Israeli conflict shakes rapprochement with Arab countries

When the UAE shocked the Arab world by normalizing relations with Israel, they said the move would help ease the protracted Arab-Israeli conflict. But nine months later, the wealthy Gulf state finds itself in a difficult position as its new ally bombs the impoverished Palestinian territory of Gaza.

Israeli warplanes and artillery shelled Gaza while Hamas, the group that controls the territory, fired rockets at Israel. Some 174 Palestinians, including 76 women and children, were killed, according to health officials in the enclave. Ten people have died in Israel, including two children, local doctors said.

With nearly a third of Arab countries now maintaining relations with Israel, this week’s bloodshed shows that diplomatic ties established by last year’s so-called Abraham Accords have given them little success. weight and did nothing to alleviate the root cause of the protracted crisis – the Jews. conflict between the state and the Palestinians.

“They [the UAE] are clearly in a very difficult position. On the one hand, the UAE’s interests with Israel are long-term and strategic, so ideally their relationship should be shock-resistant, ”said Cinzia Bianco, visiting researcher at the European Council on Foreign Relations. “At the same time, the UAE has clearly claimed that the Abrahamic Accords will give it leverage to also support the Palestinians and curb Israel’s aggressions against them.”

So far, Israel has rejected all international efforts for a ceasefire. But Bianco said Abu Dhabi could still deploy diplomatic leverage to pressure the Jewish state to limit the scale of its retaliation. Such an intervention, however, could jeopardize the progress of joint projects of strategic value to the UAE, she added.

Recent collaborations include plans for Emirati and Israeli defense manufacturers to develop a system to combat drones.

The normalization of relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates under the Abrahamic Accords was quickly followed by similar moves by Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco, which marked a radical departure from the established Arab position on of the Jewish state.

The Arab position before the agreements was that they would recognize Israel only if there was a just settlement with the Palestinians that would lead to the creation of a viable Palestinian state. The transactional deals brokered by the Trump administration, which pursued an openly pro-Israel stance, left Palestinians feeling isolated and betrayed. Critics said the Arab states had abandoned a negotiating tool and gained little in return, warning that these movements would be exploited by more militant Palestinian factions.

Like other members of the Arab League, the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday approved an appeal to the International Criminal Court to “investigate war crimes and crimes against humanity” committed by Israel against the Palestinians.

“The United Arab Emirates supports the rights of the Palestinians, for the end of the Israeli occupation and for a two-state solution with an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital,” said Anwar Gargash, diplomatic adviser to the president this week. of the United Arab Emirates. . “It is a historical and principled position that does not change.”

Last month, the UAE’s foreign ministry swiftly condemned Israeli plans to evict Palestinians from their homes on land claimed by Israeli settlers. And when clashes erupted between armed Israeli police and young Palestinians throwing stones, the UAE urged the Israeli authorities to reduce tensions.

The UAE’s clear public stance has enabled Emiratis and residents of the autocratic state to condemn Israeli actions and express support for the Palestinians, after any local anger over the earlier decision to normalize relations was overwhelmed. deleted at the time. Apart from a fringe of Emirati online activists who sided with Israel, most reactions on social media – even from some ministers – have been pro-Palestinian.

“Standardization [of relations] is irreversible but it is very difficult to defend yourself and even talk about it in these circumstances, ”said Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, professor of political science based in Dubai.

After the UAE signed their deal, there was speculation whether Saudi Arabia, Israel’s top prize, would follow suit. Like Abu Dhabi, Riyadh has been cooperating secretly with Israel on intelligence and security matters as they share the goal of countering Iran.

But this week’s Israeli assault on Gaza makes that increasingly distant. Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan said on Sunday that the kingdom “categorically rejects Israeli violations against Palestinians,” while calling for an immediate ceasefire.

In Morocco, which established relations with the Jewish state in October in exchange for the United States’ recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over the disputed territory of Western Sahara, the foreign ministry said it was following events. “With deep concern”.

In 2014, during the last great war between Israel and Hamas, thousands of demonstrators, including government ministers, took to the streets of Rabat, the capital. This time, Moroccan police broke up a small pro-Palestinian protest in the city this week. The newly formed Morocco-Israel Business Council has also reportedly postponed a virtual meeting aimed at encouraging Moroccan investment in Israel.

Public sentiment in the Arab world has remained strongly pro-Palestinian, said HA Hellyer, senior associate researcher at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “The absence of demonstrations is not a lack of will to protest but a lack of permission to protest.”

Restrictions on free speech in the region have made it more difficult to assess the extent of public anger, Hellyer said, but social media and wide coverage on mainstream television showed that the “issue Palestinian ”was always close to the hearts of the Arabs.

“Almost half of the messages I received Thursday for the religious holiday marking the end of Ramadan show images of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem,” he added.

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