The announcement of the UAE-Israel agreement on 13 August 2020 constituted an unprecedented historic moment for twenty-five years, according to US President Donald Trump whose administration oversaw reaching this agreement.

According to the agreement, direct and full diplomatic relations are expected to be started between Abu Dhabi and Tel Aviv, initially with a joint meeting of delegations in the coming weeks to sign bilateral agreements in the fields of investment, tourism, communications, technology, health care and the environment, and the establishment of reciprocal embassies.

However, the most prominent achievement in the agreement is that it represents an important and advanced step to enhance "the chances of peace in the Middle East", especially that according to the agreement, Israel will "stop further Israeli annexation of Palestinian territories" in the West Bank and the Jordan Valley, according to what was stated in the joint statement between the US, the UAE and Israel. Thus, the UAE diplomacy has succeeded in stopping the scheme of the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to annex 30 percent of the West Bank and the Jordan Valley, a step that, if it occurred, would completely undermine the two-state solution and impede the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.

Regional political circumstances surrounding the agreement

The Arab region is witnessing stormy and unprecedented regional facts and changes, namely the Iranian ambitions that have greatly expanded in the Arab region in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen. Either directly or through proxies, Iran has constituted a real strategic threat to the Arab region in general, and the Gulf region in particular. Tehran appears to be more determined to destabilize regional security after the US withdrew from the 2015 Joint Action Plan (the nuclear deal with Iran) and imposed severe sanctions on Tehran. Iran’s threat also poses a strategic danger for the security of global trade and oil trade by its threatening of the freedom of navigation in the Arabian Gulf and the Arabian Sea.

Turkey has also revealed its ambitions in the Arab region through its direct and blatant intervention in Syria, its obstruction of all international efforts to bring peace to Libya, its support for extremist political Islam movements in the region, and its ambitions in the gas of the Eastern Mediterranean, which constitutes a threat to the vital security of major Arab countries such as Egypt.

At a time when the coronavirus pandemic casts a heavy shadow on the economies of Arab countries, Iraq and Lebanon are witnessing deep political crises that threaten the state structure in each of them, while the Syrian crisis and the conflict in Yemen continue as a result of Iran's interference in those Arab arenas and its endeavor to break the foundations of the national state by supporting armed militias and non-state powers and groups.

While the Palestinian arena continues to witness a deep division between the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank and the Hamas government in Gaza, the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations have reached a dead end, especially when Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu announced his decision to annex territories in the West Bank and the Jordan Valley to Israel, which prompted the PA to threaten to cancel all peace agreements with Tel Aviv.

The agreement also comes amidst a great variation in the policies of countries of the European Union (EU) towards the region, and the increased Russian and Chinese ambitions to play a greater role at the expense of the US role in the region.

Expected repercussions of the agreement for the Palestinian issue and the peace process

Dr. Anwar Gargash, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, stated that the agreement has achieved a breakthrough, namely freezing the annexation of Palestinian territories and removing the pervasive danger that threatens the two-state solution. The UAE has succeeded in neutralizing this danger by investing its balanced diplomacy with the US decision-maker. As soon as the agreement was announced, the head of the Council of Settlers in Israel Shai Allon criticized the Israeli agreement with the UAE, as it froze the annexation decision.

The implications of the agreement can be read according to the following facts:

  • While the agreement constitutes the beginning of bilateral relations between the UAE and Israel, the main UAE demand is not the self-interest of the UAE, but rather stopping the annexation of Palestinian territories and reviving the chances of the two-state solution after it has reached a hopeless stage.
  • The UAE political position comes in support of the Arab and international position based on the two-state solution and the establishment of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, which is the main demand and the goal that the PA has been seeking to achieve by mobilizing international support to reinforce this demand.
  • The UAE has underlined that its role is to revive the peace opportunities and pave the way for them. However, it has underlined that the Palestinian and Israeli sides are the ones concerned with reviving the peace process. That is, the UAE has not presented itself as an alternative to the Palestinians. Indeed, the UAE continues to adopt its position in support of the justice of the Palestinian demands to establish an independent state with Eastern Jerusalem as its capital.
  • The UAE-Israel agreement will contribute to the removal of the security and strategic burden that Jordan and Egypt could have suffered from had Israel annexed more Palestinian territories.
  • The UAE-Israel agreement succeeded in making the US decision-maker reconsider the need for the presence of Arab actors in the peace process, after the US administration has lately tended to marginalize the Arab role and proceed with unilateral agreements with Israel on an issue that is the focus of Arab concern, namely the Palestinian issue.

Finally, the UAE-Israel agreement will prevent further deterioration in the Palestinian issue in light of the complete blockage in negotiations with Israel and the fact that Israel has taken unilateral steps in recent years without any active Arab, regional or international role to deter it. Other Arab countries are likely to follow the UAE in establishing direct relations with Israel.

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