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Palestinians Plan to Block Israel-UAE Accord (with VIDEO)
Palestinians gather in the West Bank town of Turmus Aya on August 15, two days after the United Arab Emirates and Israel signed a normalization deal, to stage a "Normalization is Betrayal" rally against the agreement. (Issam Rimawi/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Palestinians Plan to Block Israel-UAE Accord (with VIDEO)

Former Israeli ambassador to Washington says agreement ‘altered the rules of the game for the peace process’

An outraged Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has ordered officials to launch a campaign against the deal reached last week by Israel and the United Arab Emirates, under the auspices of the Trump Administration, to normalize relations.

The goal is to stop additional Arab states from following in the UAE’s footsteps, a high-level source in the West Bank city of Ramallah told The Media Line.

Abbas called French President Emmanuel Macron and asked him to condemn the agreement, but Macron refused, according to the source, who added that the French leader indicated there was backing for the accord among the rest of the European Union.

The August 13 announcement of the agreement sent shock waves throughout the Middle East.

The UAE will be the third Arab state and the first Gulf country to normalize diplomatic ties with Israel.

The head of Israel’s Mossad spy agency held security talks in the UAE prior to the accord. Mossad chief Yossi Cohen discussed cooperation in security, regional developments and other topics with the UAE’s national security advisor, Sheikh Tahnoun bin Zayed Al Nahyan, in Abu Dhabi, the WAM news agency said.

The Palestinian leadership believes there is an Arab and international consensus to “exclude” Abbas from peace deals by calling for free and fair presidential and legislative elections in the West Bank, the high-level source stated.

Mohammad Dahlan, who was dismissed from Abbas’s Fatah organization and today advises the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, would return to run, the source added.

Officials in Ramallah also fear that in the wake of the agreement, there will be a political clash between the PA and moderate Arab countries, as well as with the EU and the United States. They are particularly concerned about a possible economic and diplomatic blockade.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat describes the accord as a “stab in the heart with a poisonous dagger,” adding that Palestinians are angry at being used as a justification for normalizing ties with Israel.

“If countries want to make their relations with Israel bilateral, they can stand up and say we are abandoning the Arab Peace Initiative [of 2002], we are abandoning the commitments of the Arab summits,” he told The Media Line. “But let them not say they are doing it for the Palestinians. They are doing it because there is a man in Washington called Jared Kushner, who’s linking those who breathe anywhere in the world to [Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu’s blessings.”

The Media Line’s Mohammad Al-Kassim interviews chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat

Erekat believes that Kushner used the peril that Iran poses to the region as a weapon to pressure the UAE into a relationship with Israel. Both countries view the Islamic Republic as their biggest threat.

“Kushner scored a major victory to poke me in the eye,” the veteran Palestinian negotiator complained.

An alarmed Abbas called an emergency meeting of all Palestinian factions in Ramallah on Tuesday night to show a united front against the deal.

If countries want to make their relations with Israel bilateral, they can stand up and say we are abandoning the Arab Peace Initiative [of 2002], we are abandoning the commitments of the Arab summits. But let them not say they are doing it for the Palestinians

“This is first time in 25 years that all Palestinian factions were in a meeting, without exception, including Hamas, [Islamic] Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine,” Erekat stated.

While Palestinians are busy lamenting the UAE’s move, Israelis are jubilant.

Michael Oren, a former Israeli ambassador to the United States, told The Media Line that the ground-breaking agreement had “altered the rules of the game for the peace process.”

Netanyahu, who is battling corruption cases and a possible fourth election in less than two years, saw his polling numbers rise after the breakthrough. But Oren is not sure how much the agreement will help the prime minister, noting that some right-wing Israelis are unhappy about the cost: removing from the table plans for the annexation of parts of the West Bank, at least for now.

“They see it as Israel [having] sold its birthright for a bowlful of porridge, and the porridge here is oil,” he explained. “You’re going to get lots of business from the Gulf, but you’re selling your patrimony, your homeland.”

Oren agrees with Palestinians who complain that the approach to Middle East peace taken by US President Donald Trump is weakening the PA, although he adds that they have only themselves to blame.

“Ramallah is in a pretty bad place,” he said. “[The Palestinians] rejected the [January 2020 US] peace initiative. I don’t think they left Israel or the Emirates much choice. They didn’t say they aren’t willing to negotiate under certain circumstances; they just completely rejected it, which was a tactical mistake.”

I don’t think they left Israel or the Emirates much choice. They didn’t say they aren’t willing to negotiate under certain circumstances; they just completely rejected it, which was a tactical mistake

The former envoy believes that at the end of the day, a solution to the Palestinian issue will not come, at least in the initial stage, through direct negotiations with Israel.

“It will come through direct negotiations between Israel and Arab leaders, and our cousins [the Palestinians] will have to decide whether they’ll accept that or not,” he said.

Oren believes that such pressure could force the Palestinians back to direct talks.

“I… won’t be surprised if [in] the next couple of weeks, after things die down a little bit, the PA will start indicating that it’s willing to negotiate,” he stated.

News of the Israel-UAE deal was received with great fanfare by supporters of Emirati Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. But Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, an Emirati political science professor at New York University-Abu Dhabi who is known to be anti-normalization, tweeted a tearful emoji in response.

He also wrote an opinion piece headlined “The Inevitability of Normalization and Reconciliation with Israel and the UAE, Gulf and Arab Countries” for Lebanon’s An-Nahar newspaper.

“On the personal level, I feel sad that the UAE decided to normalize with Israel… a deep and indescribable sadness,” he wrote. “The fundamental question is why the UAE decided to reconcile with Israel.”

His answer? It became clear that “the liberation of Palestine was impossible. The dream of defeating the brutal Zionist project actually ended, and with it, the dream receded of liberating all of Palestine, perhaps completely and permanently….”

For decades, many Arab and Muslim-majority states had agreed that they would not establish relations with Israel until the Palestinian issue was resolved. The 2002 Arab Peace Initiative called for normalization in exchange for a full withdrawal by Israel from territories it won in the 1967 Six Day War, a “just settlement” of the Palestinian refugee problem and the establishment of a Palestinian state, with east Jerusalem as its capital.

Erekat says the UAE-Israel accord undermines that proposal.

“If other Arab countries follow suit, I think this is the fall of the Arab Peace Initiative,” he told The Media Line.

Saudi Arabia broke its silence on Wednesday, with Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan telling state television: “We are committed to peace on the basis of the Arab peace plan.”

Elana DeLozier, a research fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, believes that the “sands are shifting on support for the Palestinian cause, at least on the official side,” telling The Media Line she doubts the Emirati assertion that the accord was to stop Israel’s planned annexations in the West Bank.

“I think that for the UAE, it’s really about a prioritization of their interests,” she stated.

I think that for the UAE, it’s really about a prioritization of their interests

“They long had sympathy for the Palestinian cause, but they also have an interest in a relationship with Israel,” she continued. “They see themselves in a very similar [situation] in a sense that both are technologically focused, they’re both small states, and they are both interested in military prowess.”

DeLozier says it was also their great concern about Iran that brought them together.

“One of the things that pushed the relationship forward was the Iran deal,” she said, referring to a 2015 multilateral agreement aimed at preventing Tehran from developing nuclear weapons – an accord the US signed but withdrew from in 2018, calling it insufficiently strict.

Both Israel and the UAE strongly criticized the deal.

Prof. Mohammad Marandi, head of American studies at Tehran University, believes that Washington had ulterior motives in sponsoring talks between Israel and the UAE.

“I think it’s pretty clear that the Americans or Trump forced the UAE to bring the relationship [with Israel] out into the open for its own benefit, for the sake of his reelection bid,” he told The Media Line.

He added that the deal was not in the Emiratis’ best interest.

“It hurts them in the Arab world, it hurts them in the Islamic world, it hurts them among progressives, the Left [and] Arab nationalists,” he explained. “It is simply not good for them.”

It hurts them in the Arab world, it hurts them in the Islamic world, it hurts them among progressives, the Left [and] Arab nationalists. It is simply not good for them

Under the agreement, Israel and the UAE will cooperate in a variety of sectors. What if they conclude a military pact?

“I’m sure the Emirates will never sign a pact because that would have major consequences for the [Emirati] regime,” Marandi said.

“If there is any conflict between Iran and the Emirates, it will be over within hours because the Emirates’ infrastructure is very close to Iranian territory and can be easily destroyed. So no, it won’t bring Israel any closer to Iranian shores,” he said. “Anyway, Iran doesn’t see [the Emiratis] as a threat. The Emirati population [in the UAE] is one million, and the rest [are] foreigners.”

Ziad Abu Zayyad, a former Palestinian official, told The Media Line that it would be “exaggerated” to call the deal “historic” because “relations between the two countries, and their security cooperation, has gone on for a long time. All that happened… is that the relationship became public.”

For Israel, the deal is a step toward ending its isolation in the region, having peace treaties and full diplomatic relations with only two Arab nations – Egypt and Jordan – for the past 26 years.

Abu Zayyad says that while the United Arab Emirates-Israel agreement has dealt a blow to the Palestinian cause, the UAE is “not a major Arab country,” so the deal cannot be considered a breakthrough.

“You can’t compare Saudi Arabia, a major Arab country, and the United Arab Emirates,” he stated. “If it had been Saudi Arabia that signed a deal with Israel, we would be worried about it.”

You can’t compare Saudi Arabia, a major Arab country, and the United Arab Emirates. If it had been Saudi Arabia that signed a deal with Israel, we would be worried about it

The Palestinians recalled their ambassador in Abu Dhabi after the deal was announced.

Ghaith al-Omari, senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a former advisor to the Palestinian negotiating team during the 1999–2001 permanent-status talks, told The Media Line that “Israel and the United Arab Emirates pulled off the rarest of feats.”

He does not think the deal in itself will weaken the Palestinian Authority, but says it is proof that the PA’s approach has not been successful.

“It is a mixed bag. It certainly undermines the PA strategy of isolating Israel, but that is a strategy that has not been effective so far,” he said. “On the other hand, the deal puts annexation in deep freeze for the foreseeable future, which is a gain for the Palestinians.”

The Palestinian Authority cut off all communication with the White House at the end of 2017 after the US administration recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Direct negotiations with Israel have not taken place since 2014.

Omari says the PA now needs a new game plan.

“No matter how the Palestinians see it, this is a development they cannot reverse, and they need look into ways of leveraging it to their interest, if possible,” he noted, adding that the “traditional Palestinian foreign policy needs to be re-examined in terms of substance and process.”

No matter how the Palestinians see it, this is a development they cannot reverse, and they need look into ways of leveraging it to their interest, if possible

The Palestinians have been dealt a series of major blows that Omari blames on a largely “reactive” foreign policy that relies on blocking Israeli and American initiatives rather than “presenting credible Palestinian options,” something that is unsustainable in the long term.

“The causes of this are varied,” he continued. “The nature of threats facing the region has become much more varied. The center of gravity in the Middle East is moving steadily to the Gulf, a region that is less directly impacted by the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.”

Erekat blames Palestinian setbacks on a lack of responsiveness by the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). The Palestinians have requested emergency meetings of the two bodies for them to reject the Israel-UAE deal, he says, but have not received replies.

“The OIC was established after the burning of the Aqsa Mosque in 1969; that’s its reason for coming into existence. The fact that it doesn’t even bother to issue a statement about the Emirates’ move and reiterate its position on the Palestinian question and the Arab Peace Initiative and international law is strange,” he said.

“The same for the Arab League, he continued, going on to accuse the UAE of using its influence to block criticism of the accord.

Daoud Kuttab, an Amman-based Palestinian journalist, writer and analyst, told The Media Line that few countries would follow the UAE’s example, saying Abu Dhabi’s motivation was domestic politics.

“All three leaders [of the US, Israel and the UAE] are facing internal problems, and this was a way for them to get out of their problems,” he explained. “Netanyahu has his corruption trial and demonstrators outside his house; Trump is losing in the polls; and the UAE is losing wars in Yemen and Libya, and having economic problems.”

He adds that the agreement could bring the UAE trouble with other Arabs.

“[The Emiratis] have a problem with Saudi Arabia and the Palestinians,” he stated. “All the Arab countries agreed not to move on any normalization until Israel agrees to the Arab peace plan, so they are in violation of the Arab consensus.”

For Jordan, he noted, the deal is a mixed bag.

“This deal, on the one hand, weakens the Jordanian position,” he said.

“Amman has long insisted on land for peace… and [the agreement] undermines [this stance]. But it also strengthens Jordan’s relationship with many who feel that its position is realistic and patriotic.”

Hussein Ibish, senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, told The Media Line that more than any other Arab country, the UAE shares the same threat perceptions as Israel.

“They not only agree on Iran… they also strongly agree on Turkey, Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood as major and growing threats,” he noted.

Ibish says the Emiratis realize they have potential to be “a major technology hub in the region and think that Israel is its natural partner in the Middle East on tech and cyber issues, including commerce.”

The picture is far less rosy for the Palestinians.

“For the Palestinians, it’s really bad,” he stated. “No annexation is good, but the price is too high. It breaks the Arab consensus that the Arab Peace Initiative must be the basis of all major diplomacy with Israel.”

For the Palestinians, it’s really bad. No annexation is good, but the price is too high. It breaks the Arab consensus that the Arab Peace Initiative must be the basis of all major diplomacy with Israel

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