In Focus: Israel and the Gulf Region

In Focus: Israel and the Gulf Region

  • 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.
  • With the exception of Jordan and Egypt, Israel does not have diplomatic relations with Gulf Arab states owing to its long-standing conflict with Palestinians.
  • Israel had signed peace agreements with Egypt in 1979 and with Jordan in 1994.
  • However, despite the absence of official diplomatic relations, Israel has been engaging with its neighbours with regard to issues like trade.

History of Arab-Israeli Relations

  • Arab-Israeli ties have historically been conflict-ridden.
  • 1948 War
    • 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.

  • More Wars
    • 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, Israel captured the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza Strip from Egypt, East Jerusalem and the West Bank from Jordan and the Golan Heights from Syria.
    • This lead Arab countries to declare their famous three ‘NOs’ — no peace with Israel, no talks with Israel and no recognition of Israel”.

  • Peace Treaty between Israel and Egypt in 1979
    • 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.
    • In 1979, Israel and Egypt concluded their peace treaty, as part of which Israel withdrew from Sinai in return for Egyptian recognition.

  • Peace Treaty between Israel and Jordan in 1994
    • In 1988, after an initial agreement reached between the two countries collapsed, Jordan abandoned its claims to the West Bank and said it would accept a deal between the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Israel.
    • The Oslo Accords, under which the PLO recognised Israel and was allowed to form the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Gaza, created the based for an Israel-Jordan deal.
    • The enmity between the two countries came to an end in July 1994 with the Washington Declaration by Jordan’s King Hussein and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin under the watch of U.S. President Bill Clinton.
    • Thus, in 1994, Jordan became the second Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel.

Background: The Road to Israel-UAE Agreement

  • The old enmity between Arab countries and Israel has dissipated over the years.
  • 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.
  • Convergence of Interests
    • One of the major factors that brought them closer has been their shared antipathy towards Iran.
    • Both these blocs were wary of U.S. President Barack Obama’s Iran outreach.
    • Further, this is an election year in the U.S. and if a Democratic President 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 in what President Obama called “cold peace”.
    • 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.

  • Political Scenario in the USA
    • With the US presidential elections around the corner, Trump may consider this agreement to be a foreign policy success.
    • Even if the UAE-Israel agreement does not bring Israel-Palestine peace, the new equations that it will give rise to and the isolation of Iran, are already being heralded in the US as an achievement.

  • With all these dynamics playing out, the two blocs of West Asia, Israel and UAE, which are both American allies have been brought together under Trump’s Presidency.
  • US has arranged backroom conferences and secret talks between Israel, Saudi Arabia, UAE and several other countries in 2019.
  • These meetings laid the foundations for the agreement.

News Summary:

  • Israel and the UAE have agreed to the full normalization of relations between their two countries.

Significance of the Agreement

  • Implications for Geo-Politics of West Asia
    • The peace agreement is significant as it has the potential to change the geopolitics of West Asia and beyond.
    • It is strongly expected that other Arab states will follow the suit and establish their diplomatic ties with Israel which would open a new chapter in Arab-Israel ties.
    • If this happens, it would bring all Sunni nations in the region in an anti-Iran alliance with Israel that they have secretly wished for all these years.
    • The Saudi bloc, consisting of Egypt, the UAE, Bahrain and others, see their interests being aligned with that of the U.S. and Israel.

  • Implications for Palestine’s Cause
    • Arab countries have signalled that they are ready to live with Israel’s occupation of Palestine.
    • Now, Turkey and Iran emerge as the strongest supporters of the Palestinians in the Muslim world.

  • Implications for South Asia
    • In South Asia, it will put Pakistan in a bind.
    • Despite thinking about establishing diplomatic ties with Israel for nearly two decades, Pakistan never did it plunge for fear of a domestic backlash.
    • Pakistan is unlikely to be seen as joining an Arab alliance that has effectively abandoned another “Islamic” cause dear to Pakistan, that of Palestine.

Global Reactions

  • Many countries including the European powers and India have welcomed it.
  • India’s Reaction
    • India has welcomed the normalisation of ties between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), calling them both “key strategic partners”.
    • For India, it will also mean continuing to walk a balance on West Asian politics and watch its ties with Iran more closely.
    • New Delhi would also continue to push for a two-state solution as part of a negotiated settlement between Israel and Palestine and it reaffirmed its “traditional support” for the Palestinian cause.

  • Palestine’s Reaction
    • President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority which seeks a two-state solution, lashed out against the deal as a “betrayal” by the UAE.
    • For the Palestinians, the Israeli commitment that it will not pursue its plan to annex the West Bank, is an empty concession – the deal does not address the Palestinian demand for statehood. 

  • Along with Palestine’s leaders, Turkey and Iran have also lashed out at the UAE.