This has been claimed as a major and possibly the only real foreign policy success of his administration as UAE becomes the third country in the Middle East to normalise relations with Israel and that too after a gap of a quarter-century.
By Ambassador Anil Trigunayat
US President Donald Trump has been able to stitch a peace deal between UAE and Israel as partial success to his “Deal of the Century “. This has been claimed as a major and possibly the only real foreign policy success of his administration as UAE becomes the third country in the Middle East to normalise relations with Israel and that too after a gap of a quarter-century.
The timing was important due to his upcoming re-election. Hence rightly he and his daughter Ivanka as well as Secretary Mike Pompeo proclaimed this grand “success” during Trump’s nomination acceptance speech. Palestinians obviously called it a ” betrayal and stabbing in the back ” by the UAE but writing on the wall is quite clear as the Arab States are becoming more pragmatic and are facing their own foreign policy challenges coming from an emboldened Iran and a mercurial Turkish President Erdogan. Fear of political Islam and changing geopolitical and geo-economic dynamic as well as accruing benefits have expedited the overt engagement between the UAE and Israel despite some fears of the dissatisfaction of the Arab street.
For quite some time now Israel has been making efforts to normalize relations with Arab countries especially those from the Gulf. UAE happens to be the ace in that pack. Netanyahu visited Oman which has now supported and welcomed the establishment of diplomatic relations between Israel and UAE. It has also been reported that Netanyahu had visited UAE in 2018 and other unannounced high-level visits have taken place. Bahrain had earlier on not only held the first economic meeting in Manama for the Trump’s Deal of the Century but also did not show any aversion to diplomatic relations in future. As the UAE’s Etihad flight landed at Ben Gurion airport with relief supplies and Saudi Arabia permitted use of its air space to Air India and El Al flights and delegations have already been exchanged the quick transformation and traction in UAE-Israel bilateral relations is pretty evident. As of now none of the GCC countries have also opposed the move. It would have not happened without the implicit support of the Saudi leadership. Even Arab League rejected the Palestine request to discuss the UAE -Israel deal.
In recent years Turkey and Iran have tried to become more vocal in propagating the Palestine cause. President Mahmud Abbas called back his Ambassador from the Emirates. Turkey, the other regional competitor of UAE, reportedly has decided to close its embassy in Abu Dhabi and called it a “hypocritical behaviour”. As such two are pitted against one another in Syria, Libya and Qatar and the Eastern Mediterranean etc.
The Peace Agreement between the two will enable closer collaboration across the whole spectrum including security, intelligence sharing, high technology, trade and investment. Since Palestine cause is important for the Arab Street it was expected that this agreement will have to be predicated on something significant with regard to Palestine. Hence Netanyahu agreed not to move forward with his planned annexation of around 30% of the West Bank which the UAE considers as a way forward in resolving the longstanding “Palestine -Israel dispute with a just and comprehensive solution. For Netanyahu, the Deal is a good opening with the Arab world and a face-saving about the internationally opposed West Bank annexation move. The agreement hopes to create the necessary conditions for the much-needed dialogue which the Palestinians also want. UAE’s Minister of State for Foreign affairs Anwar Gargash even claimed that this Deal has given a lease of life to the two-State solutions. It will be difficult to predict what kind of an outcome or political arrangement that will be.
The US continues to handhold the post-announcement way forward each step of the way as Pompeo and Jared Kushner has been straddling across the region seeking support for the Peace Deal as well as persuading next possible candidates to normalise relations with Israel. It will take a while since others would like to see the reality of this momentous rapprochement including the response or results it generates. As the fundamental drivers of the conflict in the region remain one could see further accentuation in the on-going hotspots. Hence, the Peace Treaty and the so-called Abraham Agreements will have a significant impact as the new regional dynamic and countervailing power-sharing mechanisms are emerging in West Asia. Several gulf countries may follow the lead in due course.
As for India, it is indeed a good development since both Israel and UAE are the closest strategic partners in the Middle East. There could be trilateral cooperation in Africa and elsewhere by pooling in individual competencies especially in food security and cybersecurity and technological assimilation etc. India welcomed the move but urges an early equitable resolution of the Palestinian issue with dialogue between Palestine and Israel in accordance with large number agreements. Hopefully, even incremental peace might lead to a lasting solution with an all-encompassing dialogue between Israel and Palestine. Be that as it may, the underlying issue of Palestine cannot be ignored by the world community.
(The author is Former Ambassador of India to Jordan, Libya and Malta & Distinguished Fellow Vivekananda International Foundation. Views expressed are personal.)