Israel and UAE agree to normalise relations

Pictured: UAE Deputy Supreme Commander Mohammed bin Zayed and Isreal PM Benjamin Netanyahu. Sources: Kremlin.ru; U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv (Via Wikimedia Commons)
Israel and UAE have agreed a deal, brokered by the US, to normalise diplomatic relations between the two states, with Israel agreeing to suspend annexation of parts of the West Bank.

By Tom Kingsbury | Political Editor

In what they are calling a ‘historic’ agreement, the Trump administration has brokered a deal to normalise relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which will make the UEA the third country in the region to sign a peace treaty with Israel, after Egypt and Jordan.

The treaty also makes the UAE the first Gulf Arab state to establish full diplomatic ties with Israel.

A joint statement by the three parties said:

“This historic diplomatic breakthrough will advance peace in the Middle East region […] All three countries face many common challenges and will mutually benefit from today’s historic achievement.”

The agreement is conditional on Israel suspending its annexation of parts of the West Bank, though it does not require Israel to abandon it completely. Indeed, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated:

“I have not given up the annexation yet, and I will bring annexation just as I have with this peace deal”

Mr Netanyahu made it clear, however, that annexation would only be made in accordance with the US. Under the Trump administration, the US is one of very few states to dispute the interpretation of Israeli settlements – which are the areas planned for initial annexation – as illegal under international law.

Why is the deal significant?

Clearly, this marks significant progress for the diplomatic relations between Israel and the UAE.

The two states will exchange embassies, and economic ties will be closer than before. As the joint statement reads, the deal will affect “investment, tourism, direct flights, security, telecommunications, technology, energy, healthcare, culture, the environment, the establishment of reciprocal embassies, and other areas of mutual benefit.”

The economic benefits for Israel and UAE are likely to be significant. In terms of diplomacy though, it is worth noting that there were already reports of private negotiations and agreements between the two nations. The peace deal seems to be a public affirmation of this private diplomacy.

For Israel in particular, the agreement also serves its goal of lessening the threat Iran poses, by strengthening relations with other states in the region.

The peace deal is a forward step for the Trump administration’s peace plan, of which little progress has been made since it was announced earlier this year. With an election in November, it will serve as a diplomatic victory for the Trump campaign.

However, it must be noted that this is only incremental progress in what is a much more comprehensive plan for peace in the region.

Also important here is the issue of annexation. Mr Netanyahu has emphasised that whilst his plans regarding annexing Israeli settlements in the West bank have been suspended, they remain “on the table”.

The issue of annexation has been resisted by some in Israel, as well as receiving international condemnation, with political rival Benny Gantz standing as a staunch opponent of annexation without several conditions first being met.

The deal has been called a ‘stab in the back’ by Hamas, the ruling party in Gaza. A spokesman for Fatah, the leading Palestinian party in the West Bank said that the agreement was a “blatant violation” of the understanding between Arab states to stand against “normalization between the Arab countries and Israel before the establishment of an independent Palestinian state”.

Israel’s desired model for peace agreements in the region is to make individual arrangements with each nation. This is opposed to the Palestinian plan for peace: Israel first negotiating with Palestine before moving to regional talks.

Consequently, the deal serves Israel well, making regional diplomatic progress without making concessions to Palestine. This is the first normalization of relations since 1994 when Israel and Jordan signed a peace deal.

For Palestine, this is a concern, as it has become a lower priority to other Arab states, and as their backing weakens, so too does its negotiation position with Israel. It also means Palestine has again been left out of negotiations pertinent to its future.

What has the reaction been?

Mr Netanyahu said it was a “Historic day”, and the UAE ambassador to the US said in a statement that the agreement was “a significant advance for the region and for diplomacy.”

“It is a significant advance in Arab-Israeli relations that lowers tensions and creates new energy for positive change across the region.”

Mr Trump tweeted:

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson stated: “it was my profound hope that annexation did not go ahead in the West Bank and today’s agreement to suspend those plans is a welcome step on the road to a more peaceful Middle East”.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said it was time for “direct talks between the Palestinians and Israel, which is the only way to reach a two-state solution and a lasting peace”.

Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy stated: 

“The Labour party is hopeful that this announcement will be the first step towards the full withdrawal of annexation proposals, and that this can be a catalyst for a meaningful and lasting peace to be negotiated between the Israelis and Palestinians – an outcome we believe can only be achieved by a peaceful two-state solution in the Middle East.”

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