An expert's point of view on a current event.
June 8, 2021, 4:31 a.m.
Barely days after Israel and Hamas signed a ceasefire to end the latest cycle of violence, a museum in Dubai called the Crossroad of Civilizations held an exhibit devoted to the history of the Holocaust and the horrors of anti-Semitism. Shortly after, on June 2, Israeli and Emirati businesspeople discussed bilateral trade at Dubai's Global Investment Forum when their governments signed a double taxation treaty and the Emirates invited Israel to set up a free trade zone.
Israel's disproportionate use of force against the Palestinians disrupted its newest Arab partners, but not enough to call into question the normalization of relations created by last year's Abraham Accord. These diplomatic deals sparked billions in economic activity and strengthened the national security of Israel and the four Arab countries involved. Nobody was interested in sacrificing these achievements, even during a war that killed around 250 Palestinians, including 66 children. It was an early test of the theory that peace in the Middle East would be achieved not in exchange for land but for the sake of business and mutual protection against common enemies.
Although pro-Palestinian sentiment was spread on social media in the Abrahamic Treaty countries, there was little evidence of outrage in the streets. The agitation did not come close to shaking the governments, let alone forcing them to change their policies.
However, recent clashes have shown that the United Arab Emirates in particular has little influence over Israel. Israel embarrassed the ruler of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, when it stormed al-Aqsa Mosque, a revered place of worship for Muslims. The United Arab Emirates have condemned Israel without facing any consequences. When Hamas fired rockets and Israel launched air strikes, the UAE's allegation was even more superficial. This reflected the antagonism of both the Emiratis and Bahrainis towards Hamas, the Palestinian group whose parent organization, the Muslim Brotherhood, poses the greatest internal threat to their rule. But it also showed the Arab countries' commitment to rapprochement with Israel. In March the UAE announced $ 10 billion Investing in Israel in areas ranging from natural gas to technology to desalination.
Shmuel Bar, a former Israeli intelligence officer and currently the owner of an Israeli software company that does business with many Arab nations, said his phone had been browsing texts from well-wishers from the Arab world since the clashes began. “Nothing has changed,” said Bar. “I haven't heard anyone say that recent tensions have had an impact on deals. Nobody called me to cancel a deal. I have at least 15 WhatsApp SMS from contacts from different parts of the Arab world who asked if I was okay and they hoped that no rockets were falling near me. "
Sympathy for the Palestinians in the West has grown significantly, particularly in the United States, where younger adults and liberal Democrats, according to a. clearly tended in their favor Gallup poll Held at the beginning of February. But in the Arab world, experts say, the people are burdened with so many other worries and the leaders are so gripped by the fear of being ousted that Palestine has been moved way down on their list of priorities.
The rise of a Muslim or Arab national identity, general fatigue from the Palestinian problem, economic and political crises in their own country, multiple wars, uprisings and brewing famines have all contributed to a decline in Arab sympathy for their Palestinian brethren.
The monarchies, which are either signatories to the Abraham Accord like the UAE or want to be like Saudi Arabia, have instead urged the Palestinians to be realistic. Her own desire to wean her economies off of oil, as well as the need to address the internal threat posed by political Islamists and the external threat posed by an expanding Iran, has completely changed her view of the problem. Some religious and academic influencers in the Emirates have said the conflict is between Israelis and Palestinians rather than Israelis and Arabs, a feeling that reflects a tectonic intellectual shift in the UAE and elsewhere in the region.
A major rally was held in Qatar that protects Hamas, supports the Muslim Brotherhood and is an ally of Iran and Turkey – the civilizational enemies of most Arabs, including those who signed the agreements. The deportation of the Israeli ambassador was requested in Bahrain and Jordan, but without success.
None of the Arab governments used their diplomatic tools to send a stronger message to Israel. Instead, they used plain and routine convictions. "Their criticism was pure rhetoric," said Yoel Guzansky, Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies, who specializes in Gulf politics and security. “You didn't do anything on site. They have not expelled any ambassadors or threatened to withdraw from the agreement or initiated intra-Arab negotiations. "
Guzansky said the Arabs were undoubtedly dissatisfied with Israel over the storm on al-Aqsa mosque, but as the conflict shifted to Gaza their tone softened. “They blamed Israel for what happened in the mosque, for what happened in the city. This is more understandable because of the religious importance of Jerusalem to Islam, ”he added. “But when Jerusalem calmed down and Hamas started firing rockets, it played into the hands of the Abrahamic countries. It gave them a chance to be more balanced and to split criticism between Israel and Hamas. I noticed that several Saudi media outlets criticized Hamas very loudly. They blamed Hamas for the situation the people of Gaza found themselves in. Saudi [Arabia] and the United Arab Emirates did not want Hamas to emerge from the conflict with an upper hand. "
Ibrahim al-Assil, a Middle East analyst, said much of the Arab population is overwhelmed with their own struggles and priorities, and some of them even ask why their struggles are not getting the same amount of attention worldwide. "It is an important and interesting development in Arab public opinion," said Assil. “The Palestinians are getting a lot more global sympathy, but in the region itself this trend is reversed. Many see it through the lens of their own conflicts with Iran and are concerned about how Iran will find a way to take on the Palestinian grievances. "
He added that the Abraham Accords were never intended to solve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict – and neither could they. "Even if all Arab states normalize with Israel, the conflict will continue because of its indigenous local roots," said Assil. However, he admitted that there was hope that the United Arab Emirates and other Arab states would at least have some leverage over Israel in such situations. “The relationship between Israel and the United Arab Emirates is still new and wasn't ready for the test. The UAE found itself in a difficult position and much faster than expected. "
It was not the first and, unfortunately, it will not be the last clash between Israelis and Palestinians. The question is whether the United Arab Emirates and its greatest ally, Saudi Arabia, which tacitly supports the Abrahamic Accords, would put pressure on Israel and demand a say in times like this. If they don't, they might still manage to keep their people calm, but they could also add to the appeal of Iran, Qatar, and the political Islamists they so loathe.
Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a prominent political scientist in the United Arab Emirates and a former advisor to the Emirati crown prince, said the deal would stand. "For the United Arab Emirates, this is a strategic advantage and irreversible," said Abdulla. “The United Arab Emirates are on two parallel paths: supporting the Palestinians for a state of their own is one way, and Abraham Accords is another. There's no going back either. "
But going both ways at the same time has become more untenable as far-right Israeli leader Naftali Bennett replaces Benjamin Netanyahu as Israeli prime minister. Bennett has campaigned vehemently for illegal Israeli settlements and rejected a two-state solution.
The Abrahamic Treaties faced the first challenge. Until a second, third, or fourth test, the relationships might not withstand the tension – and the region won't discover the break point until it's too late.