Change Region:Fiji

A Second Look at the Israel-UAE Peace Deal

Printer-friendly versionSend by email
Posted on: 
28 Aug 2020
A Second Look at the Israel-UAE Peace Deal

Hard on the heels of last week’s diplomatic breakthrough between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo just concluded a swing through the region to try to get other Arab nations to quickly join the “Abraham Accord” by agreeing to normalize relations with the Jewish state. While his junket did not bear much immediate fruit, it is clear that a number of former enemies in the region are warming up to Israel, in part due to the looming Iranian threat but also because of cultural changes occurring within Sunni Arab societies.

In last Friday’s Commentary [Is the Israel-UAE Pact a Real Breakthrough for the Region?], we began laying out the pros and cons and the underlying reasons for the UAE’s decision to break from the pack and openly embrace direct relations with Israel. It is an historic development, as the Emirates have become only the third Arab state to establish formal ties with Israel – after Egypt and Jordan. We also looked at why the UAE in particular took this bold step, and who might be next? Here are some more thoughts on this important development in the Middle East.

To understand why the United Arab Emirates has made peace with Israel, one only needs to look at a map of the region. The UAE is located only 22 miles across the water from Iran and thus it feels very vulnerable to Tehran’s nuclear and regional ambitions. In light of this threat, they put in a request with the Pentagon six years ago to purchase several of the new F35 advanced stealth aircraft, and making peace with Israel significantly raises the odds of that being approved. It is likely that Israel will not be able to totally block that sale, but they could then expect to be compensated with other advanced military hardware and technology to help maintain its qualitative edge over other militaries in the region.

Second, the native-born citizens of the UAE only comprise 11% of the total population in their own country. The oil-rich nation has imported workers from some 200 nations, including large contingents from India and the Philippines, many of whom practice Christianity, Hinduism and other religions. So unlike most Arab and Muslim-majority states, the Emiratis have had to become very tolerant in allowing these guests to practice their own faiths. Thus, there are many churches and even several synagogues to serve the growing Jewish community in the UAE.

In fact, last year the UAE welcomed the Pope to Abu Dhabi, where he performed a large public mass for tens of thousands of Catholics in the country. Styling 2019 as the “Year of Tolerance,” the emirs also approved plans for the Abrahamic Family House, a unique and grand complex which will contain a mosque, church and synagogue all living in harmony. The concept came from an interfaith clerical group called the Higher Committee for Human Fraternity, and thus it seems the UAE is now very ecumenical minded.

The UAE is also seeking to diversify its economy away from oil exports and over into hi-tech, which would make it a natural partner with Israel. Finally, the Emirates have touted Dubai and Abu Dhabi as opulent hubs connecting East and West in the emerging global community, and continuing to irrationality hate Israel does not mesh with the futurist image it is trying to project.

But what other Arab states might be next in line to make peace with Israel?

Secretary Pompeo visited several of the most likely candidates in his trip through the region this week, including Morocco, Sudan, Bahrain and Oman. Although he returned home without another diplomatic trophy to help with President Donald Trump’s re-election effort, there is reason for hope that progress will come soon enough.

Oman seems most likely to be the next Arab nation to join the peace camp with Israel. They were the earliest and most vocal in their praise of the deal made by their immediate neighbor. And Oman has hosted three sitting Israeli prime ministers over recent decades, going back to Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres in the 1990s, and Benjamin Netanyahu more recently. They also have extensive trade relations and other interactions with Israel. But they are holding back for now, perhaps to see what the UAE gets out of their deal or whether Trump will get re-elected.

Bahrain also is seen as a prime candidate, but it is somewhat constrained by its delicate internal political situation at present, as the ruling Sunni Arabs are a minority in their own country, facing unrest from the Shi’ite majority – both Arabs and Persians – who are open to Iranian influence. During the Arab Spring uprisings several years ago, the Shi’ites staged mass protests against the Bahraini king, forcing the Saudis to march troops across the 16-mile long causeway to the island nation to save him from being overthrown.

Saudi Arabia is certainly starting to open up more to the world, and they have developed their own quiet ties with Israel. But as guardians of the holy city of Mecca and of mainstream Sunni traditions, the ruling family will move slowly on both tracks. But glacial changes indeed are taking place. The younger Saudi generation, as reflected by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, have access to the Internet and are more open to Western influences. They can now go see movies, which was forbidden just two or three years ago. Women can now drive, travel without chaperones, and attend sporting events. Regarding Israel, there also are signs of warming relations. For instance, the Saudis are now letting Israeli commercial flights to cross over their territory on the way to India. But it will take time, and for now the Saudis are still sticking with the Arab peace initiative they launched in 2002, which requires a Palestinian state before normalization with Riyadh.

Sudan also has been sending out signals of an interest in reconciling with Israel, but the nation is still in the midst of a fragile transition away from a radical Muslim dictatorship and many anti-Israel elements remain in the transitional council. Further, the overtures to Israel appear to be almost exclusively motivated by a desire to reap rewards from Washington, including debt and sanctions relief.

Finally, Secretary Pompeo made a stop in Morocco in hopes of coaxing its monarchy to close a deal with Israel. Morocco was once home to a large Jewish community which contributed much to the country, and that heritage still enjoys some measure of respect there. Morocco has hosted Israeli leaders and exhibited less hostility towards Israel than most members of the Arab League. But it also has its share of Islamic rejectionists – like the current prime minister, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood movement now led by Turkey. Some analysts also are saying Rabat is perhaps looking for the US and Israel to recognize its claim to the Western Sahara as part of any deal with Jerusalem.

Meantime, one also has to take into account the stiff opposition to the Israeli-UAE normalization pact being raised by Turkey and Iran, as well as by the Palestinians themselves. They are pulling out all the stops to deter anyone else from making peace with Israel.

Progress towards peace between Israel and the Arab world is never easy. But the Trump team has managed an historic breakthrough and more incremental advances can be expected. But it will take President Trump being returned to office in November for the current diplomatic momentum to be sustained.

 

 

David Parsons is an author, attorney, journalist, and ordained minister who serves as Vice President and senior spokesman for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem; www.icej.org/

 

Share this: