UAE-Israel agreement to establish full relations
Aug 17, 2020 | AIJAC staff
Update from AIJAC
This Update is focussed on the significance of and background to the surprise announcement yesterday at the White House that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Israel have agreed to establish full diplomatic relations, with Israel pledging in return to suspend any plans it had for extending sovereignty in the West Bank. (The text of the joint statement by the three countries is here.)
Reactions to this announcement include:
- Israeli PM Netanyahu hailing it as a “new era with the Arab world” and predicting other states will soon follow the UAE’s lead.
- Strong condemnations from all the various Palestinian factions, branding the deal a betrayal.
- Egypt and Bahrain welcoming the deal, while Jordan called for it to lead to the creation of a Palestinian state.
- Criticism from the settler movement in Israel due to the suspension of sovereignty extension plans.
- A welcoming tweet from Australian Foreign Minister Senator Marise Payne.
- Positive reactions from across the Jewish world – including from AIJAC.
We lead with David Horovitz, editor of the Times of Israel, who notes a number of important points about the deal. These include that it is Israel’s biggest diplomatic achievement since peace with Jordan in 1994; that it is effectively a result of the Trump Administration’s peace plan, and that it vindicates Netanyahu’s long-standing push to improve Israel’s international ties and, possibly, his claim that normalising ties could help bring the Palestinians back to the negotiating table. For Horovitz’s discussion of all of these important implications from the UAE-Israel agreement, CLICK HERE.
Next up is Herb Keinon, diplomatic correspondent from the Jerusalem Post, who tallies up who wins as a result of the deal. He argues the UAE wins because it can now admit and further develop its already burgeoning ties with Israel, while claiming to have achieved something for the Palestinians by halting the sovereignty extension plans. Meanwhile, Trump notches up a historic diplomatic coup, while Keinon says Netanyahu scores only a partial victory given that he is having to abandon his sovereignty extensions promises, leading to attacks on him from the right. For Keinon’s insightful look at all the post-deal scorecard, CLICK HERE.
Finally, veteran Israeli journalist Barak Ravid draws on his sources in both Jerusalem and Washington to provide an account of how this surprise agreement came about. He confirms that while talks had been going on for more than a year, it was the Trump plan and the possibility of Israel applying sovereignty to parts of the West Bank that led to a formal, secret UAE proposal in June to offer full relations in exchange for scrapping any such plans. Ravid confirms a signing ceremony in Washington is expected shortly, and that Washington expects other Arab countries to soon follow the UAE lead. For this well-informed account of where this surprise announcement came from, CLICK HERE.
Readers may also be interested in…
- AIJAC’s Sharyn Mittelman looked at the history of growing Israel-UAE ties in the July Australia/Israel Review – and even foreshadowed that the UAE could offer full relations with Israel in exchange for not proceeding with extending sovereignty in the West Bank.
- Good commentary on the significance of the UAE-Israel deal from former Middle East mediator Dennis Ross, and veteran New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman.
- Some discussion of how this deal might affect Trump, Biden and the US Presidential campaign from Aiden PInk of the Forward. Plus, former US Senator Norm Coleman argues that the deal vindicates the Trump Administration’s Middle East policies.
- An important article on Lebanon’s political and economic crisis and where the country can go from here written by Lebanese journalist Hanin Ghaddar of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
- Some examples from the many stories and comments now appearing at AIJAC’s daily “Fresh AIR” blog:
- AIJAC’s media release on Australian aid to Lebanon in the wake of the Beirut port explosion.
- Ahron Shapiro, together with other AIJAC staff, reports on the conspiratorial attempts to link the tragic Beirut port explosion to Israel, including by groups in Australia,
- Ahron also had a blog explaining Israel’s coalition crisis over efforts to pass a budget – and the temporary fix apparently reached to delay the deadline for a budget by a few more months.
- Jack Gross on a unique new opportunity to settle a long-standing and costly maritime boundary dispute between Israel and Lebanon.
- Earlier, Jack wrote about the latest Coronavirus conspiracy theories from the Middle East and far right, and their frequently antisemitic themes.
‘Historic’ indeed: UAE ties mark Israel’s biggest diplomatic advance since 1994
Agreement announced Thursday brings Trump’s peace plan to life, offers prospect of still wider relations, vindicates Netanyahu, staves off his damaging unilateral annexation plan
By DAVID HOROVITZ
Times of Israel, 13 August 2020, 10:10 pm
(L-R, rear) US senior presidential advisor Jared Kushner, US Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin and US National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien clap for US President Donald Trump after he announced an agreement between the United Arab Emirates and Israel to normalize diplomatic ties, at the White House, August 13, 2020. (Brendan Smialowski / AFP)
Thursday’s announcement that Israel and the United Arab Emirates have agreed to establish full diplomatic relations merits all the “historic” epithets with which it was unveiled in Washington by US President Donald Trump and greeted in Jerusalem by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Israel’s foundational desire to establish good relations with its neighbors, and its strategic interest in widening peaceful ties in the region, has for the first time yielded an accord-in-waiting with a non-adjacent Middle East state — an influential and technologically advanced regional player. And it holds the promise of further warming relations with others prepared to break the taboo on normalization.
It bolsters Israel’s existing peace partners, Egypt and Jordan. It constitutes a blow to Israel’s enemies, led by Iran.
And it postpones Netanyahu’s counter-productive promise of unilateral West Bank annexation.
Trump’s plan comes to life
The announcement marks a resounding success for the president and his administration, notably senior White House adviser Jared Kushner, seven months after Trump’s “Peace to Prosperity” vision for an Israeli-Palestinian agreement was unveiled at the White House.
President Donald Trump welcomes Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, to the White House in Washington, May 15, 2017. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
The UAE, as was noted in the joint statement issued by Trump on behalf of the US, Israel and the UAE on Thursday, was present when that vision was unveiled. Now, Abu Dhabi’s agreement to ties with Israel gives the administration’s plan tangible resonance.
The breakthrough, as announced Thursday, includes an Israeli commitment to “suspend” Netanyahu’s oft-declared intention to begin annexing the 30 percent of the West Bank allocated to Israel in the Trump plan. Instead, the joint statement specifies, Israel will “focus its efforts now on expanding ties with other countries in the Arab and Muslim world.”
A Channel 12 report late Thursday suggested that a US, Israel, UAE signing ceremony, just a few weeks from now, might attract other regional participants newly prepared to publicly associate with Israel. Kushner, in a briefing, said further ties were now “more inevitable.”
Whereas unilateral annexation had every potential for complicating, at the very least, Israel’s existing peace agreements, therefore, Thursday’s breakthrough offers the tantalizing possibility of fresh partnerships. “The United States, Israel, and the United Arab Emirates are confident that additional diplomatic breakthroughs with other nations are possible,” the joint statement vouchsafes, “and will work together to achieve this goal.”
The UAE, indeed, formalizing and bringing into the public eye years of more secretive intelligence, trade and informal diplomatic contacts, on Thursday highlighted the quid pro quo of Israel suspending annexation as central to its readiness to normalize ties.
Vindication for Netanyahu
The breakthrough marks a stellar achievement for Netanyahu, who reportedly negotiated on the agreement without involving his Blue and White coalition partners. By stressing their concerns over unilateral annexation in talks with the administration, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi likely played a significant role, but the success is the prime minister’s.
As he stressed in a jubilant press conference on Thursday night, Netanyahu has worked tenaciously for years to nurture ties with some of the relatively moderate nations in the region, including making trips to Oman and meeting with Sudan’s president.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discusses the agreement for Israel and the UAE to establish diplomatic relations, at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, on August 13, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)
Leaving a cabinet discussion Thursday for a 16-minute conversation with Trump and UAE Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed was the culmination of those efforts to date.
For the first time, he was able to list himself alongside Menachem Begin, with the 1979 Egypt treaty, and Yitzhak Rabin, with the 1994 Jordan accord, and declare his sense of pleasure and privilege that “it has fallen to me… to establish the third peace agreement between Israel and an Arab state.”
Annexation ‘temporarily halted’?
It will be interesting to discover how much of the settler leadership the prime minister brought into the loop.
Delighted by the prospect of imminent Israeli annexation at the end of January, some settler leaders have become deeply disillusioned as the months dragged by and annexation fell off the agenda. While praising the Israel-UAE agreement, Naftali Bennett, the pro-annexation leader of the recently resurgent Yamina party, on Thursday evening lamented that Netanyahu had missed a “once in a century” opportunity to extend Israeli sovereignty into the historic Judea and Samaria region.
Netanyahu will be unfazed by such criticism, however.
At his press conference, he moved to disarm opposition from the settlers and their supporters… by insisting that he is their only credible champion. He said he remained committed to applying Israeli sovereignty in Judea and Samaria, that he always said it has to be coordinated with the US, that it only appears in the Trump plan because he asked that it be included, and that Trump had now merely requested “a temporary halt.”
Suggesting that skeptics take him at his word, Netanyahu also noted that he had been “ridiculed” for insisting that Israel would be able to broaden its ties with the Arab world without retreating to the pre-1967 lines, and now had been vindicated. It would be wise to take him at his word on extending sovereignty too, he suggested.
Time will tell whether the agreement also vindicates Netanyahu’s oft-stated conviction that new partners for Israel in the region could push the Palestinians toward engagement in a viable diplomatic process. It may be that Thursday’s announcement marks a first step in that direction. Or, more likely, it may be that the Palestinian Authority — which late Thursday was organizing an emergency meeting of its leadership, and then recalled its envoy from Abu Dhabi — insists on staying out of what Netanyahu said he believes will be a wider array of new allies.
For now, however, the breakthrough with the UAE is emphatic cause for celebration in its own right. Potentially the most significant diplomatic advance in a quarter century, it constitutes a major step in Israel’s core effort to cement and normalize its presence in this complex, challenging, constantly shifting neighborhood.
UAE-Israel deal trades Dolev and Ateret for Dubai and Abu Dhabi – analysis
Even those hoping for sovereignty admit that a peace agreement with the UAE is a pretty sweet consolation prize.
By HERB KEINON
Jerusalem Post, AUGUST 13, 2020 22
Call it Dubai for Dolev, Abu Dhabi for Ateret. [Editor’s note: Dolev and Ateret are West Bank settlements]
The surprise announcement in Washington on Thursday of a normalization accord between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, in apparent exchange for Israel’s decision to suspend annexation of the settlements or any parts of Judea and Samaria, is a win for the UAE, a win for President Donald Trump and a partial win for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
.It’s a loss for those who had hoped that Israel would take advantage of the friendliest US administration in memory and extend its sovereignty over at least part of the West Bank. But even those in this camp have to admit that even if you can’t annex the Jordan Valley and Ma’aleh Adumim, a peace agreement with the UAE – a regional economic and technological powerhouse strategically placed just 100 miles from Iran at its closest point – is a pretty sweet consolation prize.
How is it a win for the UAE?
First of all, the UAE, which has had significant under-the-table ties with Israel for years, can now bring these ties out in the open and expand them, justifying it all by saying that in this way they have staved off Israeli annexation.
Rather than being portrayed in the Arab world as betraying the Palestinian cause, the Emirates can now say they championed the cause by ensuring that there will be no annexation, thereby keeping the two-state solution on the table. They are getting something they want, a relationship with a country with which they share many regional interests, without being seen – as Egypt was in 1979 when Anwar Sadat signed a peace accord with Israel – as “selling out the cause.”Secondly, the UAE wins because security and intelligence cooperation between the two countries, which has been taking place for years on a low burner under the table, can now be turned up a notch. The two countries share common enemies in Iran and radical Islam, and they can better and more effectively help one another once their ties are formalized and there are embassies, diplomats and attaches in each other’s countries.
How does Trump benefit?
Trump benefits by notching up a significant diplomatic coup just three months before the US election. People have for years talked about peace between Israel and the Gulf Arab states, or at least one of the Gulf Arab states. He pulled it off.
If Jimmy Carter will forever be associated with Egyptian-Israeli peace, and Bill Clinton will be linked with the Israel-Jordan peace agreement, Trump’s name will now forever be connected with peace between Israel and the UAE.
And with presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden sure to try and cast Trump as a threat to world peace – underlining his policy toward Iran as a failure – Trump can counter that he brokered the first peace treaty between Israel and an Arab state in more than 25 years.
The peace deal will also mute criticism that is sure to be voiced during his campaign of the failure of his “Deal of the Century.” Any effort to say he has destabilized the Mideast will be met by a three-word reply: Israel-UAE peace.
UAE Ambassador to the US Yousef al Otaiba, whose op/ed in an Israeli paper in June arguably foreshadowed and made possible the announcement of UAE-Israel ties on Thursday.
In all the discussions of whether Israel would extend its sovereignty to parts of Judea and Samaria, there were those who said Trump needed this to please not US Jewish voters, for the most part uninterested in the move, but rather for his Evangelical base.
But this argument was way overstated, as this has never been one of the core concerns for his Evangelical voters. And even if the idea of annexation does come up in his meetings with Evangelical leaders in the coming weeks, he can say he brought something even more valuable: peace between Israel and an important Arab state.
Which leaves Netanyahu, for whom this is a partial victory. Why partial? Because peace with the UAE comes at the expense of something he promised his voters before each of the last three elections: extending Israeli law to all the settlements and the Jordan Valley.
And if Israel does not annex any part of the territories as Trump’s “Deal of the Century” indicated it could, that means that plan – which changed the parameters of peace-making in the area – is largely off the table.
Netanyahu, who could have annexed the settlements had he wanted to over the last 11 years in office, never came across as a great advocate of the move, and he seemed only to push it right before the last three elections to woo voters on the Right.
The peace deal with the UAE allows him to gracefully climb down the tree. The Right will attack him for selling out the Land of Israel for a peace deal with the UAE, and he will extol the benefits of the deal: intelligence and security cooperation, tourism, business and an ally in the battle against Iran. If you are going to give up on annexing the settlements, you might as well get something in return.
On June 12, the UAE’s ambassador to Washington, Yousef al Otaiba, penned an op-ed in Yediot Aharonot urging Israel not to go forward with annexation, warning that if it did so, then all hopes of normalization would be lost.
This clearly marked a crisis in the informal relations between the two states. But every crisis, as the old saying goes, presents an opportunity, and this provided Israel with valuable leverage to use with those urging it not to go forward with the move. “You don’t want us to annex? Okay, let’s say we don’t, what will we get in return?”On Thursday, the answer came.
Behind the scenes: How the Israel-UAE deal came together
Trump, Kushner and Netanyahu (L-R). Photo: Kobi Gideon/GPO via Getty
The breakthrough in talks between the U.S., Israel and UAE on a normalization deal came two months ago, White House officials tell me.
“We have been talking to both sides for 18 months but the annexation issue created the atmosphere which was conducive for getting a deal.”
— Senior U.S. official
Behind the scenes: Talks had been ongoing for more than a year, but they gained new urgency ahead of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s July 1 deadline to move ahead on West Bank annexations.
- The most important development was an op-ed in the Israeli press in which UAE Ambassador Yousef Al-Oteiba stressed that Israel had to choose between normalization and annexation.
- At the end of June, Al-Oteiba approached Jared Kushner and White House envoy Avi Berkowitz with a proposal: the UAE would agree to normalization with Israel in return for an Israeli announcement that West Bank annexation was off the table.
- Kushner liked the proposal, and Berkowitz began attempting to lay the groundwork.
The White House also had its own reservations about annexation, which Berkowitz discussed with Netanyahu in meetings over three days in late June.
- The White House demanded that if Israel move ahead with annexation, it also take steps supported by the Palestinians, like transferring control of 5-10% of the West Bank.
- Netanyahu didn’t like what he heard. Sources briefed on the meetings say he was upset by the proposals.
- But it was also becoming clear to the White House that Israeli leadership was divided on annexation. Minister of Defense Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi both made it clear that they opposed immediate action.
Berkowitz proposed an alternative to annexation: the UAE normalization idea. Netanyahu said that if it was a serious proposal, he was willing to consider it.
In the seven weeks that followed, momentum grew.
- Kushner spoke on the phone several times with Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed (MBZ), the UAE’s de facto ruler.
- He and Berkowitz had at least two dozen meetings with Israel’s ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer, and his Emirati counterpart Al-Oteiba.
Several days ago, an agreement was reached in principle but was kept secret even from Gantz and Ashkenazi.
- The deal was finalized on Wednesday in a conference call between President Trump, Netanyahu and MBZ.
- President Trump described the phone call Thursday, in characteristic style, as “like love.”
But in the hours after the leaders’ joint statement surprised the world, Netanyahu and MBZ offered different interpretations of its implications.
- MBZ called it a “roadmap” to normalization, rather than a final agreement, while Netanyahu stressed that the suspension of his annexation plan was only temporary.
Where things stand: According to a senior White House official, annexation is off the table until further notice.
- Kushner said in a briefing with reporters that he thought this deal would strategically be more preferable to annexation for Israel, the U.S. and the UAE.
What’s next: Trump hopes to hold a signing ceremony at the White House soon, with Netanyahu and a senior Emirati official attending.
- Meanwhile, Israel and the UAE will hold direct talks on a series of agreements foreseen in the statement — like opening embassies, allowing direct flights, and deepening commercial ties.
- Kushner said in a briefing to reporters that he expects more Arab countries to follow the UAE in normalizing relations with Israel — perhaps even in the coming days.