What happened: The Israeli Knesset overwhelming approved the Israeli-UAE peace treaty during yesterday’s nine-hour long debate.
- 80 MKs voted in favour of the peace treaty whilst only the 13 MKs from the Arab Joint List voted against the agreement, and 27 MKs were absent from the vote. The peace treaty now needs to be ratified by the UAE as well as the Israeli cabinet before it enters into law.
- Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the plenary twice, at 11am and again at 8pm just before the vote. He said: “Since the start of Zionism, one of our hands has been holding a weapon in defence and the other hand was stretched out to everyone who wants peace. They say peace is made with enemies. False. Peace is made with those who have stopped being enemies. Peace is made with those who desire peace and who no longer remain committed to your annihilation.”
- Speaking again before the vote, Netanyahu added: “Those who truly support peace should back this agreement… We can get peace by enhancing Israel’s force. It will bring Middle Eastern countries closer to us. This force brought many countries around the world closer to us.”
- Alternate Prime Minister and Defence Minister Benny Gantz commended Netanyahu for choosing “the path to peace” over annexation. Referring to speculation that the peace treaty included a secret arms deal between the US and the UAE, Gantz said: “In the Middle East there have been and will continue to be arms deals. Let me say this in the clearest possible terms: As long as I am defence minister, Israel’s military power and its qualitative edge in this region will be maintained, strengthened, and further entrenched.”
- Gantz said it was “imperative” for Israel to “rehabilitate and deepen” its ties with Jordan and Egypt, those of which “have been neglected in recent years, with damaging effects on Israel’s strategic interests.” He further called upon Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the younger Palestinian generation to “to join this journey toward peace, rather than staying mired in refusal”.
- Opposition Leader Yair Lapid was less complementary to Netanyahu in his address. He said: “Here is your objective analysis for 2020: You reached a good agreement with the UAE. You managed the relationship with the President of the United States well. You failed completely when it comes to the relationship with the Democratic Party and American Jewry. You failed totally in managing the health crisis. You failed totally in managing the economic crisis. You failed when you tried to get a million shekels in tax breaks during the height of a national crisis.”
Context: Since the singing of the Abraham Accords in August, Israel and the UAE have pushed ahead in full speed to agree and start implementing a full normalisation of relations.
- Yesterday the UAE’s Finance Ministry announced that it had reached a preliminary agreement with its Israeli counterpart on avoiding double taxation, in order to encourage investments between the two countries.
- According to reports, Sudan has agreed to normalise ties with Israel, after the US reportedly issued a 24-hour ultimatum to the country demanding that it recognise Israel in order to be removed from a US blacklist. In September, Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok cautioned against linking the country’s removal from a US terrorism list, which is hindering access to foreign funding for the country’s economy, with a normalisation of relations with Israel.
- US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged Saudi Arabia to recognise Israel during a press conference with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud. The Saudi Foreign Minister is in the US to conduct talks as part of the US-Saudi Strategic Dialogue.
- Riyadh has quietly acquiesced to the UAE and Bahrain agreements – though it has stopped short of endorsing them – but it has signalled it is not ready to take action itself. Prince Faisal told The Washington Institute yesterday that Saudi Arabia has a path for normalisation with Israel but only in the context of an Israeli-Palestinian agreement. In September, Saudi Arabia agreed to open its airspace to flights from and toward Israel.
- According to a new survey from Zogby Research Services, nearly 80 per cent of Saudis are in favour of their country normalising ties with Israel within the next five years. Despite the survey assessing attitudes from five different Arab countries (Egypt, Saudi, the UAE, Palestine and Jordan) between 24 June and 5 July, it showed that that 40 per cent of Arabs (expect in Palestine) were in favour of normalising ties with Israel at the time, provided steps were taken to achieve peace with the Palestinians.
Looking ahead: Abu Dhabi is expected to send its first official delegation to Israel next week.
- An Israeli source briefed on the planning said the delegation would come on Tuesday. The UAE has yet to confirm this.
- Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi said agreements to be signed next week were being prepared that would enable direct flights by Israeli airlines to the UAE and the opening of new markets for Israeli technology, as well as the establishment of official Israeli representative offices in the Gulf.