World leaders voiced hope Friday that a historic deal between the UAE and Israel could kickstart moribund Middle East peace talks, even as the Palestinians and some of their allies denounced the move to normalise ties as a betrayal of their cause.
Announced by US President Donald Trump on Thursday, it is only the third such accord Israel has struck with an Arab country, and raised the prospect of similar deals with other pro-Western Gulf states.
Israel annexation plans still in the works after UAE deal
The deal sees Israel pledge to suspend its planned annexation of Palestinian lands, a concession welcomed by European and some pro-Western Arab governments as a boost for hopes of peace.
But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stressed Israel was not abandoning its plans to one day annex the Jordan Valley and Jewish settlements across the occupied West Bank.
News of the agreement was broken by Trump, in a tweet hailing a “HUGE breakthrough”.
He said leaders from the two countries would sign the deal at the White House in around three weeks, evoking memories of previous US-mediated Middle East accords. It could also help bolster Trump’s relection hopes in the November US polls.
The Palestinian leadership rejected the deal as a “betrayal” of their cause, saying they would withdraw their ambassador from the Emirates.
President Donald J. Trump, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, and HH Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan spoke today and agreed to the full normalisation of relations between #Israel and the #United Arab Emirates pic.twitter.com/uUHUxUVTEm— UAE Forsan (@UAE_Forsan) August 13, 2020
Following Friday prayers in Jerusalem, worshippers outside the Al-Aqsa mosque walked on pictures of UAE strongman Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan.
In the West Bank city of Nablus, people set fire to pictures of Sheikh Mohamed, Netanyahu and Trump.
In Ramallah, office worker Jihad Hussein said: “The Palestinian people have been stabbed in the back by the Emirates leadership.”
Israel suspends “declaring sovereignty” over Palestine
Establishing diplomatic ties between Israel and Washington’s Middle East allies, including the oil-rich Gulf monarchies, has been central to Trump’s regional strategy to contain Iran, also an arch-foe of Israel.
Tehran on Friday condemned the deal as an act of “strategic stupidity” that would only strengthen the Iranian-backed “axis of resistance”.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif also had talks with Ismail Haniyeh, head of the Islamist Palestinian movement Hamas which rules Gaza, on ways of “foundering” the deal, Hamas.
Hezbollah, Iran’s powerful Lebanese ally, denounced the deal.
“This is a betrayal of Islam and Arabism, it is a betrayal of Jerusalem, of the Palestinian people,” Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said.
“What the UAE did was give a personal electoral favour to President Trump,” he added.
Under the deal, Israel and the UAE “agreed to the full normalisation of relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates”, according to a joint statement issued by Trump, Netanyahu and Sheikh Mohamed.
The United Arab Emirates and Israel have agreed to the full normalisation of relations between them. This is a very significant and historic step forward for the region. pic.twitter.com/tmWD2VXFRl— Jeremy Issacharoff (@JIssacharoff) August 13, 2020
They added that Israel would “suspend declaring sovereignty” over occupied Palestinian West Bank areas — an idea proposed in Trump’s controversial peace plan unveiled earlier this year.
Sheikh Mohamed stressed in a tweet that an agreement has been “reached to stop further Israeli annexation of Palestinian territories”.
But Netanyahu insisted afterwards that he had only agreed to delay, not cancel, the annexations. The plans remained “on the table”, he said.
On Friday, the prime minister appointed his national security advisor Meir Ben-Shabbat to lead the negotiations with the Emiratis.
US Gulf allies Bahrain and Oman welcomed the annexation deal, and Egypt, which signed 1979 peace treaty with Israel, praised a deal that would scrap annexation.
Thanking them, Netanyahu said the “peace treaty” with the UAE was “expanding the circle of peace”.
The European Union said normalisation would benefit both Israel and the UAE, but foreign policy spokeswoman Nabila Massrali stressed the bloc’s commitment to a two-state solution.
Erdoğan, today: “I gave an order to the foreign minister. I said we could suspend diplomatic relations with the Abu Dhabi administration or withdraw our ambassador.." He meant the UAE, whose crime is the opening of full relations with Israel, just as Turkey has long had
— Edward N Luttwak (@ELuttwak) August 15, 2020
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a longtime critic of Israel and frequently at odds with Western powers, threatened to suspend diplomatic relations with the UAE or withdraw Ankara’s ambassador.
UAE working for its best interests
There was no immediate word from regional heavyweight and UAE ally Saudi Arabia, who sponsored in 2002 a peace plan calling for Israel’s complete withdrawal from territories occupied in 1967 in exchange for peace and the full normalisation of ties with the Arab world.
“My guess is that King Salman will be at least a little annoyed, since this breaks the Arab consensus that the Arab Peace Initiative is the guiding basis for all major diplomacy with Israel,” said Hussein Ibish, an analyst at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.
Omar Saif Ghobash, UAE assistant Minister for Culture and Public Diplomacy, told the deal was designed to “shake up” the Middle East impasse and serve his country’s interests.
“We didn’t consult with anybody, we didn’t inform anybody, and as a sovereign state we don’t feel that we have the obligation to do that,” Ghobash said, asked if Riyadh was consulted in advance.
“It’s to be expected that not everybody will… applaud or comment,” he added.
The controversial Trump plan, unveiled in January, had offered a path for Israel to annex the Jordan Valley and Jewish settlements across the West Bank, communities considered illegal under international law.
The Palestinians had rejected the plan outright as biased and untenable, as did Israel’s Arab neighbours, and it sparked fears of more violence.
UN chief Antonio Guterres said he hoped Israel’s suspension of annexations under the plan could help realise a two-state solution with the Palestinians.
AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk