When the United Arab Emirates shocked the Arab world by normalizing relations with Israel, it said this move would help alleviate the lingering Arab-Israeli conflict. But nine months later, the wealthy Gulf state finds itself in a difficult position as its newest ally bombs Gaza’s impoverished Palestinian territory.
Israeli warplanes and artillery have attacked Gaza, while Hamas, the group that controls the territory, fired rockets at Israel. According to health officials in the enclave, 174 Palestinians, including 76 women and children, have been killed. Ten people have died in Israel, including two children, local doctors say.
While nearly a third of Arab countries now have relations with Israel, this week’s bloodshed shows that diplomatic ties ushered in by last year’s so-called Abraham Accords have given them little leverage and done nothing to help alleviate the ongoing crisis – the Jewish state in conflict with the Palestinians.
“They [the UAE] are clearly in a very difficult position. On the one hand, the UAE’s interests with Israel are long-term and strategic, so ideally their relationships should be shock-resistant, ” said Cinzia Bianco, a visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations. “At the same time, the UAE clearly claimed that the Abrahamic Accords would give them leverage to support the Palestinians as well and contain Israel’s aggression against them.”
So far, Israel has rejected all international efforts to push for a ceasefire. But Bianco said Abu Dhabi could still exercise diplomatic influence to pressure the Jewish state to limit the scope of its retaliation. However, such intervention could jeopardize the progress of joint projects of strategic value for the UAE, she added.
Recent collaborations include plans for Emirati and Israeli defense manufacturers to develop a system to counter drones.
The normalization of relations between Israel and the UAE under the Abraham Accords was quickly followed by similar steps from Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco, marking a radical departure from the established Arab attitude towards the Jewish state.
The Arab position before the accords was that they would only recognize Israel if there was a just settlement with the Palestinians that led to the creation of a viable Palestinian state. The transactional deals struck by the Trump administration, which pursued an openly pro-Israeli stance, left Palestinians feeling isolated and betrayed. Critics said the Arab states had given up a negotiating tool and gained little from it, warning that the actions would be exploited by more militant Palestinian factions.
Like other members of the Arab League, the UAE on Tuesday appealed to the International Criminal Court to investigate “war crimes and crimes against humanity” committed by Israel against Palestinians.
“The UAE stands for the rights of the Palestinians, for the end of the Israeli occupation and for a two-state solution with an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital,” said Anwar Gargash, diplomatic adviser to the president of the UAE, this week. . . “This is a historical and principled position that does not budge.”
The UAE State Department last month quickly condemned Israeli plans to expel Palestinians from their homes on land claimed by Israeli settlers. And when clashes broke out between armed Israeli police and stone-throwing Palestinian youth, the UAE urged the Israeli authorities to ease tensions.
The UAE’s clear public position has provided cover for the emirates and residents of the autocratic state to condemn Israeli actions and show support for the Palestinians, after all local anger over the earlier decision to normalize relations was quelled at the time. Aside from a small group of online Emirati activists who have sided with Israel, most of the reactions on social media – even from some ministers – have been pro-Palestinian.
“Standardization [of relations] is irreversible, but in these circumstances it is very difficult to defend and even talk about it, ”said Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a Dubai-based professor of political science.
After the UAE signed the deal, there was speculation whether Saudi Arabia, Israel’s top prize, would follow. Like Abu Dhabi, Riyadh has been working covertly with Israel on intelligence and security as they share the goal of countering Iran.
But this week’s Israeli attack on Gaza makes that seem increasingly remote. Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan said on Sunday that the kingdom “categorically rejects Israeli violations against Palestinians,” calling for an immediate ceasefire.
In Morocco, which established relations with the Jewish state in October in exchange for US recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over the disputed territory of Western Sahara, the State Department said it was following the events “with deep concern”.
In 2014, during the last great war between Israel and Hamas, thousands of protesters, including government ministers, took to the streets in Rabat, the capital. This time, the Moroccan police spread a small pro-Palestinian protest in the city this week. The newly formed Morocco-Israel business council is also said to have postponed a virtual meeting to encourage Moroccan investment in Israel.
Public sentiment in the Arab world remained strongly pro-Palestinian, said HA Hellyer, senior associate fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “The absence of protest is not an absence of the desire to protest, but an absence of permission to protest.”
Restrictions on freedom of speech across the region made it more difficult to gauge the extent of public anger, Hellyer said, but social media and extensive coverage on mainstream television showed that the “ Palestinian issue ” is still affecting the Arabs. is dear to the heart.
“Nearly half of the messages I received on Thursday for the religious festival marking the end of Ramadan show photos of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem,” he added.