Arab Views of the UAE-Israel Normalization Agreement

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Views from the Region


Leaders of Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have announced an agreement to normalize relations between the two countries. The agreement foresees reciprocal diplomatic representation as well as extensive economic and security cooperation between the two countries. As part of the agreement, Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu also announced that the Israeli government will not proceed with unilateral annexation of territory in the West Bank. With the UAE becoming only the third Arab country, following Egypt and Jordan, to normalize its relations with Israel, this development has elicited strong reactions from observers across the region.

The Palestinian news website Al Wafa has carried a number of articles and reports surrounding the announcement, each of them criticizing the UAE’s decision. Apart from the official protests from across the Palestinian political spectrum, Al Wafa reports that many “Arab and Palestinian intellectuals [have] announce[d] boycott of cultural and award events in the UAE…. Moroccan novelist Al Zahra Rmeij, announced in a tweet her withdrawal from the Sheikh Zayed Book Award by withdrawing her nomination for the novel ‘The Waiting Hall’ in solidarity with the Palestinian people ‘in their struggle to regain their usurped land and establish their free and independent state.’ Moroccan novelist Abu Yousef Taha has also announced his withdrawal from the Sheikh Zayed Book Award for the same reasons.”

The news was also greeted with disappointment by Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement advocates who, according to another Al Wafa report, “strongly slammed in a statement the recent normalization agreement between the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Israel, calling on Emiratis to boycott any Israeli activity in the country…. It also called on Arabs in general to continue to actively resist this abject normalization by: Boycotting all activities, festivals and projects sponsored by the UAE regime, including the Dubai EXPO, the Dubai Shopping Festival, as well as sports, cultural and  economic/financial festivals and conferences, …boycotting and divesting from any Emirati or other corporation that becomes complicit in implementing this normalization agreement with Israel.”

Daily Sabah’s Hakki Öcal sees the agreement as a cynical move on the part of all three parties involved, arguing that each of them is driven by personal agendas while disregarding completely the Palestinian cause: “UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed (MBZ), who signed the consular agreement with Israel, is not only the architect of the “deal of the century” but also the person who conspired to pick Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) to lead the richest Arab country…. Now, no sane U.S. lawmaker would withhold arms from the person who normalized his country’s relations with Israel. Meanwhile, Netanyahu guarantees yet another election (a fourth in the last 12 months), as well as Trump, who hopes to get the Jewish votes in November. The Kushner family is inching closer to the “real estate deal of the century” in the new Palestinian areas under Israeli occupation, which [are] not going to be annexed to Israel proper at least before November.”

Supporters of the rapprochement between the UAE and Israel see in it the possibility of a more fruitful and productive negotiating environment for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Anticipating some of the criticism that would follow the historic announcement, this Gulf News editorial posits that “a realistic approach to Arab-Israeli conflict is the right approach to keep peace alive…. Some in the Arab world will obviously be critical of this bold move by the UAE. This is expected because there is a lot of emotion surrounding the decades-long Palestinian question, although several Arab states have had established relations with Israel for years…. But foreign policy should not be based or judged on emotions. A realistic approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict is the right approach to keep the chances of peace alive and end the occupation. And the UAE’s approach to geopolitical issues is a realistic one…. Therefore, the decision to move to establish ties with Israel was considered in this frame of thinking — seeking a better future for all the people in the region, particularly the Palestinians, by pushing forward the chances of peace in the Middle East.”

Ghassan Charbel, Asharq Alawsat’s editor-in-chief, similarly argues that the change in the UAE’s relationship with Israel was driven by a recognition that the current approach, according to him, was not yielding the right fruits for the Palestinians: “It is no secret that the UAE felt that the policy of boycott achieved neither the interest of the Palestinians nor that of the Arabs, and that is why it chose another approach based on communication and recognition to address the outstanding problems in a different climate. The Palestinians can now benefit from the Emirati window to clarify their position, first to the Americans, and then to the Israelis. The Palestinians know that linking their cause to settling scores with the United States or to regional hegemonic projects will only result in wasting more time and land.”

Writing for the Saudi Gazette, Jameel Altheyabi characterizes those who criticize the UAE’s decision as “charlatans, and marketers of crises and tensions” including in this category many on the Arab left and “the Islamist ideologues who hail from the Brotherhood’s flock and their ilk. Along with them are those who were paid Qatari and Turkish money and the mullahs of Iran, who have been trading with the Palestinian issue since the transformation that was brought about by the regime of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979…. What is certain is that the Emirati decision is bold. The UAE has not violated the right of anyone. Rather, it has exercised its sovereign right and acted openly, in front of everyone, under broad daylight, in a way that serves the stability of the region and breaks the stalemate that has been hindering the Middle East Peace Train. Enough, stop the bids in the name of the ‘issue’.”

Finally, and not surprisingly,the UAE-based The National lauds the agreement as a “historic moment” that must be supported, since it seeks to “preserve the contours of a future Palestinian state through a negotiated, two-state solution. It is also a moment of which the Emirates, which has long sought to ensure the dignity of Palestinians, can be exceptionally proud. The specter of annexation, which remains illegal under international law, was not only an affront to that dignity in the present moment; it was a negation of all that a Palestinian state could be. The suffering Palestinians have endured over the past seven decades is immeasurable, but equally limitless is the potential that Palestinians have to build for themselves a country that could be the envy of the Middle East. A deal that seeks to protect their resources and territorial integrity is a crucial starting point from which that future can begin.”

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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