UAE, Bahrain Normalize Ties With Israel; Stokes Fear For Palestinian Cause

Speculation of rapprochement between Arab States and Israel has been gaining momentum in recent months following landmark settlements between Israel and two Arab States, Bahrain and the UAE. The U.S.-brokered agreements mark the first signs of recognition between Israel and the Gulf in over 25 years. Foreign ministers of both countries attended a White House signing on Tuesday to formalize the agreements.

The deals, or Abraham Accords (in recognition of the Abrahamic tradition shared by all three monotheistic religions) come in the wake of tensions over Israel’s plans to annex parts of the Palestinian-occupied West Bank. According to the terms of the Accord, Israel will put its plans of annexation on hold, stalling, at least momentarily, the fear that such a move would render attempts at a two-state solution all but futile. Countries and organizations in the West applaud the normalization, welcoming it as a hopeful step forward for peace in the region.

A White House report released the day of the UAE-Israeli agreement reads that “Israel will suspend declaring sovereignty over areas outlined in the President’s Vision for Peace and focus its efforts now on expanding ties with other countries in the Arab and Muslim world”. According to Robert Barron, an expert on Israel-Palestinian relations, we can expect to see bilateral relations between Arab States and Israel continue, albeit the Palestinian issue will make it harder for the region to reach full normalization. The chance of the new normalization having a meaningful impact on Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement remains unclear, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remaining committed to carrying out his promise of applying sovereignty in the West Bank.

Israel’s historical stance among Arab-Muslims has been that of a pariah. At a 1967 Arab League Summit, members agreed to “three no’s” regarding their relations (or non-relations) with Israel: no recognition of Israel, no peace with Israel, no negotiations with Israel. In 2002, the Arab League proposed the Arab Peace Initiative, which sought an end to hostilities between Israel and Arab States in exchange for Israel’s withdrawal from occupied territories (including the Gaza Strip, Golan Heights and the West Bank). Bahrain and the UAE have already voiced their continued support for Initiative following the normalization agreements Israel. However, that the deals went ahead despite a lack of progress on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been interpreted by Palestinians as a “treacherous stab in the back” to the Palestinian cause.

Demonstrations broke out Tuesday as Palestinians took to the streets in protest of the normalization deals. Hundreds of them—donning face masks and clutching Palestinian flags—gathered in the areas of occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip to symbolize their fortified resistance against Israeli occupation, which they fear is now under threat as more Arab governments look to normalization.

Palestine is already suffering an internal crisis brought on by Palestinian Authorities’ efforts to absolve themselves of Israeli dependence following news of a planned annexation earlier in the year. In May, the PA suspended all security coordination with Israel, effectively cutting off 60% of the PA budget through the refusal of tax transfers. It remains uncertain whether the suspended annexation and normalization deals will lead to positive developments in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. With Palestine already declaring a day of mourning on Friday—wherein black flags will be raised in condemnation of the Gulf States’ recognition of Israel—the possibility of future coordination between the two sides seems as bright as the colour of the flags that will hang in those skies.

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