Knesset expected to ratify treaty with UAE tomorrow

What’s happening: The Knesset is expected to debate and vote on the peace treaty with the UAE tomorrow, which will then see it formally adopted into Israeli law.

  • On Monday the Cabinet unanimously approved the “Abraham Accords Peace Agreement: Treaty of Peace, Diplomatic Relations and Full Normalisation between the United Arab Emirates and the State of Israel.” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: “This agreement is different from its predecessors in that Israel is not conceding any territory whatsoever. Second, the economic component in it is very dominant, and the economic aspects will be very good for all citizens of Israel. Third, this agreement is accompanied by the opening of the skies, the opening of Saudi skies to Israeli planes, to planes from Israel and to planes to Israel.”
  • Among the people Netanyahu credited for helping to bring about better ties between Israel and the Gulf was Tony Blair, “who very much assisted in establishing these links approximately five years ago”.
  • Earlier this week Netanyahu spoke with Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, their first conversation since the signing ceremony at the White House in mid-August. The pair agreed to meet again soon.
  • Also this week, the first cargo ship from Dubai docked in Haifa Port. Reuters quoted Eshel Armony, chairman of the board at Haifa Port: “This is a new era in the Middle East, and I’m sure this will bring more and more trade.” The report said that Israeli officials estimate bilateral trade could reach as much as $4 billion a year, with all goods arriving by sea.
  • There is continued acrimony between the UAE and Palestinian leaders. Anwar Gargash, the UAE’s minister of state for foreign affairs, responded on twitter to disparaging comments made by the Palestinian representative in France, writing: “We have grown accustomed to the lack of loyalty and the ingratitude. We proceed toward the future confident in all our actions and beliefs.”

Context: The Knesset will approve the full text of the treaty signed in the White House last month.

  • Ahead of the Knesset vote, Chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee MK Zvi Hauser (Derech Eretz) had asked for his committee to review all the agreements, “including classified details that are not stated in the language of the agreements”. According to Hauser, “Netanyahu must present the Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee with every detail of the agreements, including the secret ones; the defence significance and the expected ramifications. The Knesset must not be the government’s rubber stamp.” However, Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin (Likud) denied his request.
  • Whilst the Knesset is expected to approve the peace treaty, Prime Minister Netanyahu could still face criticism the way normalisation of ties was discussed and approved without any consultation with the defence establishment. Ahead of the agreement Netanyahu kept the foreign and defence ministers out of the loop and did not have them accompany him in Washington, despite the agreement being signed at the level of foreign minister.
  • There is also concern that Netanyahu acquiesced to the US selling the UAE advanced F-35 fighter jets, without consulting IDF Chief of Staff or Defence Minister Benny Gantz. Security officials are worried that such a sale could damage Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge, a principle enshrined by US Congress, as well as lead to a proliferation of arms in the region.
  • Netanyahu has also faced criticism from right-wing MKs who are angry that the agreement has prevented Israel implementing sovereignty over parts of the West Bank.

Looking ahead: A joint US-Israel delegation will visit both Bahrain and the UAE next week.

  • The US delegation will be led by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and include the White House’s special envoy to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Avi Berkowitz. The Israeli delegation will be led by Foreign Ministry Director General Alon Ushpiz.
  • Soon after, a senior delegation from the UAE is expected to visit Israel for the first time.
  • Israel is still finalising its peace treaty with Bahrain.
  • Due to the coronavirus, direct commercial flights between Israel and the UAE will be delayed till January.

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