Hailed as a breakthrough, the agreement establishing diplomatic relations between the two countries is riddled with loopholes.
What was inconceivable just a few years ago has now happened - the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is recognising Israel and hence stepping back from the Arab World’s long-held demand that relations with the Jewish state would only be established when Palestinians had their land back.
In a deal brokered by the United States and announced on Thursday, Israel and the UAE have decided to normalise diplomatic ties after years of clandestine contacts, in which they helped each other on matters such as surveillance.
Emirati and Israeli leaders have hailed the agreement as a way of bringing peace to the Middle East. What happened behind doors remains unclear and it might take weeks and months for the two sides to thrash out a roadmap for complete normalisation of diplomatic, political, and economic ties.
In any case, subsequent statements by Emirati and Israeli leaders contradict what is in the agreement. Here are few of them:
1 -Has Israel decided to completely stop the annexation?
One of the key aspects of the Israel-UAE-US agreement has to do with the annexation of Palestinian territory.
The joint statement says “Israel will suspend declaring sovereignty” over the occupied West Bank areas, which belong to the Palestinian people.
Soon after the announcement, Mohammed Bin Zayed (MBZ), the de-facto ruler of the UAE, said that Israel has suspended its annexation plan.
During a call with President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu, an agreement was reached to stop further Israeli annexation of Palestinian territories. The UAE and Israel also agreed to cooperation and setting a roadmap towards establishing a bilateral relationship.— محمد بن زايد (@MohamedBinZayed) August 13, 2020
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, however, was quick to say that annexation has only been temporarily suspended upon Washington’s request and the plan was still on the table.
Netanyahu has made annexation of Palestinian territories a rallying point during his election campaigns and through it, has wooed conservative Jewish voters.
Internationally, the move is widely condemned as it undermines the possibility of Palestinians having a country of their own in the future.
An annexation means that the Jewish settlements illegally built on occupied Palestianian land officially become a part of Israel.
2- Is it a full normalisation of ties?
Trump sees normalisation of Israel-UAE ties as a “HUGE breakthrough”.
However, MBZ was circumvent in his comments saying the talks are part of a process of “cooperation and setting a roadmap towards establishing a bilateral relationship.”
Like Netanyahu, he has shown restraint in openly embracing Israel primarily as a safeguard against the possible backlash in the Arab world.
Generations of Muslims have grown up listening to their leaders promising that they would never compromise on Palestine.
Kristian Ulrichsen, a Middle East analyst, noted that the difference in language used by the leaders reflects that they have domestic political consideration on their mind.
Trump and Netanyahu will try to use the development to sway some public opinion ahead of elections.
“...while the Emirati leadership may see the deal as an opportunity to regain the initiative and make the political weather after a challenging few months and setbacks to UAE’s regional ambitions in Yemen and Libya,” he wrote.
3 - Where are the guarantees?
Netanyahu is facing a crisis at home. His government faces criticism for not doing enough to stop the coronavirus pandemic and opinion polls suggest that economic welfare is the biggest concern for Israelis these days.
In successive election campaigns he has used the promise of annexation to win support of Jewish settlers and conservatives. If he heads for another election this November, he is likely to prioritise his political survival over the deal with the UAE.
This obviously puts MBZ in a difficult position. The UAE has made it clear that the annexation is an “illegal seizure of Palestinian land” and if Tel Aviv goes ahead with the move, it “will send shockwaves around the region”
4- What about the Palestinian state?
Historically, Arab countries linked any recognition of Israel with the removal of Israeli settlements in Palestinian land occupied during the 1967 war.
While UAE leaders are making it sound like this deal gives something to the Palestinians, they have completely gone back on earlier pledges.
It is no wonder that Nethanyahu seized on this point when he said this marked a “peace for peace” instead of peace in exchange for return of the occupied land.
Israel has already carved out chunks of the occupied-West Bank, the region on the west side of the Jordan River, and the fertile Jordan Valley for eventual annexation into Israel proper. Over the years, more than 700,000 Jewish settlers have built homes and businesses on occupied Palestinian lands, including in East Jerusalem.
The West Bank is home to 2.5 million Arabs.
Now, Netanyahu wants to make many of these settlements part of Israel despite international condemnation.
For all practical purposes, Israel seems to be the biggest beneficiary of this agreement, as for the first time a Gulf state has decided to recognise it. For its part, Israel has made a weak pledge to suspend annexation, which was illegal at its conception.