Israeli Views of the Israel-UAE 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


Israeli commentators have responded positively to news of an official rapprochement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Many of them express optimism about the trade and security benefits resulting from the normalization of relations between the two countries.  More important, many suggest that the UAE’s decision to normalize relations with Israel demonstrates that the Palestinian question no longer retains the political potency it once had and that, given the rising Iranian threat in the region, other Arab countries may follow UAE’s example.  Not everyone, however, seems ready to concede that point.

Writing for Yedioth Ahronoth, Alex Fishman makes the argument—shared by many in Israel—that the normalization of UAE-Israel relations is due to a large extent to the worsening security and geo-political landscape in the region: “The deep and obvious strategic interest of both countries is rooted in their cooperation against Iran, Hezbollah and other global jihadist organizations such as ISIS…. The agreement with the United Arab Emirates will only strengthen Israel’s response to the threat from Iran, which has entrenched itself right in Israel’s backyard in Lebanon, Syria and Gaza, and turned them to a constant security threat to Israel…. The agreement between the UAE and Israel has made Iran much more susceptible to Israel’s eyes and ears. This collaboration could definitely weaken the threatening Shiite axis…. For Israel, an ally which has proxies in the most important areas of conflict, is an indispensable strategic asset and ally.”

Some Israeli commentators, including Arutz Sheva’s Martin Olimer—co-president of the Religious Zionists of America and a committee member of the Jewish Agency—consider the closer relationship between the two countries as “a match made in heaven, wedding the technology of Israel with the economic powerhouse of the UAE. Only those who have spent time in both countries, as I have, can appreciate how magnificent an opportunity this agreement is, not only for Israel and the UAE but also for making the entire world a better place. Both countries are at the forefront of success in a changing global world…. After peace agreements with Egypt and then Jordan failed to result in increased ties between Israel and other Arab countries, this deal opens up the Arab and Muslim world to Israel through Dubai and enables mutually beneficial commerce and trade. The Crown Prince deserves much praise for his courage in making the deal.”

Indeed, it appears, based on various reports, that the agreement will be mutually beneficial in cementing existing ties and opening new trade possibilities for both countries. The Globes’ Dan Zaken goes so far as to suggest that a closer relationship with the UAE may open the “entire Arab world to Israeli business…. Israel’s normalization agreement with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) will give Israeli business an official, stable bridge to the entire Arab world, particularly the other Gulf states, with Saudi Arabia, which was in on the secret all along the way, at their head. The opportunities that have been opened up in the Arab markets for Israeli firms are huge, and could dramatically boost Israel’s exports to the UAE, and via them to other Arab countries…. The Arab market for advanced technologies is worth many hundreds of billions of dollars annually.… Now, with the opening of this bridge, the entire Arab market is in effect opened up to Israeli companies, especially technology companies.”

With greater access and increasing economic and political exchanges, Jerusalem Post’s Eytan Gilboa asserts, one should expect Israel’s legitimacy in the Arab world to increase as well, making the announced agreement between Israel and UAE “extremely important. This is the third peace agreement between Israel and an Arab country. The other two were signed with Egypt (1979) and Jordan (1994). It will increase the prospects for peace, stability and prosperity in the Middle East…. People across much of the Sunni Muslim Arab world don’t perceive Israel anymore as an enemy, but rather as an ally. It will increase the legitimacy of Israel’s existence as a Jewish state in the Middle East…. Other Gulf countries like Bahrain and Oman are likely to sign similar agreements. They have the same concerns that brought about the agreement with the UAE.”

Beyond the economic and security questions, much of the discussion in the Israeli dailies has focused on whether the Palestinian question has lost its salience in the region. According to this Debka File report, “The UAE-Israel normalization deal upends rigid Arab conventions on Mid-East peace…. An almost religious precept held by the Arab world was that no normal relations with Israel were allowed before Palestinian statehood was achieved within pre-1967 borders…. Binyamin Netanyahu’s predecessors and Western peace mediators were forced to haggle irresolutely over how much Israel must pay for peace with the Palestinians, before there could be any discussion of normal relations with the Arab world. Suddenly, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed (MbZ) and PM Binyamin Netanyahu were seen to be engaged in the regular give-and-take that precede any normal international deal.”

Eyal Zisser, in an op-ed for the Israel Hayom daily, pushes the argument further by arguing that the current thawing of the relations between the Arab countries and Israel could very well signal that the “Palestinian issue is losing steam“: “Starting with the early 2000s, when the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians collapsed, Israel and the rest of the world have been locked into the view that unless the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be solved through the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital, Israel will be unable to make peace with any Arab countries. That convention stands in stark contrast to the process of rapprochement between Arab nations – primarily the Gulf States – and Israel, as Iran casts an increasingly dark shadow over the region…. The Palestinian issue is losing steam. The Arab street is no longer consumed by the matter and it cannot be used to threaten Arab regimes, who are not willing to sacrifice their own interests.”

Also writing for Israel Hayom, Anat Talmy is of the view that the changing dynamics on the ground strengthen the hand of Israel vis-à-vis the Palestinian Authority, and therefore, it would not be surprising to see the Palestinian leadership becoming more willing to negotiate: “For some, a peace deal that doesn’t include the Palestinians is not an achievement. But due to current Palestinian rejectionism, an agreement that does include them is simply not possible. Israeli accords made with Arab countries may well be the factor that brings the Palestinians to the negotiating table. The more Arab countries that follow the UAE’s lead, the more likely it is that the Palestinian leadership will be forced to compromise. And it is only through a compromise that a greater peace can be achieved.”

Not all agree, however, that Israel’s improved relationship with the UAE means that Israeli politicians now have a license to abandon efforts to address the Palestinian question, which, according to The Times of Israel’s Yossi Klein Halevi must be addressed sooner rather than later: “The agreement between Israel and the UAE proves, as Egypt’s Anwar Sadat and Jordan’s King Hussein did a generation ago, that peace, however partial and inconclusive, cannot be held hostage to the Palestinian stalemate. Still, there is no avoiding the necessity – for Israel’s sake – of an eventual two-state solution. This deal doesn’t change the fact that forcibly keeping several million people in a state of permanent limbo is a timebomb for Israel. Maintaining our two foundational identities – as a Jewish state, as a democratic state – depends on freeing ourselves from the untenable anomaly of the Jewish people as permanent occupier of another people.”

  • 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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