Despite criticism, Abu Dhabi leads Arab world in terms of peace with Israel, as well as in working against latter’s plan for West Bank annexation
The United Arab Emirates is being accused of pushing “normalization with Israel” after the Emirati ambassador to Washington, Yousef Al-Otaiba, published a Hebrew-language opinion piece in the Tel Aviv-based daily Yedioth Ahronoth urging Israel to drop its plans to annex parts of the West Bank.
Abu Dhabi has also faced widespread criticism over direct Etihad Airways flights to Israel’s Ben-Gurion Airport, one in May and the other in June, with medical supplies to help the Palestinians cope with the coronavirus pandemic.
And on Thursday evening, at the graduation ceremony for a new cohort of Israel Air Force pilots, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu announced that the health ministers of Israel and the UAE would soon announce the launch of cooperation in fighting the coronavirus pandemic, calling it “the result of extensive contacts made in recent months.”
Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a professor of political science at New York University’s Abu Dhabi campus, told The Media Line that the UAE was trying to break through in terms of the peace process at a time when no other Arab country was doing so.
“In a way, Abu Dhabi is speaking on behalf of about 22 Arab countries, and not only on behalf of itself,” he explained. “And of these 22 countries, no one is taking the lead more than the UAE.”
Abdulla explains that Abu Dhabi’s position on the Israeli plan to annex parts of the West Bank is loud and clear, as stated by Otaiba in his op-ed.
“Diplomatically, no one that I know of has been working behind the scenes more than Abu Dhabi, which is in touch with world capitals – European capitals and America’s as well – to stop this drift toward the annexation of the West Bank,” he said.
Abdulla adds that most of the media accusations of normalization leveled against the UAE are not supported by evidence.
“They are accusations, and only that. Eighty percent, at least, are lies, empty of any truth,” he stated.
“Whatever you hear about the UAE today, you have to double-check, especially since the accusations come after Abu Dhabi decided to take the lead [in terms of the peace process],” he said. “So it’s bombarded with nonsensical accusations.”
Abdulla points out that the Gulf country is doing nothing that other nations are not already doing.
“The UAE has not yet received Israeli officials,” he said. “It has received Israelis coming to attend international events in terms of sports and in other fields, but Abu Dhabi has never received an Israeli official invited by the UAE, unlike Qatar and Oman.”
The UAE has not yet received Israeli officials. It has received Israelis coming to attend international events in terms of sports and in other fields, but Abu Dhabi has never received an Israeli official invited by the UAE, unlike Qatar and Oman
As much as Israel is trying to reach out to the UAE, the latter has kept it to a one-way relationship.
“It’s not reciprocated, unlike what many people believe,” he stated.
Abdulla adds that Arab countries have come to realize that there is no way to defeat Israel militarily, and therefore peace is the only option.
“Previously, they came up with the 2002 [Arab Initiative],” he said, backing up his claim.
“Not only that, but I understand that the majority of Palestinians are desperate to achieve a credible peace,” he continued. “As a matter of fact, the latest opinion polls show that many of them are even willing to live in one state under the Israeli flag, as people are fed up with this conflict and war.”
He further cites the formal diplomatic ties both Egypt and Jordan maintain with Israel, as well as the lower levels of ties openly maintained by many other Arab countries, such as Qatar, Oman, Bahrain and Morocco, “all of which have received [Israelis] and established contact [with Israel].”
There is an “Arab consensus,” he says. “I think Arab countries have obeyed the Arab League’s decision: that we can’t have normal relations with the State of Israel unless it recognizes an independent Palestinian [state].”
Abdulla says the binding Arab League resolution has prevented Arab countries from going public with their recognition of, and ties with, Israel.
“On the other hand, Israel isn’t helping these countries, with its right-wing government that’s extremist and interested in taking more Palestinian lands and [carrying out] more annexation,” he stated. “This current right-wing government isn’t a serious partner for peace.”
In his Yedioth Ahronoth op-ed, Otaiba said Israel would gain nothing from the “step of annexation,” warning that it would only damage efforts at normalization with the Arab world and definitely and immediately stymie all Israeli aspirations to improve security, economic and cultural relations with Arab states.
Annexation, the Emirati ambassador said, would “ignite violence and wake the extremists.” It would be a unilateral measure and “an unlawful appropriation of Palestinian lands in defiance of an Arab and even international consensus regarding the Palestinians’ right to self-determination.”
Still, the UAE wants to believe that Israel is “an opportunity, not an enemy, an opportunity for warmer relations,” he wrote.
Nizar al-Makan, a political analyst and instructor at the Institute of Press and Information Sciences in Tunis, told The Media Line that the UAE’s position on Israel’s annexation plans, as well as Otaiba’s assertion that Arab countries would advance normalization with Israel in exchange for dropping those plans, was a defeatist stance.
“The UAE has been dealing with Zionists for a while now, where they have economic ties and normalization, but under the table,” Makan said. “Also, the majority of the Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia, conduct open dialogue with Israel and put themselves in a place to argue with the latter regarding the annexation plans and [US President Donald] Trump’s [peace] plan.”
Makan notes that previously, the Emirati-Saudi-Egyptian-Bahraini axis did not have a clear position on Trump’s “deal of the century,” so these countries did not reject it. “And we can’t really say they are against the annexation plan.”
He adds that even in Jordan, there was hesitation with regard to annexation.
The Media Line asked Bassam al-Manaser, former head of the Jordanian parliament’s Committee on Arab and International Affairs, about the UAE’s role in terms of the annexation plan, and about Amman’s position on that role.
Jordan, he explains, is out of options and has lost most of its political weight given that its difficult economic circumstances and internal disquiet now take precedence over its political positions, including with regard to the UAE.
“Amman was supposed to be the gate of peace [for Israel] to the Gulf countries. The role of the Emirates is subversive, and it is dragging the entire Arab world toward the matter of normalization with Israel,” Manaser said.
“We’re talking about a star with its axes: [UAE ruler Mohammed] bin Zayed [al Nahyan], [Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed] bin Salman, [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, [Egyptian President Abdel Fattah] el-Sisi, [Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu and [former prime minister of the United Kingdom Tony] Blair, who started with counter-revolutions against the Arab Spring, and now have a plan in the Middle East to tear the Arab world apart,” he said.
Moreover, their role is clear in Yemen and Libya, and bin Zayed is dragging Saudi Arabia toward normalization with Israel – “and this could have an enormous effect on the Saudi kingdom,” Manaser said.
“Bin Zayed’s dream of leading the Arab world is bigger than [the UAE’s] weight, but unfortunately,” he states, “things are working for him now.”