and solidifies a growing alliance between Israel and some Arab countries with Sunni Muslim majorities to contain Iran, whose population is mostly Shiite Muslim.
2. Why is it happening now?
Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed pointed to Israel’s agreement to halt its annexation plan as a key factor behind normalization. Analysts argue that mutual distrust of Iran, especially its regional ambitions and nuclear program, were the more decisive catalyst. The Gulf monarchies share Israel’s interest in pushing back against political Islam, which they view as a threat to hereditary rule and a destabilizing influence primarily emanating from Iran, Qatar and Turkey. While not specifically spelled out in the so-called “Abraham Accord,” enhanced security cooperation against regional threats, especially from Iran and the network of foreign militias it supports, is a key driver of the deal, according to Steven Cook, senior fellow for Middle East and Africa studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.
3. What role did the U.S. play?
Arguably it was President Donald Trump’s unsuccessful effort to secure a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians that indirectly expedited the UAE-Israel accord. Though the Palestinians rejected the U.S. proposal, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu controversially pledged to annex parts of the West Bank that the Trump plan envisioned Israel keeping. Concerned that such a move would provoke protests in support of Palestinians and jeopardize growing ties with Israel, UAE officials began secret talks with Israeli counterparts, with the Trump administration acting as a go-between. That led to the UAE’s decision to establish relations with Israel in exchange for Netanyahu suspending annexation.
4. What does the UAE get out of it?
The agreement enables the UAE to develop commercial, diplomatic and security ties with Israel while arguing it helped the Palestinians by getting Israel to halt annexation. The agreement could also give the UAE access to previously off-limits U.S. weaponry, such as advanced drones, just as Egypt was able to secure better American arms after its peace deal with Israel. It helps the UAE clean up an image tarnished in the U.S. by its role in the devastating Yemen war. It also gives the UAE an opportunity to collaborate on technology and health care with Israel, a leader in both, at a time when combating Covid-19 is every country’s chief concern. After the deal was announced, UAE-based APEX National Investment said it agreed to conduct research on the coronavirus with Israel’s TeraGroup.
5. What does Israel get?
For Israel, establishing normal diplomatic ties with Arab countries has long been a strategic goal. It signals greater acceptance in the Middle East and the potential for more commercial ties for a country that has until now conducted very little of its business in its own region. It could be the start of a wave of normalizations, with Bahrain and Sudan likely to follow, according to Eli Cohen, Israel’s intelligence minister. It is also a rare bit of good news for Netanyahu, who is under fire politically for his handling of the Covid-19 outbreak and faces multiple indictments for corruption.
6. Where does this leave the Palestinians?
Rejecting the UAE’s argument that it helped them out, Palestinian leaders have denounced the normalization plan as a betrayal by an Arab ally. To many Palestinians, the deal gives Israel the benefits of peace without requiring it to pay the price of relinquishing its grip over seized land. Acknowledging that this was “certainly true,” Dennis Ross, a former Middle East peace envoy for the U.S., wrote in the Washington Post that the UAE’s move “should also signal to Palestinians that others are not going to wait for them” to make peace with Israel.
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