UAE-Israel deal likely to deepen regional divisions

Thursday’s announcement underlines split in Arab world on Palestinian question

The Palestinian leadership did not expect the United Arab Emirates to normalise diplomatic relations with Israel, although the countries have had longstanding co-operation in security, health and business areas, a former Palestinian minister and peace activist told The Irish Times from Ramallah.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas called the agreement announced on Thursday a "betrayal", while Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh pledged to follow Abbas's lead in efforts to counter a deal which Palestinians see as a blow to their aspirations.

Activist Ghassan Khatib said the announcement was timed to boost US president Donald Trump's bid for re-election. In exchange for the entire range of bilateral relations with the Emirates, the deal serves as a "political step to reward" Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu for temporarily suspending annexation of occupied territory in the West Bank, while conceding "nothing in return" for the Palestinians .

Khatib assumes the Emirates had the tacit support of Saudi Arabia and predicts that Bahrain, a close ally, will be next. Palestinians, he said, can appeal to other Arab countries to isolate the Emirates, citing Iraq, Tunisia, Algeria, Syria, Qatar and Lebanon as potential opponents of the deal.

The deal has been welcomed by Egypt, Oman and Bahrain and condemned by non-Arab Turkey and Iran. A spokesman for the UN-recognised Libyan government, Mohamed Amari Zayed, called the deal a "betrayal" and condemned destructive Emirati interventions in Libya, Yemen and Syria.

Yemen’s Houthi rebels castigated the deal as a “provocation to the Arab and Islamic nation”.

Opposing camps

Sitting on the fence, Jordanian foreign minister Ayman Safadi said the kingdom will back "any real effort that contributes to achieving comprehensive and just peace that ends Israeli occupation and meets the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people".

The division of the region into opposing camps could deepen and intensify existing regional rivalries and revive popular protests, which Iran, Turkey and Arab opponents of the deal can be expected to exploit.

Proponents argue the deal preserves the prospect of a two-state solution, although Israel has prevented the emergence of a Palestinian state by planting 230 settlements and 650,000 settlers in territory that Palestinians claim for their state.

By acting unilaterally, the Emirates has violated the understanding reached in 1994, after Jordan signed its peace deal with Israel, that Arab states would not normalise relations with Israel until its occupation ended.

The Emirates has also renounced the Saudi-brokered 2002 Arab League peace plan offering Israel full normalisation in exchange for full withdrawal from Arab territory captured in 1967.

Palestinians argue the Emirates and its supporters have abandoned them to perpetual occupation. Deprived of any hope of statehood, some Palestinians could resort to violence against Israel and Arab governments accused of colluding with Israel.