August 14, 2020

Israel and the United Arab Emirates’ New Relationship, and How Palestinian Leaders Should Respond

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by Khalil Sayegh, Senior Research Fellow

The announcement of the full normalization of the relationship between the United Arab Emirates and Israel yesterday brought two kinds of reactions in the region and around the world. Countries like France, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Arab states like Bahrain and Egypt praised the agreement. Other countries like Iran and Turkey condemned the United Arab Emirates’ move, and the Palestinian leadership naturally condemned the agreement, calling it “a stab in the back.” But in spite of the mixed reactions, could that new agreement bring about new benefits to the region, and to the Palestinians in particular? I believe it could if the Palestinians are willing to change their strategy and adapt to this new Arab approach regarding the relationship with Israel.

This agreement isn’t a big surprise for many since the United Arab Emirates and Israel shared an under-the-table relationship for years. But nobody expected for this relationship to become public through a full normalization in the near future, especially when Israel was preparing to annex parts of the West Bank. This move by the UAE seems to suggest a new Arab approach to normalizing relations with Israel. Most importantly, it contradicts the 2002 Arab initiative in which Arab states committed against normalizing relations with Israel until it withdrew into its 1967 borders. With the UAE agreeing to fully normalize its relationship with Israel, it opens the door for a new approach to the Israel-Arab conflict that doesn’t fit into the Palestinian strategy of keeping the relationship between Israel and Arab countries off the table until a Palestinian state on 1967 borders is established.