BICOM Special Digest: Israel’s relations with the UAE and Bahrain

What’s happening today: The signing ceremony of the agreements on establishing relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain will be held at the White House, 5:00 pm UK time.

  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed and Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Alzayani will sign the agreements.
  • In addition to the bilateral agreements, all three will sign the trilateral “Abraham Accords” for peace between the monotheistic faiths. US President Donald Trump is expected to sign as a witness.
  • Before the ceremony Netanyahu will meet President Trump and they will discuss, among other things, the sale of F-35 planes to the UAE. After the ceremony, there will be an official lunch in the White House.

What to expect:

  • Sources in the Prime Minister’s Office say:
    • The prime minister is going to sign a peace treaty with the UAE, and a peace declaration with Bahrain. “The normal protocol is first the treaty gets signed and then it is presented to the cabinet and the Knesset for approval. That was the case with previous international accords as well.”
    • Netanyahu’s speech at the White House ceremony will contain a message of peace to the region.
    • Denied the allegation made by MK Nitzan Horowitz that the agreement with the UAE included a settlement construction freeze.
  • The agreement with the UAE is likely to include a reference to the Palestinian issue but Israel will only reveal the details of the agreement after it is signed.

Context:  The signing ceremony in Washington will be the first agreement between Israel and an Arab country in almost 26 years.

  • Following years of covert meetings, today will be the first time that an Israeli prime minister will meet publicly with a cabinet minister from the UAE.
  • As opposed to the ‘cold peace’ with Egypt and Jordan, the sides are working to cooperate in a range of fields, including finance, health, culture and tourism, space, science and investment, innovation and trade. Since the Israeli delegations visit to Abu Dhabi two weeks ago, the sides have exchanged more than 170 draft agreements.
  • Since 2010 Israeli-Emirati ties have covertly developed in business and trade, particularly in irrigation technologies, medical supplies and the diamond industry.
  • In late June two private Israeli companies signed cooperation agreements with two UAE companies to research and develop technology in the fight against the coronavirus.
  • The normalising of ties with the UAE is a major diplomatic achievement for Prime Minister Netanyahu. It strengthens his long-held belief that Israeli-Arab normalisation in the region can happen regardless of peace with the Palestinians.

In today’s Israeli media:

  • Kan news: UAE Economy Minister Abdulla Bin Touq said that his country and Israel were working on drafting eight trade and economic agreements, including a charter to prevent double taxation. They are also working on a free trade agreement for a later stage. At a virtual conference of the US-UAE Business Council, the minister further said that the agreement should not be taken for granted because it was about cooperation between two progressive economies in the Middle East and the opportunity should be seized.
  • Army radio:
    • UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nikolay Mladenov told Israeli officials that as a result of the agreement with the two Persian Gulf states, Jordan wants to improve its relations with Israel.
    • The former acting director of the National Security Council, Jacob Nagel, said in an interview: “There is no need to overstate the importance or the non-importance of the agreement. It is a process that creates an important axis against Iran and that is one of the central reasons that these countries chose to make a peace agreement with Israel. I assume that they will also receive from the US, and from Israel, things that will help them militarily.”
    • Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi told Emirati newspaper, Al-Ittihad: “I call on the Palestinian leadership to internalise the new reality, to show responsibility and leadership, as did the leaders of the UAE, and to return to the negotiating table.”
  • Yediot Ahronot:
    • “Fatah, Hamas and all of the other Palestinian organisations have joined forces and have established a shared command centre for the fight against the Israeli-Arab peace process. That cooperation has Israeli security officials deeply concerned.  This past weekend the ‘united national headquarters of the popular Palestinian resistance’ issued ‘Communique Number 1,’ in which it itemised a series of Palestinian activities that are to be held in Israel, the territories and around the world to protest the peace treaty that is going to be signed today.”
    •  “The initial stage of this new peace is based on four elements of the 2020 Arab-Israeli alliance: a shared hawkish strategy vis-à-vis Iran; strategic patience vis-à-vis the Palestinians; security and intelligence cooperation vis-à-vis radical jihad; and economic-technological cooperation vis-à-vis backwardness and radicalism. Succinctly — progress, progress, progress. Life-loving pragmatism that soberly deals with the threats of Middle Eastern radicalism.”
  • Yediot Ahronot, Nahum Barnea:
    • The Palestinians will also be on the White House lawn today. Not in body — they are zealously boycotting the ceremony — but the Palestinian problem will be there. “I told the Palestinians,” Jared Kushner said in a private conversation in one of his visits to Israel, “If you talk to us, we will give you a great deal. If you continue with your rejectionism, we will get up and leave.” “That’s the difference between us and you,” his Israeli interlocutor said to Kushner: “You can leave, but we’re left here with them.”
    • For the host, President Trump, today’s festival is important… Normalisation with the Emirates and Bahrain is Trump’s single real foreign policy achievement.
    • “Ironically, it is America’s growing weakness that made the agreements possible. The Persian Gulf states realised that they could no longer count on American willingness to protect them militarily. Trump often threatens, but is very wary about acting on his threats. It is very hard to rely on him. Israel has filled that vacuum… Israel. Israel’s military and technological prowess; Israel’s resolve; its willingness to use force; and the fact that we essentially have no choice — all these are qualities make Israel an attractive partner.
    • “Peace is not a one-time festival. It requires constant tending. It must not be left only in the hands of governments.  Netanyahu can view today’s celebration as his greatest foreign policy achievement. He has left his mark, he has created a legacy. He is reminiscent of Janus, the Roman god who had two faces. Today we will see Netanyahu the statesman going about the White House feeling at home, embracing the world; yesterday and tomorrow we get to see Netanyahu the politician, the man who led Israel to a colossal failure in the war against the coronavirus. Netanyahu has two faces: one inspires admiration, the other is embarrassing.”

Recent BICOM Analysis 


The BICOM Podcast

Episode 117 | Beyond Normalisation: Regional Cooperation
Guest – Dr Yossi Draznin, Director General of Israel’s Ministry for Regional Cooperation

Episode 116 | The Israel-UAE Business Council
Guest – Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem and one of the founders of the Israel-UAE business council

Special Edition | Israel and the UAE: how did we get here?
Guest – Dr David Pollock, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy and Director of Fikra Forum

Special Edition | The significance of Israeli ties with the UAE
Guest – Koby Huberman, co-founder of the Israeli Peace Initiative

Announced areas of cooperation between Israel and the UAE include: 
  • The Mohammed Bin Zayed university for artificial intelligence signed a memorandum of understanding with the Weizmann Institute on student exchanges, post-doctorate fellowships, scientific conferences and joint AI research center. Read more
  • Abu Dhabi’s technology leader Group 42 to open international office in Israel. Read more
  • Emirati businessman to invest in Israeli football club, Beitar Jerusalem. Read more
  • The American Jewish Committee is opening an office in Abu Dhabi. Read more
  • Jewish Agency to begin operations in the UAE. Read more
  • The Abrahamic Business Circle inter-cultural dialogue in Dubai. Read more
  • The Israeli-Emirati Forum and the UAE-Israel Business Council. Read more

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