News Roundup: Surprise UAE-Israel Peace Shakes up U.S. and Regional Media
The surprise announcement of a US-brokered deal for normalization of relations between the United Arab Emirates and Israel, to be known as the ‘Abraham Accords’, has received extensive media attention in the US, Israeli and Arab media. The agreement makes way for the establishment of bilateral relations between the UAE and Israel in exchange for an Israeli promise to forsake annexation of Palestinian territory in the West Bank. The often discussed annexation has remained a hot topic in the press at least since the announcement of the Trump Administration’s “Deal of the Century” in February of this year. Since then, it was presumed that Israel was approaching a decision to declare legal sovereignty of up to 30 percent of the West Bank and that it was awaiting a “green light” from Washington.
Despite the nominal pledge to forgo West Bank annexation and Emirati reassurances to support Palestinian territorial claims, news reports carried vociferously critical reactions from the Palestinian leadership which called the deal a “betrayal” of the "Palestinian cause" and a “stab in the back.” In Israel, the media remarked how the deal presents a political boon for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu while simultaneously covering the equally bitter rejection by Israeli settler leaders.
Reactions from the Gulf Cooperation Council varied. Bahrain welcomed the deal with laudatory government statements and Oman officially endorsed it in hopes of achieving wider regional peace. However, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was conspicuously silent. Saudi journalists stated distantly that the deal should be seen as a sovereign bilateral affair between the UAE and Israel. Twitter users from KSA quoted the late King Faisal who said, “If all Arabs agreed to accept the existence of Israel and dividing Palestine, we will never join them.” In Qatar, which remains under a boycott instigated by its GCC neighbors in 2017, major Arabic newspapers editorialized that the deal comes at the expense of Palestinians and severely undermines the peace process. Qatar in recent years has been a large donor to humanitarian causes in Gaza, and a critic of Israeli unilateralism, but the Ministry of Foreign Affairs remains silent on the issue.
Jordan’s King Abdullah II did not issue a statement. However, Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi issued a strongly worded statement noting that if Israel “dealt with it [the deal] as an incentive to end occupation... it will move the region towards a just peace.” In Egypt, Abdel Fatah El Sisi in Egypt, an ally of UAE military adventures in Libya, unsurprisingly welcomed the agreement -- making the UAE the third Arab state after Egypt (1979) and Jordan (1994) to normalize relations with Israel.
Elsewhere in the region, Kuwait remained silent, though the Kuwaiti speaker of parliament now famously described, and literally disposed of the “Deal of the Century” as “Garbage”. North African states have remained circumspect and considered the public positions coming from Palestinians, Gulf countries, and other Arab states. Government agencies and thought leaders have yet to weigh in.
In the United States, a few commentators including Thomas Friedman of the New York Times saw the deal as serving Jordan’s national security interests as it calls on Israel to freeze its annexation plans of the West Bank. David Ignatius saw the deal as a victory over the orthodoxy that has solidified the Israeli-Palestinian impasse. Robin Wright considers it a sign that the Palestinian issue is no longer a pressing priority. Still others vacillated whether the biggest victor will be Israel, the UAE, or President Trump. Few remarked that the Palestinians were the beneficiaries of the agreement -- crafted behind closed doors in Washington -- and only time will tell what the new link between Israel and the Gulf will mean for the region.
This Article will be Updated
UAE Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed tweeted “During a call with President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu, an agreement was reached to stop further Israeli annexation of Palestinian territories. The UAE and Israel also agreed to cooperation and setting a roadmap towards establishing a bilateral relationship.”
UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed tweeted that this agreement represents “a major breakthrough in Arab-Israeli relations and an important diplomatic achievement that opens new horizons for peace and stability in the region.”
In a statement, UAE Ambassador in Washington, DC Yousef Otaiba called the announcement of a peace agreement between his country and Israel “a significant advance for the region and for diplomacy” that “immediately stops annexation and the potential of violent escalation... maintains the viability of a two-state solution as endorsed by the Arab League and international community.” Calling it a “significant advance in Arab-Israeli relations that lowers tensions and creates new energy for positive change across the region,” Otaiba added that this historic agreement will help invigorate the economies of both countries noting that “closer UAE-Israel ties will accelerate growth and innovation, expand opportunities for young people, and breakdown long-held prejudices.”
UAE Prime Minister and ruler of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashed tweeted a photo of Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed with the following proverb; “History is written by men and peace is made by the brave.”
The UAE National newspaper headlined the deal with a focus on how “Israel” will now “freeze annexation for UAE ties.” The news report noted that this agreement between Israel and the UAE “does not change the UAE’s view of the peace process” adding that the UAE “remains committed to the Arab plan of a negotiated two-state solution, with East Jerusalem as the capital of an independent Palestinian state.”
Al Bayan newspaper (Arabic) highlighted the same theme (that the agreement halts Israel’s annexation) in its reportage of the Israel-UAE deal calling this an “historic achievement.” The subheadlines on the front page of Al Bayan also highlights the world’s accolades of this agreement.
News outlets worldwide reported on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s televised address on Thursday, August 13, in which he said the deal would lead to “full and formal peace” with the Gulf Arab state and voiced hope that other countries in the region would follow the UAE’s example. Netanyahu said it also entailed acceding to a request from the U.S. President Donald Trump to “temporarily wait” on implementing the Israeli leader’s pledge to annex parts of the occupied West Bank. “It’s an incomparably exciting moment, a historic moment for peace in the Middle East,” Netanyahu said.
Daniel Shapiro, in his Haaretz piece, “UAE’s Unique Leverage Over Israel Buried Annexation to Enable Normalization,” argues that Yousef al-Otaiba’s op-ed, published in June in the Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot, opened the door to improved Israeli-Arab relations. He argues that “what al-Otaiba placed before Israel, in straightforward, respectful language, was a stark choice: annexation or normalization.” He remarks that because of the wide range of informal contracts between the UAE and Israel prior to the agreement “the UAE had unique leverage… because their goodwill could not be doubted.” Thus, Israel was forced to reckon with al-Otaiba’s statement that “Israeli plans for annexation and talk of normalization are a contradiction” and choose between annexation or normalization.
Eytan Gilboa, in his Jerusalem Post piece, “The Israel-UAE Agreement: A Message to Iran, the Palestinians and Biden,” remarks that “people across much of the Sunni Muslim Arab world don’t perceive Israel anymore as an enemy, but rather as an ally.” He argues that both Israel and the UAE face a common Iranian threat and that the alliance “is expected to more effectively deal with Iran.” He remarks that this deal sends a message to Biden that blocking Iranian threats is incredibly important for the region and that the Obama nuclear deal did little to accomplish this. He also believes that the deal signals to Palestinians that shared security and economic interests between Israel and other Arab states can, for them, take precedence over the Palestinian cause.
The Times of Israel reports that “Israeli officials say Bahrain in advanced contacts to be next in line for ties”. As many other pieces have suggested, the UAE deal paves the way for other countries in the region to normalize ties with Israel. The piece reports that “a senior American official told Palestinian media that Bahrain and Oman are expected to normalize ties with Israel in the near future.”
The Palestinian Authority rejected the UAE-Israel peace deal and called for an emergency Arab League meeting to reject the deal. Various news reports carried the Palestinian position which described the deal as a “betrayal of Jerusalem, Al Aqsa (mosque) and the Palestinian cause.” The PA also decided to recall its Ambassador from the UAE immediately. Reports noted that the PA also called on the UAE to withdraw from the peace agreement with Israel. The PA statement also considered this agreement as a “blow” to the Arab peace initiative, “an aggression against the Palestinian people,” and as a rebuff of “Palestinian rights and the holey sites, especially Jerusalem, as well as a rebuff of an independent Palestinian state with 1967 borders.”
Al Jazeera reported that Hamas “rejected the US-brokered deal establishing formal ties between Israel and the UAE in exchange for Israel dropping its plans to annex land in the occupied West Bank, saying it did not serve the cause of the Palestinians.” The statement from Hamas noted; "This agreement does absolutely not serve the Palestinian cause, it rather serves the Zionist narrative. This agreement encourages the occupation [by Israel] to continue its denial of the rights of our Palestinian people, and even to continue its crimes against our people.” "What is required,” adds the statement, “is to support the legitimate struggle of our people against the occupation and not to establish agreements with this occupier, and any annexation we will face by a Palestinian confrontation that is supported by the Arabs and internationally, and not by signing normalisation agreements with them [Israel]."
Various Jordanian newspapers featured Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi’s statement following the announcement of the Israel-UAE peace deal with an emphasis on a choice that Israel has to make “between a just and comprehensive peace that ends the occupation and resorts to the two-state solution leading to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on the pre-1967 lines or the continuation of the conflict.” Safadi said that the “deal will be tied to Israel’s actions in the post-agreement period” adding that “if Israel considers the agreement as a means to end the occupation and meet the Palestinians’ rights to freedom and the creation of a viable independent state with East Jerusalem as its capital on the pre-1967 borders, the region will move ahead towards realising peace, or else Israel will deepen the conflict that will jeopardise the entire region’s security.” It is worthy to note that King Abdullah II has not issued a statement or made comments regarding the agreement.
Egyptian president Abdel Fattah El-Sisi tweeted (Arabic) that "This step will bring peace to the Middle East, we appreciate the efforts of those in charge of this agreement in order to achieve prosperity and stability for our region."
Al Ahram newspaper remarked on El-Sisi’s approval featuring his statement that he “followed with great interest and appreciation the tripartite joint statement between the United States, the fraternal United Arab Emirates, and Israel, regarding the agreement to suspend the annexation of Palestinian territories and to take steps that would bring peace to the Middle East."
In a statement, the Bahraini Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that “The Kingdom of Bahrain expresses its sincere congratulations to the sisterly State of the United Arab Emirates and its wise leadership for announcing with the United States of America and Israel an agreement halting the annexation of the Palestinian territories, as step towards the achievement of peace in the Middle East.” That statement added that Bahrain “commends the sincere diplomatic efforts made by the UAE and stresses that this historic step will contribute to the consolidation of stability and peace in the region.” Meanwhile, the Kingdom of Bahrain congratulates “the great efforts made by the United States of America to reach this deal, in continuation of US efforts to strengthen the foundations of world security, stability and peace and looks forward to more efforts to reach a just, comprehensive and lasting solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.”
Al Watan News (Arabic) highlighted that this “historic diplomatic achievement” will be beneficial to not only the UAE, the United States, and Israel, but to the region as a whole. That the relationship, in addition to stopping the annexation of Palestinian lands, will also stimulate economic growth and technological innovation. They also mention that the UAE and Israel plan to increase cooperation on the development of a COVID-19 vaccine.
News outlets reported that Iranian Foreign Minister’s Javid Zarif described the deal, "as painful and as a stab in the back to Lebanon and other countries in the region," according to a readout of his meeting with Lebanese counterpart Charbel Wehbe released Friday by the Iranian Foreign Ministry.
La Nouvelle Tribune (French) highlighted Iran’s disapproval of the deal, and Iran remarks that the deal was one of “strategic-stupidity” that threatens their influence in the region.
The Kuwait based newspaper Al-Anba (Arabic) emphasized that this deal will stop the annexation of Palestinian territories and added positive remarks made by officials in the US, UAE, and Egyptian President El-Sisi. They included Mike Pompeo’s remarks that "relations between Israel and the UAE are on the way to normalization, and this is a big step forward on the right path."
Reuters reported, that Saudi Arabia’s reaction to the UAE-Israel deal was one of noticeable “silence.” It adds; “While there has been no official comment from the Saudis on the UAE-Israel pact so far, Twitter users in the kingdom shared pictures of the late King Faisal, who during the October 1973 Arab-Israeli war led an oil embargo that aimed to punish the United States and other countries for their support of Israel.” The news report notes that twitter users used a quote from one of King Faisal’s speeches; “If all Arabs agreed to accept the existence of Israel and dividing Palestine, we will never join them.”
France 24 hosted the Saudi writer and opinion leader Sulaiman Al-Aqili who commented that Saudi Arabia views the Emirati-Israeli agreement to normalize relations between them as an “Emirati sovereign affair with which no one has any involvement in.” He added that the “could yield good results with regard to the Palestinian issue and the Arab-Israeli conflict, by stopping the annexation of the West Bank and the Jordan Valley to Israel” however he “ruled out that Riyadh would follow Abu Dhabi’s example in normalizing relations with the Hebrew state.”
Le Temps (French) reported the “surprise” deal between the UAE and Israel brokered by the United States feels like an “electroshock” to the Middle East. It cited the increase of cooperation between Israel and Arab Gulf states as evidence of the path leading to the deal, stating in the past, Palestinians were the main point of contact between Israel and the Arab world.
Echourouk (Arabic) news in Algeria closely monitored statements from prominent Palestinian leaders, Emiratis, and other Arab states on the reaction to the deal. Thus far Bahrain, Egypt, Oman, and Jordan acknowledged the deal, and no other Arab state has issued an official statement, including in North Africa.
The pro-government newspaper Al Sharq (Arabic) editorializedthat the “Palestinian cause is threatened to be wiped out” adding that “rapprochement with Tel Aviv will not achieve peace. Rather, it will undermines Palestinian rights and threatens the right of return.” It noted that what “Abu Dhabi called a historic peace agreement and a bold step... is nothing but a mirage, legitimizing the [Israeli] occupation and undermining all opportunities for a real settlement, particularly the Arab Initiative and the two-state solution.”
The Doha based paper The Gulf Timesinitially reported the announcement of the deal between the UAE and Israel in Washington, but remarked that the Palestinian leadership was unaware of the deal. It also reported a statement from a Hamas Spokesman in Gaza that the deal was, “a stab in the back,” to Palestinians. It also remarked that the Palestinian authority rejected the deal and called for an emergency meeting of the Arab League.
The Ministry of Information of Oman (Arabic) issued a statement expressing the Sultanate's support for the deal: “The official spokesman of the Foreign Ministry expressed support of the Sultanate of Oman for the decision of the United Arab Emirates regarding establishing relations with Israel in the framework of the shared historical announcement between the UAE, the United States, and Israel. The Sultanate hopes that this agreement will contribute to achieving a comprehensive, just, and lasting peace in the Middle East and that it will serve the aspirations of the peoples of the region in sustaining the pillars of security, stability, and development for reasons of progress and prosperity for all.”
Al Sharq Al Awsat newspaper reported that a source told the paper that Oman and Bahrain will likely follow in the UAE’s footsteps in normalizing relations with Israel. The report noted that Oman has had relations with Israel and as recent as last year has hosted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Bahrain, on the other hand, hosted the economic focused conference “Prosperity for Peace” led by the Trump administration last summer.
Columnist and Wilson Center-USIP Distinguished fellow Robin Wrightwrites in The New Yorker Israel’s New Peace Deal Transforms the Middle East. Wright argues the peace deal adds to the sentiment that “after decades of dominating and defining tensions across the Middle East, the Palestinians are no longer a pressing priority; they also seem increasingly irrelevant to the region’s trendlines. Although, some believe the deal signals frustration with Palestinian leadership. Daniel Kurtzer, the former U.S. Ambassador to Israel and Egypt, commented, “If I were a Palestinian, I would be extraordinarily frustrated with my leadership. They’ve done such a poor job of translating victimization into a positive policy.” Uncertainty mounts over how the newly established alliance will affect tensions with Iran. While the “peace for peace” deal represents a new framework within international diplomacy, Iran’s response will remain to be seen.
Columnist Tom Friedman writes in the New York Times thatA Geopolitical Earthquake Just Hit the Mideast. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s popularity suffered as he faced corruption charges and daily protests over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Itamar Rabinovich, one of Israel’s leading Middle East historians and a former ambassador to Washington, argues, “Instead of Israeli annexation for a Palestinian state, they made it Israeli non-annexation in return for peace with the U.A.E.,” adding Kushner, “basically generated an asset out of nothing, which Israel could then trade for peace with the U.A.E. It was peace for peace, not land for peace.” Friedman notes the deal will encourage other gulf sheikhdoms to follow the UAE’s lead. Iran and its proxies are the biggest geopolitical losers. Friedman argues the UAE is signalling to Iran, “There are really two coalitions in the region today — those who want to let the future bury the past and those who want to let the past keep burying the future.” This deal shows “that the past does not always have to bury the future, that the haters and dividers don’t always have to win.”
Opinion Contributor Richard Grenell writes in The Hill that the Israel-UAE breakthrough proves Trump's critics wrong — again. Foreign policy experts have long predicted the Trump Administration was jeopardizing peace in the Middle East, expecting an improvement in relations should VP Biden win the election. Grenell notes once again the D.C. establishment proves incorrect in their “doomsday predictions”, and warns Trump’s critics must alter their take on his foreign policy.
Columnist David Ignatius writes in the Washington Post that Trump is right. The Israel-UAE agreement is a huge achievement.Prime Minister Netanyahu commented, “This is a turning point for peace,” while Emirati leader MBZ, affirmed: “This is the best news of 2020. And it hasn’t been a very good year.” The past decade, communication between Israel and the UAE has been an open secret, with the countries’ leaders drawn by similar interests and threats in the region. While the deal is a “political boost for President Trump”, Ignatius believes it could also “facilitate Israeli and Emirati cooperation with a Democratic administration”, should VP Biden win the November election.
Palestinian journalist Daoud Kuttab writes in the Washington Post thatThe Israel-UAE agreement is an insult to the peace Palestinians and Arabs want and need. He notes “The useless agreement between the United Arab Emirates and Israel is nothing but a ploy to artificially inflate the Trump administration’s foreign policy achievements ahead of the election. In real terms, it was nothing but leaders trading with used goods.” Kuttab argues the need for peace in the region is mounting, yet the UAE-Israel deal “fails to provide even a road map for the end of the decades-long Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands.”
MEI scholar Bilal Saab writes for Foreign PolicyIn Historic Deal With the UAE, Israel Is the Biggest Winner noting, “No matter how one reads the diplomatic deal announced Thursday between Israel and the United Arab Emirates—and there will surely be many supporters and detractors given its historic nature—there is one conclusion that seems irrefutable: Israel was the biggest victor.” He claims while the promise to suspend annexation is popular it is not realistic, and therefore Israel can enjoy normal relations with the UAE whilst maintaining its long-term interests. Through the deal, the UAE solidified its leadership status in the Arab world, and will benefit when, “the two societies will get an opportunity to team up without having to worry about politics.”
New York Times: AsIsrael and United Arab Emirates Strike Major Diplomatic Agreement, President Trump anticipates “full normalization of relations” in exchange for Israel suspending annexation of occupied West Bank territory. Prime Minister Netanyahu reflected, “This is a historic evening,” at a news conference. “Today, a new era began in the relations of the state of Israel with the Arab world.” Although not all leaders are as welcome to the news, with Ahmad Majdalani, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Executive, stating “This is a black day in the history of Palestine… This agreement is a total departure from the Arab consensus. The Palestinian people have not authorized anyone to make concessions to Israel in exchange for anything.”
NPR: In a historic deal, UAE, Israel Move To Normalize Relations As Israel Halts Planned West Bank Annexations. The announcement followed negotiations between Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, UAE’s Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed, and US President Trump. The news was met with mixed reviews, as Palestinian and Arab leaders “expressed outrage over the annexation proposal”.
Bloomberg: Israel and UAE Agree to Establish Ties; Annexation Is Paused. Following the announcement, Trump touted to reporters, “Not since the Israel-Jordan peace treaty was signed more than 25 years ago has so much progress been made towards peace in the Middle East.” Yet, no timeline was set for the suspension of Israel’s annexation plan, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stating, “There is no change in my plan to extend our sovereignty in Judea and Samaria, in full coordination with the U.S. I’m committed to it,” in a national address, using a biblical name for the West Bank. Palestine quickly expressed outrage over the deal, with presidential spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh stating, “The Palestinian leadership announces its strong rejection and condemnation of the surprising American, Israeli, and Emirati tripartite declaration on a complete normalization of relations between the Israeli occupation state and the United Arab Emirates.” Eyes are now on whether other countries in the region will follow; Kamel of the Eurasia Group argues Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman will inevitably follow the UAE’s lead but that will take longer.
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