Israel talked of “history” and Palestinians of “betrayal” after Thursday’s surprise announcement of a deal to normalise relations between the Jewish state and the United Arab Emirates.
In a nationwide televised address, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the deal would lead to “full and formal peace” with the Gulf Arab state and voiced hope that other countries in the region would follow the UAE’s example.
Netanyahu said it also entailed acceding to a request from U.S. President Donald Trump to “temporarily wait” on implementing the Israeli leader’s pledge to annex parts of the occupied West Bank.
“It’s an incomparably exciting moment, a historic moment for peace in the Middle East,” Netanyahu said.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose officials seemed to be taken by surprise, issued an unusually strong condemnation of a regional Arab neighbour and instructed the Palestinian ambassador to the UAE to return immediately.
“The Palestinian leadership rejects and denounces the UAE, Israeli and U.S. trilateral, surprising, announcement,” said Abbas’s spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank.
Reading a statement on Palestinian television, Abu Rudeineh said the leadership regarded the UAE’s move as “a betrayal”.
The statement urged the Arab League and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation to assemble to “reject” the deal, adding “neither the UAE nor any other party has the right to speak in the name of the Palestinian people.”
The deal provides a diplomatic achievement for Netanyahu after weeks of domestic criticism over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and the economy, but also angered right-wing Israeli settlers who want to annex the West Bank.
Netanyahu said that while he had promised to apply Israeli sovereignty to areas, including Jewish settlements, in the territory, which Palestinians seek for a future state, he had made clear he first needed a green light from Washington.
“He deceived us. He has deceived half a million residents of the area and hundreds of thousands of voters,” said David Elhayani, head of the Yesha Council of settlers.
Abbas, who heads the Palestinian Authority and the umbrella Palestine Liberation Organization, has refused all political dealings with the Trump administration for more than two years, accusing it of taking a consistently pro-Israel stance.
Hanan Ashrawi, a veteran Palestinian negotiator, told Reuters: “We were blindsided. Their secret dealings are now completely out in the open. It is a complete sell-out.”
Much use was made of the word “normalisation” – a term that has very different connotations on either side.
For Israel and the White House it signified a welcome rapprochement with a key Gulf player in a region from which Israel has long been isolated, aside from two peace treaties with its immediate neighbours Egypt and Jordan.
But for many Palestinians and Arabs in other countries, the word has overwhelmingly negative connotations.
In Gaza, Fawzi Barhoum, a spokesman for Hamas, told Reuters: “Normalisation is a stab in the back of the Palestinian cause, and it serves only the Israeli occupation.”
In a rare show of unity, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh spoke to Abbas by phone to convey his “absolute rejection” of the deal, Hamas officials said.
There was no official reaction or media coverage in Saudi Arabia, but some Saudis tweeted under hashtags “normalization is treason”, “UAE” and “Israel.”
Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, the head of Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi group’s Supreme Revolutionary Committee, said the deal was a betrayal of the Palestinian cause and of pan-Arabism.
Iran said the deal between Israel and the United Arab Emirates was ‘dangerous and illegitimate’, state news agency IRNA quoted a statement from Iran’s foreign ministry as saying on Friday, in a reaction to a deal between the two states on normalising ties.
‘The shameful measure of Abu Dhabi to reach an agreement with the fake Zionist regime (Israel) is a dangerous move and the UAE and other states that backed it will be responsible for its consequences,’ the statement added, according to IRNA.
‘This is stabbing the Palestinians in the back and will strengthen the regional unity against the Zionist regime,’ the foreign ministry said.
Turkey said on Friday that history will not forget and never forgive the “hypocritical behaviour” of the United Arab Emirates in agreeing a deal with Israel to normalise relations.
The Foreign Ministry said the Palestinian people and administration were right to react strongly against the agreement, which recasts the order of Middle East politics from the Palestinian issue to the fight against Iran.
“History and the conscience of the region’s peoples will not forget and never forgive this hypocritical behaviour of the UAE, betraying the Palestinian cause for the sake of its narrow interests,” the ministry said in a statement.
“It is extremely worrying that the UAE should, with a unilateral action, try and do away with the (2002) Arab Peace Plan developed by the Arab League. It is not in the slightest credible that this three-way declaration should be presented as supporting the Palestinian cause.”
U.S. President Donald Trump helped broker the accord.
Turkey has diplomatic and trade ties with Israel, but relations have been strained for years. In 2010 Israeli commandos killed 10 Turkish activists trying to breach a blockade on the Gaza Strip, which is ruled by the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas.
The UAE becomes the third Arab country to establish full relations with Israel, after Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994.
United Arab Emirate’s minister of state for foreign affairs on Friday described as “encouraging” the reactions from main global capitals to its agreement with Israel.
The agreement dealt with the threat of further annexation of Palestinian territories, which had undermined chances of a two-state solution, Anwar Gargash said in a tweet.
The deal to normalise bilateral diplomatic ties, which U.S. president Donald Trump helped broker, has met with mixed global reactions.
As media and people in the United Arab Emirates hailed the Gulf state’s deal to normalise relations with Israel as a diplomatic victory that helps the Palestinians, silence reigned in Saudi Arabia, longtime figurehead of regional policy towards Israel.
Analysts see the surprise UAE-Israel agreement announced on Thursday as a strategic boost for the UAE’s regional and global standing that could put it ahead of its powerful Saudi neighbour and ally, especially in critical relations with Washington.
Saudi Arabia is the Gulf’s largest economy and the world’s biggest oil exporter, but the UAE has in recent years become increasingly assertive in its own foreign policy, especially in regional hot spots such as Libya, Sudan and Yemen.
In July last year the UAE said it was withdrawing its troops from Yemen where it had jointly with Saudi Arabia led a Western-backed coalition fighting the Iran-aligned Houthis since 2015.
The accord was a rare triumph for U.S. President Donald Trump in Middle East diplomacy ahead of his Nov. 3 re-election bid. But, should he be defeated by Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, the UAE could gain an advantage over Riyadh in relations with the United States.
“The move positions the UAE nicely should Biden win, as it will help smooth things over with (the U.S.) Congress and, by doing so, leave Saudi Arabia outflanked and more exposed than ever before,” said Neil Quilliam, associate fellow with Chatham House and managing director of Azure Strategy.
“This must be the real concern for the Saudi leadership right now – and the lead calculation on how to respond to the UAE-Israel move.”
Last year Congress passed legislation to block sales of some weapons to Saudi Arabia and the UAE in an attempt to pressure the Gulf states over civilian casualties in the Yemen war. The legislation was vetoed by President Donald Trump.
While there has been no official comment from the Saudis on the UAE-Israel pact so far, Twitter users in the kingdom shared pictures of the late King Faisal, who during the October 1973 Arab-Israeli war led an oil embargo that aimed to punish the United States and other countries for their support of Israel.
Users shared a quote from one of Faisal’s speeches: “If all Arabs agreed to accept the existence of Israel and dividing Palestine, we will never join them.”
“GULF IS AGAINST NORMALISATION”
On Thursday morning, the Arabic hashtag “Gulfis_Against_Normalisation” was trending in third place in Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia, a close U.S. ally, has been ruled by 84-year-old King Salman since 2015. He has overseen bold changes at home and abroad led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, or MbS as he is widely referred to, Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler and next in line to the throne.
Both Saudi Arabia and Israel view Iran as the major threat to the Middle East. Increased tension between Tehran and Riyadh has fuelled speculation that shared interests may push the Saudis and Israel to work together, and there have been signs in recent years of some thawing between the two.
However, King Salman’s position as custodian of Islam’s holiest sites makes it harder or the kingdom to take the same step as the UAE while the status of Jerusalem remains unresolved and an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal remains elusive.
“To do so would risk losing public support at a time of significant economic crisis and would give a boon to Iran at such a delicate time,” said Quilliam.
Palestinians seek a state on land occupied by Israel since the 1967 Middle East war, with East Jerusalem, also captured then by Israel, as their capital. Israel deems Jerusalem to be its eternal, indivisible capital.
Israel agreed as part of the accord with the UAE to suspend plans to annex parts of the occupied territories, but Palestinians said they were blindsided by the announcement and rejected it, calling it a “betrayal”.
The UAE-Israel deal appeared at odds with a 2002 Arab League peace proposal, moribund for many years, that would have required Israel to withdraw from all occupied territories in exchange for normal relations with Arab states.
White House adviser Jared Kushner hinted on Thursday that other Arab states would follow the UAE’s path. Bahrain, a close Saudi ally, and Oman, which hosted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2018, have both released statements in support of the UAE opening to Israel.
There has been no official comment from Kuwait, nor from Qatar, which has been in a sharp political dispute with the Saudis, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt for three years.
“Everyone in the UAE is so happy and satisfied with the decision…The negativity you see is only coming from outside,” said Emirati Twitter user Hassan Sajwani, who describes himself as an Emirati writer on current affairs and counter-terrorism with over 60,000 followers.
He tweeted a flag of Israel with a heart emoji and wrote “Visit Israel”.
From cries of “betrayal” to fears about “falling dominoes”, the deal making the United Arab Emirates the third Arab state to forge ties with Israel stirred anger and dismay around the Middle East, but a cautious welcome from the UAE’s Gulf allies.
The mixed response highlighted new fault lines in a region where fear and distrust of Iran – shared by Israel and some Arab states – has challenged a decades-old allegiance to the Palestinian issue as a major driver of Arab policy.
Palestinians, who want to establish a state on West Bank territory captured by Israel in 1967, denounced the agreement as a betrayal of the long-held Arab stance that peace should be conditional on Israeli withdrawal from occupied territory.
The agreement, which is set to make the UAE only the third Arab state after Egypt and Jordan to make peace with Israel, calls for a temporary suspension of Israel’s planned annexation of occupied West Bank territory, but not withdrawal.
The deal, which U.S. President Donald Trump helped to broker with support of senior adviser Jared Kushner, forms a new axis with the UAE aligning itself with Israel in confronting Shi’ite Muslim Iran and Sunni Islamist radicals in the region.
This is likely to heighten tensions in the Gulf, which in the past two years has seen attacks on tankers and energy installations that the United States and Saudi Arabia have blamed on Iran, a charge Tehran denies.
‘FALL LIKE DOMINOES’
Some worshippers at Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, where Palestinians want to establish the capital of a future state, carried pictures of UAE Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed with the word “traitor” underneath his image.
“Just like Egypt, Jordan and now Abu Dhabi, the whole Arab world will start to fall like dominoes,” said Mohammad al-Sharif, 45, a member of Israel’s Arab minority. “That Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed and his dirty dogs look out for themselves and their interests and the rest of us can go to hell.”
Palestine Liberation Organization Secretary General Saeb Erekat spelled out the potential consequences for his people if a united Arab front splintered.
“The whole thing that we based our strategy on as Arabs is that the (2002) Arab peace initiative specified that once Israel withdraws, there will be peace between Arabs and Israelis.
“Netanyahu came determined, with Kushner, Trump… to change the formula, that they want Arab recognition of Israel while they continue with the occupation, and the United Arab Emirates yesterday stamped the green light for this,” Erekat said.
Meanwhile Lebanon’s leading Druze politician Walid Jumblatt dismissed it as an pre-election manoeuvre by Trump.
“I hope Arabs realise the danger of the situation before it is too late and all of Palestine is lost,” he said on Twitter.
TURKEY MAY SHUT EMBASSY
Iran lambasted the deal. “The shameful measure of Abu Dhabi to reach an agreement with the fake Zionist regime (Israel) is a dangerous move and the UAE and other states that backed it will be responsible for its consequences,” the Foreign Ministry said.
Turkey, a powerful regional rival of the UAE, said history would not forgive the Gulf Arab country for making a deal which undercut the 2002 Arab peace plan, which had proposed peace in return for Israeli withdrawal from all occupied territory.
“We may also take a step in the direction of suspending diplomatic ties with the Abu Dhabi leadership or pulling back our ambassador,” President Tayyip Erdogan said after Friday prayers, adding that he could close Turkey’s embassy.
But, in a region beset with other challenges including civil wars, poverty and economic crisis, some people appeared to have other concerns.
At Istanbul’s landmark Hagia Sophia, converted by Erdogan to a mosque last month in a move which he portrayed as a step towards restoring “freedom” to Al Aqsa in Jerusalem, worshippers who spoke to Reuters were unaware of the announcement.
INCENTIVE FOR PEACE
Egypt and Jordan, which signed peace deals with Israel in 1979 and 1994 respectively and enjoy close ties with the UAE, both welcomed the agreement. Jordan said the pact could make a beneficial impact if it spurred Israel to accept a Palestinian state on land it took in the 1967 Middle East war.
“If Israel deals with it as an incentive to end occupation…, it will move the region towards a just peace,” Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said.
Oman and Bahrain also praised the accord but Saudi Arabia, which has in the past helped guide Arab policy towards Israel and hosts Islam’s two holiest sites, has remained silent, as have Kuwait and Qatar. [L8N2FG22C]
Jordan’s former foreign minister, Marwan al-Muasher, said it was possible other Gulf states could follow Abu Dhabi’s lead in opening relations with Israel. But none of those could address the root problem.
“In the end it’s not the Gulf states who are living under occupation, it’s the Palestinians. And until you reach a solution with the Palestinians, it does not matter how many peace deals you make with Arab states,” he told Reuters.