President Donald Trump exemplified his love affair with Twitter as he took to the microblogging platform to break the news of a historic truce between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). This makes Abu Dhabi the third nation in the Arab world and the first among the Gulf nations to recognise Israel as a nation. The move is touted by many as a game-changer in the geopolitics of the region.
The Gulf countries have not, for over a century, officially recognised Israel as a nation because of the ongoing Israel-Palestinian crisis. Trump also brokered an agreement where Israel would suspend its plans to annex the Western Bank — a region of conflict between the Jewish Israelis and the Palestinian Muslims, where the latter has also been subjucted to various atrocities violating human rights.
The Middle East is a precarious region, and its geopolitics is largely influenced by a Cold War-like proxy war between two of its behemoths – Saudi Arabia and Iran. The roots of this complex crosshairs can be traced back to the First World War, which culminated with the fall of the Ottoman Empire. The local Al Saud tribe in the Arabian peninsula fought off everyone who staked a claim in the region, and modern-day Saudi Arabia was officially recognised in 1932. Until 1979, Saudi Arabia was regarded as an undisputed bastion of Muslims across the world, for the progeny of the dynasty were also the custodians of the holy mosques in Mecca and Medina — the two holiest shrines in Islam.
However, the Iranian Revolution in 1979 saw the rise of a theocratic rule stemming from the Shia sect of Islam under Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Not only did he envisage Iran as a regional power, but he also challenged a Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia’s claim to lead the Muslim world. This came as a shock to many for Khomeini’s ascent was first welcomed by then-Saudi ruler King Salman.
Iran, rich in oil reserves, changed its foreign policy to undermine America’s influence in the region. This further fanned its animosity with Saudi, which had been a pro-America state. However, unlike Saudi, Iran wasn’t able to pull in money for its oil reserves and was crippled with the sanctions imposed on it by the West.
It has largely supported rebel groups, some of them are extremists and are categorised as ‘terrorist groups’ in the unrest that has prevailed in the region. Before the US invasion in Iraq, the country served as somewhat of a buffer zone between the two nations. Many diplomatic circles jokingly say that America invaded Iraq only to gift it to Iran, and it is for a good reason that the ISIS occupation in Iraq had been largely supported by the Iraqi regime.
Khomeini’s new government also turned hostile towards Israel, it withdrew its decision to recognise Israel as a state and severed all ties with it. Iraq’s policy of supporting rebel groups in conflict-laden areas also meant that it supported opposing extremist groups against Israel — Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Israel, for it considers the state a Zionist regime. (Zionism was the movement which led to the foundation of Israel).
UAE’s peace agreement (albeit the government in Abu Dhabi calls it a roadmap to a peaceful relationship) has offended the Palestinians, who saw an ally in them. They were also taken by surprise by this announcement since they were not informed about any of this. “May you never be sold out by your ‘friends’”, Hanan Ashrawi, a senior official, angrily tweeted at the Emirati crown prince.
The Palestinian Authority has been championing for a separate state, and its President Mahmoud Abbas is disillusioned with the Trump administration for its pro-Israel stance. “The Palestinian leadership rejects and denounces the UAE, Israeli and US trilateral, surprising, announcement”, said a senior adviser to Abbas and called it a “betrayal of Jerusalem, Al-Aqsa, and the Palestinian cause”.
One way to look at this agreement is a reaffirmation of the fact that UAE doesn’t detest Israel as much as its Arab counterparts do. This is diametrically opposed to the Arab and Muslim viewpoint of the official recognition of Israel in 1948 as a ‘pro-Western’ move, analogous to the erstwhile European colonialism that once existed. Many diplomatic commentators see this as the UAE’s plan for a more liberal and open foreign policy which is evident from the immigrants that throng to the country for work.
The Palestinian cause is, irrefutably, hurt by this agreement. Although the UAE made it clear that the “suspension of plans to annex the Western Bank” was their priority, Palestinians would see it as tokenism if the UAE doesn’t raise the question of Palestinian statehood. There is an opinion that the Emiratis are disenchanted with the Palestinian separatist movement, possibly because they don’t want to see its citizens or its government to be supportive of a separatist movement, especially when dissent is hardly tolerated in the country.
Both for US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, it is an attempt to save some of the public approval that elected them. The two leaders are receiving flak and opprobrium for their management of the coronavirus pandemic. While Trump is also criticised for his failed diplomatic projects and a US economy that has been bludgeoned by the pandemic, Netanyahu faces a trial of corruption.
However, the decision in Washington is bipartisan — the Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden and presumptive Vice-Presidential candidate Kamala Harris have also welcomed this decision. This also indicates that the government in Abu Dhabi is preparing itself for the fact that Trump might not win a second term.
President Trump is pinning his hopes on other Arab states to follow suit. However, this agreement also undermines any hopes of a permanent settlement between the Israelis and Palestinians. The further implications of this deal are yet to be seen.
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