Palestinians are a side note in the UAE-Israel political charade


Since the announcement of the U.S.-brokered “Abraham Accord” between Israel and the United Arab Emirates two weeks ago, state officials in all three countries have portrayed it as an unprecedented step toward bringing “peace” to the region.

The agreement stipulates that the UAE will recognize and normalize relations with Israel — the first Arab state to formally do so since Egypt in 1978 and Jordan in 1994 — in exchange for the “suspension” of Israeli annexation plans in the occupied West Bank. This means that the two countries will open up trade, facilitate cultural ties, and increase military and security coordination with each other.

Despite the showmanship around the accord, these relations are actually not new; there has long been under-the-table normalization, to various degrees, between many Arab states and Israel. However, this act of official normalization, which breaks the ranks of the Arab League, threatens not only to sideline the Palestinian cause but also to have severe repercussions for Arab societies across the region.

Until now, the act of official, public normalization has always hinged upon progress in ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For instance, it was only after the 1993 Oslo Accords that Arab regimes began opening up trade offices and other relations with Israeli institutions, under the pretext that they were encouraging the peace process. When the negotiations had clearly failed by the time of the Second Intifada in 2000, many Arab states withdrew their normalizing overtures. The 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, spearheaded by Saudi Arabia, reiterated Arab commitments to the peace process by asserting that normalization would be contingent on the creation of a Palestinian state.

Today, that policy has been thrown out the window. Despite being tangential to the conflict and never having been at war with Israel, the UAE has gone against the standard set by the Arab League by delivering normalization without any meaningful concessions from Israel. It essentially frittered away one of the few remaining bargaining chips left on the Arab side and paved the way for other countries in its axis — including, potentially, Bahrain and Sudan to do the same.

Israel can claim to the international community that it has given up something important by “suspending” annexation (even as Netanyahu insists the opposite to his constituents). But this assertion is laughable: annexation is not a date on the calendar but an ongoing process that continues unfettered, de facto if not de jure. So what exactly have the Emiratis achieved?

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