The Crisis In The Middle East

Why has the Israel-UAE pact unsettled Palestine and Iran?


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : West Bank and its location

Mains level : Israeli claims over West Bank and Gaza

Last week Mr Trump has announced that Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) had reached a peace agreement. Many countries, including the European powers and India, have welcomed it, while the Palestinian leadership, as well as Turkey and Iran, have lashed out at the UAE.

The strategic location of Gaza strip, West Bank, Dead Sea etc. creates a hotspot for a possible map based prelims question. 

Consider this PYQ:

Q. The area is known as ‘Golan Heights’ sometimes appears in the news in the context of the events related to: (CSP 2015)

a) Central Asia
b) Middle East
c) South-East Asia
d) Central Africa

The Israel-UAE Pact

  • The UAE and Israel would establish formal diplomatic relations and in exchange, Israel would suspend its plans to annex parts of the occupied West Bank.
  • Israeli PM Netanyahu had earlier vowed to annex the Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
  • But now, as part of the agreement, Israel “will suspend declaring sovereignty over areas” of the West Bank and “focus its efforts on expanding ties with other countries in the Arab and Muslim world”.

A timeline of Israel-Arab Conflict

Arab-Israeli ties have historically been conflict-ridden.

  • Arab countries, including Egypt, Transjordan, Syria and Iraq, fought their first war with Israel in 1948 after the formation of the state of Israel was announced.
  • The war ended with Israel capturing more territories, including West Jerusalem than what the UN Partition Plan originally proposed for a Jewish state.
  • After that, Israel and Arab states fought three more major wars — the 1956 Suez conflict, the 1967 Six-Day War and the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
  • After the 1967 war in which Israel captured the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza Strip from Egypt, East Jerusalem and the West Bank from Jordan and the Golan Heights from Syria.
  • Arab countries convened in Khartoum and declared their famous three “‘Nos’ — no peace with Israel, no talks with Israel and no recognition of Israel.
  • But it did not last long. After the death of Egypt President Gamal Abdel Nasser, his successor Anwar Sadat started making plans to get Sinai back from Israel.
  • His efforts, coupled with American pressure on Israel, led to the Camp David Accords of 1978 with Israel’s withdrawal.

Significance of the deal

  • It’s a landmark agreement given that the UAE is only the third Arab country and the first in the Gulf region to establish diplomatic relations with Israel.
  • In 1994, Jordan became the second Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel.
  • The UAE-Israel agreement comes after 26 years. If more countries in the Gulf follow the UAE’s lead, it would open a new chapter in Arab-Israel ties.

Why did the UAE sign the agreement?

  • The old enmity between Arab countries and Israel has dissipated.
  • The Sunni Arab kingdoms in the Gulf region such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE had developed backroom contacts with Israel over the past several years.
  • One of the major factors that brought them closer has been their shared antipathy towards Iran.
  • Arab countries have signalled that they are ready to live with Israel’s occupation of Palestine.

What do Arab countries want from Israel?

  • Arab countries expect a major change in the status quo on West Bank annexation which would put Israel under political and diplomatic pressure.
  • The UAE-Israel agreement has averted that outcome.
  • If a Democratic Party (Trump’s opposition and Obama’s allegiance) comes to power and restores the Iran deal, both the Israeli and the Arab blocs in West Asia would come under pressure to live with an empowered Iran.
  • A formal agreement and enhanced security and economic ties make the Arab and Israeli sides better prepared to face such a situation.
  • So there is a convergence of interests for the UAE, Israel and the U.S. to come together in the region.

Where does it leave the Palestinians?

  • Unlike the past two Arab-Israeli peace agreements, Palestinians do not figure prominently in the current one.
  • In the present UAE-Israel deal, Israel has not made any actual concession to the Palestinians.
  • The Palestinians are understandably upset. They called the UAE’s decision “treason”.

Geopolitical implications of the deal

  • The agreement could fast-track the changes that are already underway in the region.
  • The Saudi bloc, consisting of Egypt, the UAE, Bahrain and others, see their interests being aligned with that of the U.S. and Israel and their support for Palestine, which Arab powers had historically upheld.
  • Turkey and Iran now emerge as the strongest supporters of the Palestinians in the Muslim world.
  • This tripolar contest is already at work in West Asia. The UAE-Israel thaw could sharpen it further.

Also read:

West Bank Annexation Plan

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