With justified festivity, Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain signed normalization agreements and established full diplomatic relations in 2020, with the aid of American mediation. They were the first peace accords signed between the Jewish state and an Arab country since 1994, when relations were cemented with Jordan. Importantly, and in opposition to the cold nature of relations with Israel’s neighbor to the east, the ties between it and its new Gulf friends were expected to be warm and friendly in nature. And indeed, tourism and business relations between the countries soon flourished for all to see.
However, the agreements signed did not include a solution for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, which had been the barrier preventing an earlier establishment of relations. Now, with fighting between Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza erupting on May 10, relations between the Jewish state and its new Arab allies were put to a test.
“The latest conflagration between Israel and Hamas, and especially the events in Jerusalem which preceded it, constituted the first significant test of the normalization agreements and the resilience of the growing relations with the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan,” Dr. Yoel Guzansky, a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University and a specialist on Gulf politics, told The Media Line. Morocco and Sudan also set on a path of normalization agreements with Israel under the wider umbrella named the Abraham Accords.
Guzansky is referencing the violent clashes between Israeli police and Israeli Arabs, which first began outside Damascus Gate in Jerusalem, and later escalated and spread to Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.
Police actions on the compound, especially entering one of the mosques there, were perceived as a grave insult to Muslim sensitivities by believers in Israel, the Palestinian territories, and throughout the world. Rising tensions in Jerusalem, tied also to a legal deliberation that threatened to evict Palestinians from several houses in East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, were ultimately seized as justification by Hamas to fire rockets at Israel’s capital, Jerusalem. Israel retaliated and exchanges of fire commenced.
“The four countries had to condemn Israeli in strong terms following events in Jerusalem. They placed the blame on Israel in a manner that expressed the sensitivity of what happens in the city, and because of what they called the harming of Palestinian rights and Al-Aqsa’s sanctity,” says Guzansky.
He added that they had a special interest in showing solidarity with the Palestinians, after being blamed for forsaking them in their struggle by normalizing relations with Israel.
According to Guzansky, when the violence migrated from Jerusalem to Gaza and Israel’s other towns and cities, it helped the Arab countries minimize their comments on the situation. At the same time, coverage of the situation became more balanced and included both Palestinian and Israeli suffering as a result of the fighting.
He notes, “Some of the columnists in the Arab media, who many times reflect the views of the regimes, blamed Hamas as the one that initiated the round of fighting, and by that brought about the damage caused to the people of Gaza.
“Many of the Arab countries, especially those that have agreements with Israel, didn’t want [Hamas], an organization that cooperates with Iran and is identified with the Muslim Brotherhood, to have any kind of triumph,” he says, and some were even hoping that the fighting would weaken it. Yet, as fighting continued and the destruction in Gaza grew, “they had to show more significant support for the Palestinians.”
Despite this, they didn’t take any action that would undermine the agreements. Indeed, as Guzansky points out, in a conversation with U.S. State Secretary Antony Blinken, Emirati Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan said, “The Abraham Accords peace agreement holds hopes for the region’s peoples to live in peace and stability in a way that ensures sustainable development,” according to a statement released by the Emirates News Agency.
American Israeli businessman Asher Fredman, CEO of Gulf-Israel Green Ventures, a company looking to connect Israeli green tech innovators with Gulf customers, told The Media Line that “because of the relationships of trust and dialogue and understanding that have been built over the last number of months, those relationships have continued to stay strong during this period.”
Business relations have also persevered, Fredman says. Business calls were conducted on schedule and potential Emirati partners have been in touch to assure of their continued interest in cooperation.
“On the person-to-person level, on the business level, I don’t think that the current conflict is going to harm them,” he says, looking to the future.
Speaking about developing additional ties with Gulf businesses, including with potential partner Saudi Arabia, Fredman says, “In my field of green tech and in other fields as well, the value propositions of the cooperation for both Israelis and Saudis and the region, remain very strong.”
Highlighting the mutual benefits of cooperation would ensure that the recent trend will continue, he said.
Guzansky believes that the expected ending to this latest flare-up in the coming days “likely averted possible attrition of the agreements and damage to the relations themselves.”
Countries that have normalized with Israel, he says, tried to differentiate between humanitarian and religious support for the Palestinians and their interests in preserving the relations.
However, Arab countries that have yet to take the plunge and normalize with Israel may see this latest round of violence as yet another reason to postpone establishing relations with the country.
First published: 19:06 , 05.21.21