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CWA # 333, 14 September 2020

The Middle East
Will the Abraham Accord lead to peace, or is it the end of Palestine state?

  Lakshmi V Menon

The world may not witness Israel-Palestine peace but would most definitely see the materialization of a novel Arab-Israeli peace in the near future

A Norwegian politician Christian Tybring-Gjedde nominated Donald Trump for the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize, citing the latter's role in the recently concluded momentous peace deal between the United Arab Emirates and the state of Israel as the basis for his nomination. Will the accord lead to a larger peace, and earn Trump a Nobel?

Or is it the end of the idea of a Palestine State? The Palestinian Authority has rejected the deal, terming it a "stab in the back", and called for a meeting of the Arab League. The Islamic Republic of Iran called the Israel-UAE rapprochement "shameful". Turkey accused UAE of "hypocritical behaviour", and the country's President Tayyip Erdogan said Ankara might suspend ties with UAE over the new deal. Meanwhile, the United Nations' spokesperson said the UN Chief Guterres welcomes 'any initiative that can promote peace and security in the Middle East'.

Netanyahu, in May, publicized his commitment to the potential West Bank annexation on completion of a conceptual map by an Israeli-US team. Consequently, a new episode of Palestinian protests commenced with people fighting and resisting Israel's proposed annexation of parts of West Bank which the Palestinians are seeking for their future state of Palestine. Since, then, violence has been rife. The proposed annexation would redraw the eastern frontiers of Israel. 

The deal may build Arab-Israel rapprochement, but it also breaks up the Arab unity

Saying the UAE-Israel deal was unforeseen would be a folly. In recent years, evident signs of Israel's warming ties with the Arab states that share the enmity towards and fear of Iran, have been evident. The Arab world is now split into Iran's supporters and opposers. Over a year ago, an Israeli minister made a surprise visit to the UAE; during which the Israeli delegation even sang the Jewish sabbath. Similarly, the bromance between Netanyahu and Iran's arch-rival Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman is no secret. Bilateral visits, along with overt and covert cooperation between the Jewish nation and the Muslim countries have occurred.

The Arab-Israel conflict, like the region of the Middle East, is complex with unforeseen friendships, animosities and cross-cutting dynastic and leadership shifts, all engulfed by historically clashing ideologies and religions. Similarly, the recent development is polygonal.

First, a significant breakthrough. The development may not be a comprehensive Middle Eastern peace deal, but it is a momentous breakthrough in the decades-long Arab-Israeli peace process. It signifies formal political, diplomatic, technological and multisectoral cooperation between the two largest economic powerhouses of the region. 

Second, a policy shift. Past peace plans required a resolution of the Palestinian issues for the establishment of peace and bilateral ties between the Arab states and Israel. The establishment of Israel-Emirati ties is a distinct departure from the traditional understanding. It ends the collective regional arrangement for peace. Middle East politics is reshaping from the Palestinian issue to the battle against Iran.

Third, achievement and appeasement. For Netanyahu and Donald Trump, whose presidential elections are looming large, the rapprochement is a major foreign policy achievement. The development appeases the white evangelical Christians of America, a significant vote bank of the incumbent President. It also means furthering USA's isolation policy towards the 'regional de-stabilizer' Iran.

Fourth, after the UAE, more Arab states may follow, like Bahrain. The US-brokered deal has set a precedent and raised the prospect of similar accords with other Arab states – such as Saudi Arabia. For example, now Bahrain has agreed to come on board. President Trump's Advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner said that some Arab states were sorry they couldn't be the first to normalize relations with Israel. Kushner's statement could signal a potential Israel-Saudi normalization. 

However, the custodian of the two most holy sites of the Muslim world – Mecca and Medina – may find it harder to provide a justification for such an establishment of formal ties with the state of Israel, as it would go against Riyadh's rhetoric of being the bastion of the Ummah, the Muslims. After many days of conspicuous silence regarding the UAE-Israel normalization, Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan ruled out a similar deal with Israel saying "Peace must be achieved with the Palestinians". The FM also reiterated commitment to the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative. Israel's intelligence minister opined Bahrain and Oman as the next possible Arab countries to normalize relations with the Jewish state.

Deal of the Century, or Disappointment?

Palestinians are feeling angry, betrayed and marginalized. UAE attempted to justify its historic move by saying that Israel had now agreed to not execute their annexation plans. Previously, on 10 June, following the Executive Committee of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation's emergency meeting, UAE's Foreign Affairs Minister Anwar Mohammed Gargash condemned the expected Israeli move to annex parts of West Bank and reiterated absolute Emirati support for Palestinian rights. UAE, in a public appeal, warned Israel that such a move would be crossing a red line and would jeopardize any potential normalization of relations with the Arab world. The UAE-Israel deal seems to have Israel suspending its annexation plans in exchange of normalization of ties with the UAE. A careful Emirati attempt to frame the deal in terms of Palestinian rights. Interestingly, while UAE terms it a permanent suspension, Israel says it is temporary in nature.

Until the spiraling nexus of core issues of Israeli occupation, illegal settlement construction, securitization, access restrictions, displacement, deprivation of basic civil rights of Palestinians, restrictions on Palestinian construction, animosities, violence and the "Swiss cheese" resembling disjointed Israeli-Palestinian map remain unaddressed and unresolved, no deal will lead to larger and prolonged regional peace. While analysts speak about positive peace, a mere negative peace would itself prove a substantial achievement in the current scenario.

Simply put, the world may not witness Israel-Palestine peace but would most definitely see the materialization of a novel Arab-Israeli peace in the near future.

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