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Evolving dynamics between Israel and the Middle East: Tranquility or Turbulence?

After about 26 long and tumultuous years of disrupted relations between Arab and Israel, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is the third Arab state and the first Arab Gulf state to formally recognize Israel. The Israel-UAE Peace agreement, signed on 13th August 2020 is considered to be a landmark in the geopolitics of the Middle East. Following this deal and UAE’s footsteps, Bahrain became the second country to sign a peace deal with Israel. Under the Abraham Accord or Israel- United Arab Emirates Peace agreement, there are hopes for increased security, economic and commercial relations between the two nations. The agreement also opens avenues for renewed relations between the Israelis and the Palestinians who have been locked in decades of long conflict. It will map out the future not just for the two countries but for the entire Middle East.

Israel was born out of a political and religious movement called Zionism which emerged in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The movement sought to establish a separate state for Jews, a religious community that faced heavy persecution across Europe, particularly during the Second World War. The Jewish community considers Israel as their “original” home before they were forced to flee in the 5th century. Around 1947-1948, the United Nations voted for the Partition of Palestine into a Jewish and Arab state, and conflicts broke out immediately. Further, on the 15th of May 1948, British forces withdrew from Israel, but the next day the Arab forces occupied parts of the region, which also resulted in a large number of refugees. There were disputes over the city of Jerusalem, and it ended up with Israelis. This war and conflict are remembered to this day as the War of Independence.

Later, in 1964, the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) was formed to represent and create a platform for the Palestinian state within Israel. In 1967, Israel then defeated Egypt, Jordan, and Syria in six days. Israel further took over and occupied the Gaza strip, Sinai Peninsula, West Bank, and the Golan Heights. In 2007, Gaza Strip was taken under control by Hamas, a Palestinian Sunni-Islamic militant organization, and was declared under it by Israel. Hamas was hostile and undertook power cuts, imports, and border closures. It continued to attack Israel, and Israel continued to attack the Gaza Strip. In June 2008, Israel and Hamas implemented a truce, but soon it was violated. Almost three weeks later, a total of 1000 were killed, and several thousand were left homeless. But, the issues between Hamas and Israel continued.

With the disputes continuing to this day, Israelis and Palestinians are divided on issues of territory, specifically, the capital city of Jerusalem, and they also blame each other for terrorist attacks. The contention arises when the question of Israel and its recognition pops up. With over 149 countries officially recognizing Israel, almost 25 Arab countries still have not made peace with it, all of them being Israel’s neighboring countries. Back in 1949, more than 70 years ago, Israel was admitted as the 59th member to the United Nations, a year after the state of Israel was formally and internationally recognized. David Ben-Gurion was proclaimed as the head and the Prime Minister on the 14th of May 1948.

The United States, followed by the USSR, were the first countries to grant de-jure recognition. The relations with its neighbors remain turbulent, and in the past, after having fought wars with them, Israel has only established peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan. The relations with Syria and Lebanon, the immediate neighbors, along with Iran, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia, remain problematic. It also brings about the question of Palestine and its recognition. Although Israel, as a country, does not recognize it, several countries across the world do so. Almost 137 countries recognize Palestine as a separate nation but nations like the United States and Israel itself have stepped out of this and only recognize the PLO as the party speaking for the Palestinians. Although, in the United Nations, Palestine serves as a non-member observer state and was upgraded to this status on the 29th of November 2012. But, the struggle by the Palestinians continues, for statehood, for identity, and for greater recognition.

There have been several tries and approaches to resolve the ongoing conflict. One of them has been a two-state solution, and Palestine would be an independent state with the Gaza and West Bank territory, but the two sides are still divided on the issue. In the one-state solution, where both the areas are one territory, either Israel or Palestine would have control, which would, in turn, cause more issues, but it is becoming a more plausible solution with time. Back in 1937, the Peel Commission recommended the partition of British Mandatory Palestine to halt the Arab-Jewish violence, following which several plans were proposed by several countries, leaders, and institutions but were rejected by both the groups, Arabs and Israelis. In 1947, the United Nations approved the partition of Palestine into two states, Jewish and Arab, but the Arabs rejected it. The formation of two independent states would end up endangering Israel's existence and would take a very long time to re-establish. The one-state solution would also result in giving them an option between offering them citizenship or keeping them stateless, and there, in turn, arises another question of leadership of the country. The integration would also result in the side-lining of the Jews and would defeat the purpose of a Jewish state.

via: The New York Times

Why is the deal between Israel and UAE so important then? It is because the deal comprises several steps that will mold the future of Israel and presents a slim hope of reconciliation between the Arabs and the Israeli state. This move is also seen as a pathway for the two countries to develop and strengthen ties in commerce, technology, business, tourism, direct flights to become operational, scientific cooperation, and much more. Since Israel is one of the most developed countries in the region, in terms of technological prowess, UAE hopes to use this collaboration to become the first country to send a mission to Mars.

The Abraham agreement between the two nations was brokered by the President of the United States, Donald Trump. and presents opportunities for de-escalating conflict in the region. Most importantly, it calls for halting of the West Bank annexation by Israel and for improvement in relations between Israel and Palestinians. However, in the short run, these negotiations are less likely to bear fruit.

The deal also looks at more security cooperation against regional threats like Iran and other nations. Reportedly on the 1st of July, the annexation of West Bank was set to take place, but it did not open doors for this agreement. It is also said that the two nations have always had security ties, but now with the negotiations, it is more formal. In 2015, Israel opened a diplomatic office in Abu Dhabi, UAE, that was tied to the International Renewable Energy Agency. However, UAE might not set up their embassy in Jerusalem any time soon. Further, Israeli athletes will be participating in the Dubai World Expo, which has now been pushed to October 2021 due to the pandemic.

Another brokered a deal by the United States is that of Israel and Bahrain, signed on the 15th of September 2020 on normalization agreements. This has been called a good time to bury the hatchet and move towards a peaceful era between Israel and the Middle East. It has been a positive and historic agreement that is leading the way for more countries to join the agreement and overcome the economic, political, and human rights differences. The Bahrain monarch King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa has recommended the settling of the Israel-Palestinian issue using the two-state solution, with the establishment of an independent Palestinian state and East Jerusalem as the capital. The Arab states are looking at a newfound tatbie; normalization.

After this move, Oman and Morocco likely are to follow the same path. UAE's de facto ruler Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed considers this as a gamble but has hopes of it working out while slyly also trying to tackle the growing supremacy and control of Iran in the region, along with blocking its tries of disrupting and undermining the newly signed accord. It is being assumed that Iran will now make moves towards changing the sentiments of the people of Bahrain against the ruler along with increasing the opposition against the agreement.

With UAE being the third Arab country to have relations with Israel, the world is keeping a close eye on this move. The United States has reported this as a historic breakthrough between the two nations. The U.S has played an equally important role in the normalization of relations but with an ulterior motive of Donald Trump's re-election in the forthcoming US elections 2020. The United States will now look towards using this historic moment and its strong position as the mediator to help bring a common ground in the region. With the coming of this deal, it has opened up a wide array of opportunities at reconciliation of the relations even with the Arab states like Sudan which have been suspected of state sponsored terrorism. The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also called this a historic day. The UN General Secretary, Antonio Guterres has also said that the normalization of the ties between the two nations, Israel and UAE, will help realize the two-state solution with Palestine and the hope for a better future. There is also an increased opportunity for the nations in the Middle East to consider improving ties with Israel and recognizing it in some way. The Emirati diplomats and leaders announced it as a way to stop the Israeli annexation of Palestine. Egypt and Jordon, the only two other countries who have relations with Israel in the region, also said that this move will help bring about more peace and stability as it will stop the annexation of the Palestinian land. Bahrain and Oman have also publicly welcomed the move and the future seems optimistic.

On the other hand, the Arab nations, including Palestine, have called for the rejection of the deal. A Palestinian official claimed that it was like “being sold out by our friends.” They have denounced the move and the relation between Israel, UAE, and the US trilateral. It has also been said that this move does not serve the cause of the Palestinians. Even the right-wing Israelis are upset with this move, because they want to annex the West Bank, and said that they have been deceived by their leader. The use of the term “suspend” while referring to the plan of the annexation of the West Bank by the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is only a way to pacify the situation.

The situation today is an obstacle to peace in the region. Until and unless both sides of the territory are committed to resolving tensions, there will be little improvement. The resources and power in both countries can be better utilized for the development of the country, the region, and its people. There is hope for a stabler future for both the Israelis and Palestinians if the free UN member states demand the governments of both countries to reconcile and stand together for peace and stability. In the world we are living, religion, race, ethnicity, and the nationality form the top of the pyramid, and out of the above, the situation here is a fight for nationality and the land and, it rises way beyond the question of being Jews or Muslims or Judaism or Islamism, for that matter. With the complexity of the scenario, there is no surety of an end to it. But, what stands important here is the fulfillment of the wants of the people on both sides of the territory, and an end to the hatred and violence, because there already is enough!



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