28.05.2021 – 19:56
As people in Gaza begin the monumental task of rebuilding after 11 days of bombing by the Israeli army killing at least 254 Palestinians and damaging or destroying the homes of 80,000 people, another diplomatic cleanup appears to be underway.
The de facto ruler of the United Arab Emirates, Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, stepped forward and offered to mediate talks between Israelis and Palestinians in a phone call with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the state news agency reported on Sunday. Emirates. .
At stake is a one-week ceasefire that halted the recent escalation of violence. Following the signing of the US-brokered Abraham Accords last year, the UAE became the largest Arab economy to normalize relations with Israel.
Under the agreements, Israel agreed not to annex parts of the occupied West Bank, but no solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict was sought before economic and diplomatic cooperation between the parties began.
Hamas called the deals a “Treacherous blow to the Palestinian cause” at the time and the Fatah movement criticized the UAE for “Abandonment of its national, religious and humanitarian duties” to the Palestinian people.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas used his speech before the United Nations General Assembly in September to slam the agreements and warn “The only way to lasting, inclusive and just peace” was to end the Israeli occupation and establish an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.
Now, scenes of Palestinians mourning their dead, standing amid the rubble of dilapidated apartment buildings in Gaza and fighting forced evictions from their homes in East Jerusalem have left the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, known as MBZ, to carry out an even more delicate act of diplomatic balancing.
“The UK seems to be looking to demonstrate that its now tainted relationship with Israel has a redemptive value beyond just trade. “With much of the world outraged by Israeli behavior, the UAE diplomatic concession is looking foolish.” told Al Jazeera Jim Krane, a researcher at Rice University’s Baker Institute and author of Dubai: The Story of the World’s Fastest City.
While the UAE is under pressure from other Arab nations to show support for Palestinian rights, it seems unlikely to cancel any agreement with Israel to do so, Krane said.
Plans are going on quietly for the opening of the Israel-Gulf Cooperation Council Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and the UAE-Israel Business Council Twitter announcement has been full of news for food companies.
“Because economic exchange is at the elite level, and to some extent at the state-to-state level, I doubt we will see much change.” Gregory Gause, head of the Texas Department of International Affairs, told Al Jazeera A&M University School of Public Service.
“What we will not see are attempts to publish it, certainly by the UAE.”, he added. “They will do any kind of economic relationship with Israel with much less publicity.”
Storm of agreements
This potentially new, calmer deal contrasts sharply with monthly bursts of announcements as the administration of former US President Donald Trump brokered historic normalization deals between Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and the transitional government of Sudan.
As part of the deals, the UAE, Israel and the US International Finance and Development Corporation created the Abraham Fund, costing more than $ 3 billion for private sector-led investment and development initiatives.
Israeli tourists flocked to Dubai on direct flights from Tel Aviv. The UAE signs agreements with Israel to promote and protect investments in the tourism, security, telecommunications and science and innovation sectors.
Project announcements between firms in the two countries followed the energy, banking, mobile payments and sports sectors, with Israel Eilat Ashkelon Pipeline Company signing a memorandum of understanding to bring oil to the Emirates and a UAE king by bought a 50 percent stake in Beitar Football Club in Jerusalem.
Still, the total value of capital investments so far remains modest, with projects from the UAE to Israel standing at around $ 80 million from late September to late March, and projects from Israel to the UAE reaching less than $ 25 million, said Karen Young, director of the Economics and Energy Program at the Middle East Institute.
“The normalization agreement, the establishment of diplomatic ties, is all recent.” Young told Al Jazeera. “Many announcements of mutual funds, investments, commitments, are not necessarily on the ground yet. “Money has not changed hands.”.
The future at stake
The potential, then, lies much more in future investments. In April, Abu Dhabi-based Mubadala Investment Co., a $ 232 billion sovereign wealth fund, signaled it would provide up to $ 1.1 billion to buy a stake in an Israeli natural gas field. the biggest deal possible yet.
Still weeks after Mubadala signed a memorandum of understanding on the gas deal, images of Israeli soldiers attacking the Al-Aqsa Mosque firing tear gas in Palestine, as well as Palestinian families fighting forced evictions from their homes in the Sheikh neighborhood Jarrah occupied East Jerusalem, forced the UAE to respond.
Two major UAE carriers, Etihad Airways and flydubai, suspended direct flights to Tel Aviv, with Etihad saying it was “In response to the ongoing conflict”.
The UAE government condemned the violence in tacit terms, with the Minister of State for International Cooperation emphasizing “The need for the Israeli authorities to assume their responsibilities, in accordance with international law, to protect the right of Palestinian civilians to practice their religion and to preserve the historical and legal identity of the occupied East Jerusalem.”, according to a statement from the foreign ministry. Krane said the statement shows how the UAE and other signatories to the Abraham Accords “They are walking with a tight rope” when it comes to conflict.
“The ruling elites want to secure their regimes using Israeli surveillance technology and intelligence, but the citizens are tired of the accumulated abuses against the Palestinians.” explained Krane.
But because most of the population of the UAE are not citizens, “Public opinion is not as important to the UAE government as it may be to some other Arab governments on this issue.”, said Gause.
Abraham’s agreements saw “Secret trade already quite strong just came to light”, Krane said, and perhaps because the UAE-Israel economic relationship is older than diplomatic ones, it is likely to stand the test of time.
Both countries currently produce goods for other needs, the UAE imports much of its food, and Israel is a major agricultural producer, Krane said, as well as a supplier of cyber surveillance technology used by the UAE. The UAE, on the other hand, produces goods that feed on cheap energy, he explained, such as raw aluminum, glass, fertilizers, petrochemicals and plastics. Both countries have traded themselves as indispensable tourist destinations for citizens from the other.
The agreements have represented a major shift in the size and scope of what is possible, Young said, including “Large investments by government units and sovereign wealth funds.”
Israel’s intelligence minister boasted in September that trade between the UAE and Israel would reach $ 4 billion within three to five years. Even with business relationships still nascent, neither side wants to lose now.
“It’s a huge test case for Israel’s ability to connect with the Arab world.” said Krane. “Can it continue to oppress the Palestinians, killing hundreds of them, and maintain relations with countries that are supposedly supporting the Palestinian cause?” “If it survives this test and the relationship continues to move forward and the ties deepen, that is a big obstacle.”
Young predicts a “Quiet period” when it comes to new business deals, but said the conflict could also give the UAE a chance to become “More active in their investment commitments”, such as allocating a certain percentage of investment to job opportunities or firms in predominantly Arab areas of Israel, “Something that was not on the table at all in the previous negotiations.”
Translated and adapted for Konica.al by AlJazeera