The UAE Removes Israel Economic Boycott: What Does This Mean For the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict?



Under a deal brokered by the U.S., the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on the 13th August announced its intentions to normalize relations with Israel. Following this announcement, we are already seeing signs of the plans following through. Commercial flights appear to have resumed between the countries, and the two governments have discussed potential cooperation on various issues such as COVID-19, food and water security, and financial services. In the agreement, Israel has also promised to halt their plans to annex a large part of the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT).


International reactions to the so-called “Abraham Agreement” have been divided. Iran and Turkey have condemned the UAE’s decision over concerns for the Palestinian society. Iran has alluded to it as a betrayal of the Palestinian people while the Turkish government has called the UAE out for ignoring the needs of Palestinians for political and economic self-interest. On the other hand, the U.N., the U.S. and various Western states have praised the deal for its suspension of the planned annexation. U.N. Secretary-General Guterres celebrated the idea, warning that an “Annexation would effectively close the door for a renewal of negotiations and destroy the prospect of a viable Palestinian State and the two-State solution”. The Gulf Cooperation Council and other gulf states have supported the UAE’s decision but none have said that they will follow Dubai’s example.


In Palestine, banners calling the UAE President Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan “traitor” have been raised in occupied East Jerusalem. This has been fuelled by a sentiment of betrayal over the unofficial mantra of the Palestinian cause: that there can be no peace between Arabs and Israelis before there is peace between Palestine and Israel. Almost all Arab states have supported this cause refusing to recognize Israel until it cedes more territory to Palestine. The UAE is only the third Arab country, after Egypt (1979) and Jordan (1994) to remove sanctions on Israel. A spokesperson for Palestinian President Abbas echoed this sentiment, stating the accord was a “betrayal… of the Palestinian cause”. Hamas spokesperson Hazem Qassem stated that “This agreement does absolutely not serve the Palestinian cause; it rather serves the Zionist narrative” because any normalization of ties with Israel normalizes Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory. Despite the fractured politics within Palestine, there has been a unanimous rejection of the deal amongst Palestinian groups.


However, it is important not to forget the agreement’s victory in halting Israel’s annexation plans. Israel-Palestine tensions increased significantly this year after Israeli President Netanyahu’s announced that he planned to extend Israeli law to parts of the occupied Palestinian territory starting 1 July. While Hamas was unafraid to label this as a declaration of war on Israel’s part, the Palestinian Authority responded by suspending all bilateral relations with the Israeli government in the OPT. The repercussions were felt in Palestine; security coordination links between the two governments were severed, the OPT’s public finances being reduced by 80%, and healthcare-related deaths increased after the suspension of coordination in humanitarian affairs. Had annexation taken place, the impacts would be worse. Human rights groups warned that annexation could result in the demolition of private Palestinian property and farmland and result in associated forced displacements.


It seems that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains far from being resolved. While the threat of annexation has dissolved the Palestinian claim for territory has lost some of its weight. Critics have pointed out that Israel’s annexation plans had already stalled and that rewarding Netanyahu’s government for agreeing not to worsen the situation only legitimized the current state of affairs. If other gulf states follow Dubai’s lead, as U.S. diplomats have been pushing them to do, this may mark a turning point in negotiations of a peace deal. But a peace that is achieved by progressively ignoring the territorial claims of millions of Palestinians is not likely to have enduring effects.



Sarah McArthur