The political economy of the United Arab Emirates -Israel agreement


Its History book well recorded that fact that since its creation as a Jewish state in 1948, Israel has been isolated from nearly every other country in the predominantly Muslim Middle East. While Egypt and Jordan made peace with it, other Arab countries have said they would withhold recognition pending formation of a separate Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, territories Israel conquered in the 1967 war. Prospects for a Palestinian state have faded in recent years. Still, the United Arab Emirates, a Persian Gulf monarchy, has agreed to establish normal ties. This diplomatic move by United Arab Emirates highly commended by its Western allies.
David Wainer of Bloomberg recently wrote that although trade between Israel and its neighbors Jordan and Egypt never boomed despite normalization, it’s expected to be different with the United Arab Emirates, a federation of seven emirates. Unlike Jordan and Egypt, the United Arab Emirates never fought in any of the six Arab-Israeli wars. Plus Dubai is a business hub for the region and Abu Dhabi is keen to lessen its dependence on hydrocarbons.
David Wainer noted that as soon as the normalization deal was revealed on 13 August 2020, Ministers from the United Arab Emirates and Israel rushed to open phone lines and unblock internet access, while companies in the two countries announced new pacts. In addition, the accord puts Israel’s plan to annex parts of the West Bank on ice, though there are different interpretations of how long the freeze will last, and solidifies a growing alliance between Israel and some Arab countries with Sunni Muslim majorities to contain Iran, whose population is mostly Shiite Muslim.
Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed pointed to Israel’s agreement to halt its annexation plan as a key factor behind normalization. Analysts argue that mutual distrust of Iran, especially its regional ambitions and nuclear program, were the more decisive catalyst. The United Arab Emirates shares Israel’s interest in pushing back against a strain of political Islam that the Gulf monarchy views as a threat to hereditary rule and a destabilizing influence primarily emanating from Iran, Qatar and Turkey. While not specifically spelled out in the so-called “Abraham Accord,” enhanced security cooperation against regional threats, especially from Iran and the network of foreign militias it supports, is a key driver of the deal, according to Steven Cook, senior fellow for Middle East and Africa studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.
James Dorsey, Senior Fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies Stated that the agreement to establish diplomatic relations between the United Arab Emirates and Israel is only the latest event that drives nails into the coffin of the notion that there is solidarity in the Arab and Islamic world. The presumption has long been that these nations share common geopolitical interests on the basis of ethnicity or religion and embrace kinship solidarity. Beyond the United Arab Emirates-Israel agreement, there is more evidence pointing to the hollowness of Arab and Muslim solidarity. Just consider the current Saudi-Pakistani spat over Kashmir, as well as a variety of feuds among Gulf states and between Turkey, the kingdom and the Emirates.
James Dorsey further stated that a key motivation for the United Arab Emirates -Israel agreement is that both countries worry that a potential election victory by presumptive Democratic candidate Joe Biden on November 3rd could bring an administration into office that is willing to seek accommodation with Iran. The establishment of diplomatic relations strengthens the United Arab Emirate’s position as one of the United States’ most important partners in the Middle East. And it allows Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to argue that his hardline policy towards the Palestinians does not impede a broader peace between the Jewish state and Arab nations.
Alon Ben-Meir, Senior Fellow at New York University stated that the United Arab Emirate’s willingness to formally recognize Israel underscores an undeniable reality that the idea of Arab and Muslim solidarity exists in theory and rhetoric only. In reality, it gets trumped all the time by the hardnosed interests that various countries and their rulers pursue. It thus comes as no surprise that, as Messrs. Trump and Netanyahu and United Arab Emirates Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed were putting the final touches on their coordinated statements, traditional allies Saudi Arabia and Pakistan were locked into an escalating spat over Kashmir.
According to Alon Ben-Meir, this spat follows India’s 2019 move to revoke the autonomy of the Muslim-majority state of Jammu and Kashmir and to impose a brutal crackdown. Muslim countries, with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in the lead, have been reluctant to jeopardize their growing economic and military ties to India, effectively hanging Pakistan out to dry. The two Gulf states, instead of maintaining their traditional support for Pakistan, feted Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi as developments in Kashmir unfolded.
In response, Pakistan hit out at Saudi Arabia where it hurts. In rare public criticism of the kingdom, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi suggested that Pakistan would convene an Islamic conference outside the confines of the Saudi-controlled Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) after the group rejected Islamabad’s request for a meeting on Kashmir.
Uwe Bott, Chief Economist of The Global Research Center argued that targeting Saudi Arabia’s leadership and quest for Muslim religious soft power, Mr. Qureshi issued his threat eight months after Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan under Saudi pressure had bowed out of an Islamic summit in Kuala Lumpur convened by the kingdom’s critics, including Qatar, Turkey and Iran. Saudi Arabia’s obvious fear is that any challenge to its leadership could fuel demands that Saudi Arabia sign over custodianship of Mecca and Medina to a pan-Islamic body.
Uwe Bott further noted that after all, it is the custodianship and Saudi Arabia’s image as a leader of the Muslim world that persuaded United Arab Emirates Crown Prince Mohammed to reach out to Israel in the first place. The United Arab Emirates ruler is also obviously keen to use his embrace of dialogue with Jewish and Christian groups to bolster his tarnished image in Washington and other Western capitals.
The United Arab Emirate’s recognition of Israel puts Saudi Arabia more than any other Gulf state in the hot seat when it comes to establishing relations with Israel. And it puts the United Arab Emirate’s Prince Mohammed bin Zayed in the driver’s seat. That is all about national interests and competition and has very little to do with Arab or Muslim solidarity.