Middle East Monitor / September 18, 2023
When the UAE agreed to normalize relations with Israel in 2020 through the Abraham Accords, it faced criticism for allegedly betraying the Palestinian cause. The Gulf state defended this controversial decision, asserting that the agreement served Palestinian interests by halting Israel’s annexation of the West Bank and preserving the so-called two-state solution.
Since then, the UAE has consistently argued that normalization curbed Israel’s territorial expansion. However, last week, Abu Dhabi’s Ambassador in Washington, Yousef Al-Otaiba, seemed to acknowledge its limitations. At a Washington event marking the three-year anniversary of the Abraham Accords, Al-Otaiba stated that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s administration was effectively annexing the West Bank. He implied that countries pondering formal relations with Israel might be the key players to halt this initiative.
“It’s challenging because it’s ongoing. It’s happening subtly, which complicates the path to a two-state solution even further”, Al-Otaiba is reported saying in the Times of Israel while commenting on Israel’s annexation of the occupied West Bank.
“Our agreement had a specific timeframe, which is nearly over. Thus, we cannot influence decisions made beyond that period,” the Emirati ambassador noted.
“It might now be up to other countries to adopt that strategy. There’s minimal influence the UAE can exert on current Israeli decisions,” Al-Otaiba added.
Previously, the ambassador asserted that the accord prevented the annexation of occupied Palestinian territories by Israel. He mentioned that the UAE had secured Israel’s commitment to suspend plans to annex significant portions of the West Bank, thereby safeguarding the potential for a two-state resolution.
By endorsing normalization, the minister contended, the UAE championed Palestinian statehood ambitions. He deemed annexation a severe threat to a future Palestinian state, a danger the normalization agreement mitigated.
Nevertheless, many noted that Israel hadn’t made a binding commitment to cease annexation indefinitely. Critics blamed the UAE for granting diplomatic benefits to Israel in return for ambiguous commitments that could be easily overridden.
Al-Otaiba’s statements were made amidst ongoing discussions about a potential Saudi-Israel normalization agreement mediated by the US. While the full terms are yet to be settled, rumours suggest Riyadh might emulate its Gulf counterpart in exchange for US security assurances and the green light for a civilian nuclear program. The Saudis have also expressed a desire for concessions from Israel regarding Palestine.
Recent Arab media reports claim the deal faltered due to Israel’s refusal to compromise on the Palestinian matter. Israeli officials reportedly were taken aback by their Saudi counterparts linking the Palestinian issue with normalization. It remains uncertain if normalization is off the table for the foreseeable future.