On 13 August, Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) agreed upon the Abraham Accords. The US-brokered deal sees Israel temporarily halt plans to annex parts of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, military cooperation between the two states, telephone links and normalisation of diplomatic relations.
It also sees UAE drop its economic boycott of Israel, opening up trade relations for the first time since 1971 – when Israel was referred to as “the enemy” by the UAE President then. UAE now joins Egypt and Jordan as the only Arab countries to normalise relations with Israel, with several other Arab countries still disputing its legitimacy as a state. Could this be the beginning of better relations in the Middle East for the Israelis?
Why did this deal come to pass?
Since 1948, numerous wars and territorial tussles have broken out in the Middle East over Israel’s legitimacy. However, Arab states seem to have been softening their stance behind closed doors. A mutual suspicion of Iran, with its increasing militant and expansionist government, has managed to be a unifying factor that perhaps set the stage for the August 2020 UAE-Israel deal and possibly many more to come.
As for the participants of the deal, the Israelis have gained a powerful, oil-rich ally in a hostile region along with a break in the leverage that Arab solidarity has over them. The Emiratis, on the other hand, have gained insights into fields that Israel has been a global leader in, such as security, cyber infrastructure and military capabilities, as well as access to American technology.
Predictably, certain Arab states saw this as a betrayal on UAE’s part. Kuwaiti MPs denounced the deal, Palestinian officials criticized UAE for their support of Israel, and the Iranians condemned it as a “shameful deal”.
However, Saudi Arabia was supportive of the deal, opening up its airspace for Israeli flights for the first time. Other states like Oman and Bahrain followed suit, praising the deal as a step towards peace in the Middle East.
The US, who brokered the deal, saw this as a win for the Trump administration, which has long promised to shift towards bringing peace to the Middle East.
While the deal indicates a positive shift in tone in Arab-Israeli relations, it could result in a new set of issues for Palestine. Without the incentive of normalised relations with the rest of the Arab world in exchange for Palestinian control of the West Bank, the region might remain in a perpetual limbo till one side lets up.