The Israel-UAE deal is about Iran, not Palestine

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Relations between Israel and the Middle Eastern Kingdoms have existed behind the scenes for a while now, say international relations experts

For US President Donald Trump, the latest “Abraham Agreement” between the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Israel to normalise their diplomatic ties is a “huge” breakthrough between two of the United States’ “great” friends.

This deal came at a time when there is an election coming up in the United States and Donald Trump’s future looks bleak. So, Trump’s euphoria can be perceived effortlessly as he capitalises on certain words (huge breakthrough/great friends) to praise a deal that he takes full credit for.

For Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on the other hand, this deal served well to save his face at home as he promised annexation of the West Bank by July 1, which he could not keep.

But what is in the deal for the UAE?

The joint statement issued by the three nations (the US, Israel, and the UAE) says “Israel will suspend declaring sovereignty” over the occupied West Bank areas.

Mohammed bin Zayed, the crown prince of the UAE, tweeted, “An agreement was reached to stop further Israeli annexation of Palestinian territories” and the countries are “setting a roadmap towards establishing a bilateral relationship.”

This means Israel will stop its illegitimate annexation in exchange for the normalisation of diplomatic ties with the UAE.

But unsurprisingly, immediately after the “historic agreement”, Israel’s Netanyahu said in Jerusalem, “There is no change to my plan to extend sovereignty (annexation), our sovereignty in Judea and Samaria, in full coordination with the United States.”

Netanyahu used the biblical name Judea and Samaria for the occupied West Bank, and vowed that the annexation plan is pretty much on the table.

So, what actually is this so-called “peace agreement” about then?

According to Imtiaz Ahmed, a distinguished professor of international relations at the University of Dhaka, considering the typical politics of the Middle Eastern kingdoms and their rulers, the latest Israel-UAE agreement “does not surprise us at all.”

“Even though they would present such deals as an effort to halt Israeli annexation, this is simply a part of their typical politics.”

He believes that relations among Israel, the UAE and some other Middle Eastern countries, even Saudi Arabia, already existed behind the scenes.

“They do not make these relations public perhaps because they are not sure how the Arab people would react.”

The professor instead considers this as the Arab monarchs’ efforts to counter the rise of republics led by Iran.

“When Iran became a republic and Ayatollah al-Husayni al-Sistani issued a fatwa that only republican governments are acceptable in Islam and the monarchies are anti-Islamic, it created further enmity between Iran and Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern regimes.”

So, in the Middle East, “there actually lies a rivalry between monarchies and republicans, even though the observers often term this rivalry as Shiite vs Sunni,” Professor Ahmed added.

Shahab Enam Khan, a professor of international relations at Jahangirnagar University, evaluates the latest agreement from the perspective of security and protection.

“Basically, the Middle East is undergoing a new security crisis with the rise of China, Turkey and Russia, which essentially empowers Iran.”

“As a result, after the Qatar crisis, countries like the UAE and Saudi Arabia have become more proactive in consolidating their power. Hence, the UAE-Israel and the passive relationship between Israel and Saudi Arabia are nothing new.

“What these countries are doing is trying to hold on to their power status quo – between Iran and its alliances, and Saudi Arabia and its alliances. They are not necessarily trying to create a balance of power,” Professor Khan added.

Like Professor Khan, Professor Ahmed also believes that the axis between Russia, China and Iran in the Middle East could play a role in the “Abraham Agreement” coming into existence.

But where is the issue of Palestine in all these?

Professor Ahmed considers the discussions of Palestinians’ rights or the sentences in the agreement about stopping the annexations just a cover-up.

“These Arab monarchs have always maintained implicit relations with Israel, and they have a role in the misery and violation of rights of the Palestinian people. The kingdoms of the Middle East have always been under the umbrella of the US influence. But that could not help them establish Palestinian rights,” he explained.

Instead of the politics to establish the rights of the Palestinians, these monarchs, according to the professor, have been alert so that no other republic rises to threaten their monarchy as Iran did.

Now back to a euphoric Donald Trump, who has just found a new armament to charge up his re-election campaign, which was under tremendous pressure due to Covid-19 fallout and subsequent economic pressures and a myriad of other difficulties. He believes that other Muslim nations in the region will follow the UAE.

“Now that the ice has been broken, I expect more Arab and Muslim countries will follow the United Arab Emirates,” Trump said.

But would other Arab countries follow suit?

Depends.

Professor Khan said, “For a small country like the UAE with huge economic depth, they would require an essential protection and that would come from the Israel-US relationship.”

However, what lies ahead for the deal – that Hamas decries as a “treacherous stab in the back,” that the Palestine Liberation Organisation accuses the UAE of not understanding the pain of “your country was stolen,” or that Iran denounces as a “strategic act of idiocy” – and its geopolitical repercussions are for the future to decide.

But for now, this normalisation and formalisation of the Israel-UAE relations, according to Professor Ahmed, are positive, at least in the sense that things have become public.

“Now, we will see how the Arab people react to this normalisation of relations. But for that, we will need to wait,” he added.

Professor Khan, however, believes the status quo may change when Joe Biden comes.

“But for now, this is where the matter stands,” he concludes.

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