News Roundup: UAE, Bahrain Normalize relations with Israel
The signing of the Abraham Accords and the Bahraini declaration of peace with Israel at the White House on September 15th was the subject of extensive coverage in the Arab, Israeli and US media. The main daily newspapers in both the UAE and Bahrain celebrated the two agreements, commending both countries for choosing the path of peace and coexistence in the region and rejecting conflict and instability. The UAE and Bahrain reiterated support for Palestinian statehood with the UAE stressing how the Abraham Accords have stopped Israeli annexation of the West Bank. Unlike their Emirati brethren, many Bahrinis took to twitter in opposition of normalization with Israel, leading with the hashtag in Arabic Bahrainis against Normalization. A number of Bahraini civil society groups also issued a statement rejecting their country’s move toward normalizing relations with Israel. Emiratis in exile only opposed their country’s deal by forming a group dubbed the Emirati League to Resist Normalization and have mainly been active on social media.
Arab media also highlighted the Palestinian Authority’s vociferous criticism of both the Bahraini and Emirati agreements, with President Mahmoud Abbas noting that peace cannot be achieved without the end of Israels occupation of Palestinian Territories.
Various views were expressed in the Israeli press with some looking optimistically on new diplomatic and economic ties with the Gulf. Others took aim at the Palestinian Authority for being the main obstacle to peace. Still, others were skeptical that the agreements will lead to any shift in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and that the political benefits may be minimal.
In the US, opinion leaders David Ignatius and Thomas Friedman wrote favorably of the normalization agreements. Most US news reporting highlighted that what most analysts agree on: these agreements would not have come to fruition had it not been for the Gulf Arab states’ and Israel’s mutual fears of Iran and its influence in the region. The Palestinian perspective was also widely published in the US press, with human rights activist Noor Erikat and journalist Daoud Kuttab voicing criticism of both Arab Gulf states’ motives to normalize relations. Kuttab argued that while normalization is positive in a broad sense, “Netanyahu sees it only as an opportunity to push peace further away.” Erikat pointed out Bahrain's dismal human rights record as a rationale for strengthening ties.
Various Arab and Israeli outlets covered statements from various sources in Israel and the White House that there are three more countries that will likely normalize relations with Israel in the near future; Oman, Sudan and Morocco.
At the White House signing ceremony, Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al Zayani said that the “declaration supporting peace between the Kingdom of Bahrain and the State of Israel is an historic step on the road to genuine and lasting peace, security and prosperity across the region, and for all who live there, regardless of religion, sect, ethnicity, or ideology.” Adding that “for too long, the Middle East has been set back by conflict and mistrust, causing untold destruction and thwarting the potential of generations of our best and brightest young people. Now, I am convinced, we have the opportunity to change that.”
Al Arabiya reported that an advisor to Bahrain’s King and former Foreign Minister Khalid Bin Ahmed said that the peace agreement between his country and Israel “contributes to the security and prosperity of the region,” adding that “Bahrain leads its foreign policy with openness and coexistence as a priority.”
The normalization agreement has received more pushback from the Bahraini people than the UAE has seen from its own citizens. The hashtag ( #بحرينيون_ضد_التطبيع), Bahrainis against normalization, was trending on social media with many tweeting that they are not on board. In a statement published on social media, more than 15 Bahraini civil society organization and political associations strongly rejected the normlization deal, reiterating their support for the Palestinian cause and noting that this agreement does not represent the will of the Bahraini people.
Akhbar Al Khaleej, Bahrain’s main daily newspaper published a column by Abdul Al Munim Ibrahim arguing that the Palestinians had normalized relations with Israel since 1993 so why oppose this normalization deal with Bahrain? He adds, why does the Palestinian Authority and other voices protest when the UAE and Bahrain establish diplomatic relations with Israel, when the leadership of both countries found that their national interest requires establishing diplomatic relations with Israel? ... Why do Turkey, Qatar and the PA have the right to normalized relations, and the UAE and Bahrain are not?!”
United Arab Emirates
UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed published a commentary in the Wall Street Journal titled “Peace. Shalom. Salam” the day before the White House ceremony, in which he reiterated that “Normalising ties between the United Arab Emirates and Israel is a historic diplomatic breakthrough and a hopeful sign that progress in the Middle East is possible.” Bin Zayed also noted that Palestinian statehood is central concern to the region, stressing again how the UAE-Israel Abraham Accords has stopped annexation. He added that the deal “could happen only with the influence of American diplomacy and the reassurance of its security commitments,” and that the US will shift more of the burden for regional stability to regional partners.
The UAE’s major newspaper celebrated with the headline: “The Emirates is a message of peace,” and Al Bayan newspaper editorialized, “The strategic shift to which the courageous decision of the UAE in the peace treaty with Israel leads… is consistent with the UAE’s approach and its global mission to spread peace and human fraternity, and political solutions to conflicts…” Similarly, Al-Ettihad newspaper opined: “The Middle East is on a date today, with a new beginning for a different peace, that breaks the deadlock, opens a window for the future, and gives hope to the peoples of the region that dialogue is capable of change.” In its editorial, titled “A Day for Correcting History,” the Emirati daily, Al-Watan, said that September 15, 2020 will be a “day that will be immortalized in the history of mankind... given the global event witnessed by the signing of the peace treaty between the UAE and Israel...”
Very few news outlets reported on the group formed by Emiratis, mostly outside of the UAE, that opposes the deal. The group, named, the Emirati Resistance Union against Normalisation (ERUN) issued a statement called ‘the Palestine charter’ on social media in which they stressed their support for the Palestinian cause. Other Arab media reports have downplayed the importance of this group noting that it is composed of 20 Emiratis who have ‘fled’ their country.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said in a statement after the White House signing that there will be no Middle East peace without the end of “Israel’s occupation.” The Palestinian Prime Minister, Mohammad Shtayyeh, described September 15th as a “black day” in the history of the Arab world. Abbas issued a statement condemning the normalization agreement with Bahrain following the announcement on Friday 09/11, calling it a “betrayal of the Palestinian issue.”
News reports said that the Palestinian Authority has recalled its Ambassador from Bahrain adding that former negotiator Saeb Erikat warned that the PA will recall its Ambassadors from any other Arab country that follows the same path.
Arab media outlets reported on “angry protests” that erupted in the Palestinian territories against the agreements. Chants heard in the streets of Ramallah and elsewhere in the West Bank included: “No to normalization... Palestine is not for sale,” and “Oh princes of petrodollars... the word and decision is ours.”
Earlier in the week,Al Jazeera reported that Prime Minister Shtayyeh said “the government will present a recommendation to President Mahmoud Abbas to reconsider relations with the Arab League,” after it rejected a Palestinian proposal to condemn the UAE-Israel normalization announcement.
The Iraqi official news agency canvassed reactions from elsewhere the region, including Turkey, Jordan, Iran, and the UAE, without surveying responses from Iraqi leaders or locals. It did not refer to Israel as a country, but rather “the Zionist entity”, conforming to long-time Iraqi messaging. The Iraqi daily Azzaman emphasized President Trump's words that five or six more countries are considering normalization agreements, and that a small group of demonstrators protested outside the White House during the ceremony.
Azzaman also reported the critical tweets from Jawad Al Khalasi, a prominent Iraqi cleric, stating in Arabic that “Palestine is an absolute right,” and that Bahrain’s naturalization agreement, “is another page in the deception and the path of betrayal,” adding that, “this contains a warning to all who would be tempted by the enemy to take this path, especially in Iraq.”
Kuwaitinews site Al-Anba’ reported comments made by the Bahraini and Emirati foreign ministers that normalization was predicated on the end of Israeli occupation, in addition to statements by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The paper also referenced Jared Kushner's comments to the American press that these deals could end the Arab-Israeli conflict, and statements by another White House official that more countries are considering such an arrangement.
English language Kuwait Times also highlighted parallel protests in the West Bank and Gaza that condemned Bahrain for joining the accords. It pointed out the potential domestic political benefits for President Trump with Evangelical voters. Both sources referenced intrigue about signatory states leveraging the agreements to purchase F-35 fighter jets.
While no official statements were issued from the Saudi government regarding the accords, with the exception of a reiteration of support for the Palestinian cause, Arab and other news media reported that Bahrain’s normalization deal would not have gone through without Saudi approval or its blessing.
The Oman News agency tweeted in Arabic: “The Sultanate [of Oman] welcomes the initiative taken by the sister nation of the Kingdom of Bahrain in the framework of its sovereign rights and the joint tripartite announcement of establishing ties to Israel.” The agency then replied to its own tweet, confirming the Sultanate’s commitment to peace based on the end of Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and establishment of an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. The agency also clarified its commitment to the two state solution as described in Arab and International resolutions and for wider peace.
However, replies to the tweet in arabic were mostly scathing of Bahrain’s decision, and critical of Oman’s perceived position as being the next country to consider normalization. Supportive comments focused on Bahrain’s sovereign rights and regional peace as a justification.
Like its response to the UAE’s announcement in August, Jordan issued a strongly worded statement linking the impact of normalization with Bahrain to Israel’s “intended actions”. Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said in a statement published through Jordan’s official news agency after the Bahraini announcement on September 11 that the required “change and fundamental step towards achieving a fair and comprehensive regional peace must be initiated by the Israeli side” adding that the “envisioned change will be achieved when Israel halts its measures that undermine the two-state solution, as well as ends the illegal occupation of the Palestinian lands and fulfills all the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people.”
News reports highlighted how the Arab League’s rejection of the Palestinian draft resolution to condemn the UAE’s normalization deal with Israel as a “severe blow” to Palestinians and their cause. The proposal was presented by the Palestinian Authority on September 9 to a virtual meeting of Arab League Foreign Ministers. Al Jazeera reported that Jared Kushner saw this Arab League rejection as an important shift in the region.
Egyptian President Abdel Fatah Al Sisi welcomed the normalization deals of both Bahrain and the UAE. Following the announcement of the Bahrain-Israel deal, Sisi praised all parties involved on his twitter account.
In Annahar, Sarkis Naoum statedthat Trump's departure from the rule: “all policies in America is local” is due to his need for victory abroad, in which Israel is his first partner. Because Americans consider it part of the interior of their country, despite being thousands of miles away, Trump “committed” the Deal of the Century that allowed Israel to annex very large parts of the Palestinian West Bank, pushed the UAE toward normalization, and prepared the way for Bahrain's signature.
In Al-akhbar, Beirut Hamoud argued that “Peace for peace” is a bad formula, and the talk about services rendered to the Palestinians remains misleading. She states that it does not seem surprising that Netanyahu is the only Israeli politician present, keeping the internally superior politician despite all suspicions of corruption against him. On the other hand, Abu Dhabi sent four ministers, led by Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed. This mission does not seem beyond the declaration of the alliance that is already established with some Gulf regimes, and it is also a salvation mission for Netanyahu's political life, and for the life of US President Donald Trump, who is sponsoring this agreement.
The Editorial board of TunisianNoon Postdebated the effects of the decision. Journalist and political analyst, Boulbaba Salem, believes his country “does not want to lose its relations with the Emirates because issuing a position will have a price,” such as the expulsion of the Tunisian ambassador or the 25 thousand Tunisians employed there. Salem continued, “Countries that are in a fragile economic situation cannot make strong decisions, and Tunisia is in a fragile internal situation.” Political academic Tariq Al Kahlawi believes that the authorities in Tunisia are waiting for an official Arab position to join, adding, “Tunisia deals with the files in a relationship with the American administration with great caution, and avoids a clash with it.” Regarding the president’s silence, Al-Kahlawi believes that he “left the room for maneuver in these delicate decisions of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the mechanisms of traditional diplomacy...”
Arab Sputnik Newsreported that the peace agreement between the UAE and Israel has created a wave of anger in Tunisia, as most political parties, national organizations and civil society organizations expressed their disapproval of the “deal of shame”. Meanwhile, activists demanded the President of the Republic to announce his official position on this agreement. On August 18, a number of activists and representatives of some national organizations and human rights associations carried out a protest stand in front of the headquarters of the UAE embassy to express their categorical rejection of the agreement and renew their support for the Palestinian cause as the cause of the Arab nation.
Sky News Arabiareported thatMoroccan journalist and writer Ahmed Al Shari said on Saturday that the peace agreement between the UAE and Israel constitutes a strategic victory. Al Shari wrote, in an article published in the Jerusalem Post, that the UAE is dedicating its position as an icon of tolerance. The Moroccan journalist stated that this agreement will lead to strengthening security in the entire Middle East region.
Al-Mayadeen,reported that Israeli Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen said that there are more Arab countries that will sign peace agreements with Israel. In an interview with the “20” Hebrew channel this Friday evening, Cohen indicated that “among the Arab countries that are candidates for signing a peace agreement with Israel are Gulf countries and Arab African countries, headed by the Kingdom of Morocco.”
Many Algerian press outlest in French and Arabic firmly criticized the agreements with Israel, extensively covering the Palestinian responses to the plan. The French daily El Watan editorialized that the agreements were heavily favorable to Israel. On the signing of the deal, it quoted Palestinian Prime Minister Shtayyeh that it marked a “dark day” in the history of the Arab nation, and represented the disunity of the Arab League.
The Arabic site Echorouk Online reported the reactions from major Palestinian leaders, including the spokespeople for the Palestinian Authority, Hamas, and the Islamic Jihad, remarking that the deal was a betrayal of the ideal of two state solution and establishment of an independent Palestinian state. The Arabic daily El Khabar pointed out in its coverage that the deals signed Tuesday made no reference to the Arab Peace Accords of 2002 nor any other international agreement, though it did acknowledge that the foreign ministers of Bahrain and the UAE confirmed their commitment to ending the occupation.
A day after the UAE and Bahrain signed agreements to normalize relations with Israel, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said “the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain would be responsible for any “consequences” resulting from their normalization of relations with Tehran's archrival, Israel. Speaking at a cabinet meeting on Wednesday, Rouhani said Israel is “committing more crimes in Palestine every day.” He added in his televised remarks: “Some of the region's countries, their people are pious Muslims but their rulers neither understand religion nor [their] debt ... to the nation of Palestine, to their brothers speaking their language.”
Iran’s foreign ministry issued a statement vehemently condemning the Bahrain-Israel deal as it did the UAE-Israel announcement last month. The statement said “Undoubtedly, the oppressed and right-seeking people of Palestine and the free Muslims in the world will never approve of normalization of relations with the usurping and lawless Israeli regime...” It added that the “Bahraini government’s move will definitely result only in escalating anger and perpetual hatred among the oppressed people of Palestine, Muslims and the world’s free nations.” The statement also warned “against any act by the Zionist regime creating insecurity in the Persian Gulf region, saying the Bahraini government and the other supporting governments would be held accountable for all the consequences of any action in this regard.”
Columnist David Ignatius wrote for the Washington Post Bahrain’s diplomatic agreement with Israel is a building block toward Middle East stability. He notes, “The significance of Bahrain’s action is partly that it wouldn’t have happened without the blessing of Saudi Arabia, which is joined by a causeway to the small Persian Gulf state. The Saudis have historically exercised what amounts to a veto over Bahraini policy.”
Columnist Ishaan Tharoor writes for The Washington Post The mirage of Trump’s ‘peace’ deals are not the victories for peace Trump claims they are. Karim Sadjadpour, a Middle East analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, argues the UAE-Israel deal was fuelled by mutual fears of Iran and simply formalized by the United States. Further, Palestinians living under Israeli occupation are not likely to enjoy any benefit from a handful of Gulf states receiving Israeli ambassadors and new orders of U.S. military hardware. “It is hard to identify a single point of progress concerning Israeli-Palestinian peace that is the result of U.S. intervention,” noted Grace Wermenbol of the Middle East Institute. In a similar vein, the White House claimed victory for advancing the peace process between Kosovo and Serbia, which quickly unraveled.
Palestinian scholar and human rights activist Noura Erakat wrote for NBC News, Trump 'peace' deals for Israel, UAE and Bahrain are shams. They boost oppression, not amity. She argues while Trump portrays himself as a peacemaker prior to the November election, in reality he is providing the military financial and diplomatic infrastructure to further repress popular struggles for democracy and freedom in the Middle East. Bahrain, like the United Arab Emirates most recently, did not secure a single lasting concession for Palestinians in its agreement with Israel. Bahrain is known for its own human rights violations, as well. The regime exercised a brutal crackdown to the Arab Spring protests and subjected at least 169 peaceful critics or their families to summons, arrest, interrogation, prosecution, imprisonment, travel bans and torture between June 2016 and 2017. Israel's contemporary alliance with Bahrain, for its part, continues a sordid legacy of support for human rights offenders and rogue states. She contends the Bahraini people are still in a struggle for their own freedom, and understand that prospects for their democratic future remain entwined with Palestinians' resisting siege and apartheid.
Palestinian journalist Daoud Kuttab wrote in Forward, Stop calling peace deals ‘historic.’ It’s the Arabs who are waiting for peace. He argues it is not the Arab countries that are the “recalcitrant opposition of peace”, but Israel. He notes that the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation have put forth plans for normalization with Israel as early as 2002 with the Arab Peace Initiative. Yet, instead of embracing this “reasonable compromise”, Israel has expanded its occupation, which has been repeatedly deemed illegal by the International Court of Justice and U.N. Security Council. Kuttab states “there is an apt term for a country that refuses terms to end a half-century of civil rights abuses, and which continues to violate international law: a pariah state.” While normalization is positive in a broad sense, “Netanyahu sees it only as an opportunity to push peace further away... Political Gifts from President Trump to Netanyahu are nothing more than enabling acts, which fail to deter Israelis from continuing their occupation and rejecting peace overtures from the Arabs.”
New York Times Columnist Thomas L. Friedman writes The Love Triangle That Spawned Trump’s Mideast Peace Deal. Big change happens in the Middle East when “the big players do the right things for the wrong reasons.” He notes that due to the withdrawal of American military presence in the region, new alliances are being forged to fill the vacuum. Secondly, because of the collapse of oil prices and surge in youth populations, Arab states can no longer retain legitimacy through government jobs and subsidies alone. Friedman argues that the most important “unintended consequence” of the agreements is that they exposed the fact that the Israeli government is incapable of accepting “any kind of two-state solutions with the Palestinians.” Friedman contends the international phase of the peace process is over. Therefore, “the Palestinian issue will most likely become more and more an internal Israeli issue-one that Israel will own alone.”
Raphael Ahren writes for the Times of IsraelAgreements Indicate UAE and Bahrain Are Now Less Pro-Palestinian Than Europe. The Abraham Accords vaguely urge “solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but, remarkably, make no explicit mention of a two-state solution or settlements. Analysts and officials have long argued that several Arab nations are no longer invested in the issue of the Palestinians; however, until Tuesday, all Arab governments had officially stuck with the policy of advocating for a Palestinian state. This notable omission marks a significant turning point in the efforts of the Arab Peace Initiative.
The Times of Israel wrote that Bahrain won’t have to abolish Israel Boycott Law - because it did so years ago. In 2005, after signing a free trade agreement with the United States, the tiny island kingdom announced its intentions to withdraw the primary boycott against Israel. Nevertheless, Bahrain continued to eschew formal contact. This new deal opens up possibilities for joint ventures between Israeli firms and their Bahraini and Emirati counterparts. There is no increased potential for cross regional cooperation to promote economic growth. Netanyahu hailed the move as “an important step in promoting prosperity and peace in the region.”
Hadar Susskind, the President and CEO of Americans for Peace Now, wrote in the Jerusalem Post: “Normalizing Relations with UAE Does Nothing to Fix Existential Problems”. While Susskind does view the trend of Israel normalizing relations with Arab states as a “positive development,” he states that the deal is not occurring in a vacuum. A “peace deal” with two countries that Israel was not at war with does little to remedy the state’s true existential problem: its conflict with the Palestinians and the issue of occupation. “Normalization with the Arab world is welcome,” he states, “but not as a tool to normalize the occupation and the conflict with the Palestinians.”
A Jerusalem Post editorial takes square aim at the Palestinian authorities, advising Palestinians to reject their leadership if they continue to reject peace. Palestinian authorities have rejected the historic peace deal between Israel, the UAE, and Bahrain, claiming that the normalization of relations constitutes a “betrayal” on the part of the Arab states and insist that the agreements violate the Arab Peace Initiative. Instead of celebrating a move towards peace, the editorial claims, Palestinian authorities continue to insist on, “fostering the cult of martyrdom and the perpetual condition of being considered refugees; encouraging more terrorism and rejecting the chance to begin a process leading to a stable Palestinian state.” With this new deal, the author writes, the UAE and Bahrain are not only normalizing ties but also “showing the Palestinians that war and terrorism are not the way [...] as long as the Palestinian leadership rejects peace, the Palestinian people should reject their leadership.”
Zvi Bar’el wrote for Haaretz, “with Bahrain Deal, Israel’s mantle in the Gulf expands, eyeing big Saudi prize. He argues that normalization between Israel and the Gulf states is beginning to look like such an obvious step that Bahrain is only the next stop in a tour that aims to establish official ties with the biggest player in the region, Saudi Arabia. In fact, Bahrain will not even be getting its own ceremony but rather “play a supporting role to the star of Tuesday’s show at the White House, the United Arab Emirates.”
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