Point of view

‘The UAE-Israel deal has been met with popular hostility by most Arabs.’

Dr. Nicolai Due-Gundersen talks to SouthAsia.

October 2020

What are your views regarding the newly established diplomatic ties between the UAE and Israel?
The UAE and Israel have had covert relations since the 1990s. The UAE sought US fighter jets amid Israeli concerns. This deal resulted in certain NGOs being used for discreet communications between the UAE and Israel. To make this relationship official, however, goes against how the GCC viewed the plight of Palestine soon after GCC establishment and emphasises that the perceived threat of Iran has become a bigger security concern for the UAE, the main security element both the Gulf and Israel share.

Your views on Bahrain’s recognition of Israel?
As for Bahrain, I can add that recognition was swift but not surprising. Bahrain has had informal relations with Israel since 1994 and in 2011, leaked documents revealed that since 2005, Bahrain had maintained an intelligence relationship with Israel’s Mossad. Bahrain is a strong UAE and Saudi ally, effectively dependent on Saudi political support. Saudi Arabia would no doubt normalize ties if they could, as evidenced by Muhammed bin Salman’s planned trip to Washington to meet Netanyahu after UAE-Israel ties were announced (the trip was leaked and cancelled). In addition, the normalization between Bahrain and Israel was announced by Trump himself. Let’s not forget that Bahrain is a strong US ally. They host the US Navy’s regional fleet for the Gulf and, like the UAE, see normalizing relations with Israel as a way of ensuring better access to Washington DC.

Do you believe these developments will have general public acceptability in the Arab world in the long-run?
They have been met with popular hostility by most Arabs and it is unlikely this will change. This fact is significant when you also consider the Palestinian Diaspora across the Gulf, with around 100,000 Palestinians in the UAE. However, the UAE is no stranger to suppression and has deported Palestinian residents in the past for criticizing the government.

Does this move strengthen the cause of Palestine or otherwise?
It would seem that the Deal has been condemned by most Palestinian political figures and has united some Palestinian factions over a common concern: the normalization of occupation. At a time when the PLO has revealed that many Arab states have stopped paying into the PLO budget, some may hope that united factions will now strengthen the Palestinian cause.

Should the Arab world treat its economic interests separately from its support for Palestine?
Political and socio-economic interests are rarely moral. One difference between the Israel-UAE Deal and the Peace Treaties between Israel (1979) and Jordan (1994) is that these treaties offered a pragmatic, ‘cold’ peace that would allow e.g. Jordan some political access to the US via Israeli efforts, while the Israel-UAE Deal is an active normalization. This includes trade deals and other economic agreements such as Israel’s right to open stores in the UAE and export products. This is no doubt a question many Arab citizens will be asking, and how the Deal actually plays out and how Arabs across the Middle East respond to it will no doubt be taken into account by other Gulf States that Trump hopes will be next to normalize relations.

What impact will this have on the overall state of relations existing between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan?
Saudi Arabia would no doubt wish to support the Abraham Accord. Indeed, Mohammed bin Salman had planned a trip to Washington DC to meet Netanyahu, but this trip was leaked and cancelled. This attitude of ignoring occupation adds to existing tension between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Saudi Arabia wishes to lead the Muslim world (clashing with Turkey’s Erdogan), and Pakistan has already complained of the lack of support over Indian-occupied Kashmir, with the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation criticized by some as being indifferent to Kashmir under Saudi direction. The increased tension between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia may have long-term effects on Pakistani expats who work in Saudi Arabia (though many have returned home due to coronavirus) and on financial and political cooperation. The result may be that other parties seeking to increase their activities in the Gulf and Asia such as China will move closer to Pakistan.