UAE Deal and Annexation Suspension: Arab Citizen Perspective...

UAE Deal and Annexation Suspension: Arab Citizen Perspectives

August 21, 2020

Media imageOn August 13th, President Donald Trump, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan announced in a joint statement “the full normalization of relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates.” The deal is considered groundbreaking in the context of Israel’s regional relations and includes a commitment by Israel to suspend efforts to extend sovereignty to, or annex, all or parts of the West Bank. 

Arab leadership in Israel has expressed frustration that the deal circumvents Palestinian statehood—long seen as the doorway to formal ties with the wider Arab world. In public discourse, while this sentiment is strong as well, feelings are more mixed, with some acknowledging the potential regional and economic benefits. That said, the commitment to suspend annexation as part of the deal plans is by and large met with skepticism, since many in Arab society believe that this remains a goal of the national government and will only be postponed, but not halted, by the deal. 

Suspension of Annexation
Arab citizens are widely opposed to annexation plans proposed by the current government, as detailed in an August 2020 Task Force update. In part, because of the impact annexation would have on the viability of a Palestinian state, but also since it is seen as an extension of the Trump Peace Plan which is seen as a unilateral agreement and contains a clause enabling the transfer of ten Arab communities along with the citizens living there to Palestinian sovereignty. 

View the Task Force Update:
Arab Citizen Perspectives on Annexation  

The ambiguity of what “suspension” of applying sovereignty means in practical terms and its connection to the broader Trump Peace Plan is central to Arab discourse on the deal. Jared Kushner explained that annexation will be off the table for “some time,” yet in his televised address on the UAE agreement, Netanyahu expressed that in the long-term with U.S coordination, it is “still on the table.” Yosef Jabarin, a Member of Knesset from the Hadash party, explained that he sees the agreement as “part of the dangerous Trump Plan” intended to “perpetuate the conflict, occupation and settlements.” 

Two-State Solution
The realization of statehood and improved conditions for Palestinians through a negotiated two-state solution is a longstanding political priority for many Arab citizens of Israel. Arab politicians and civil society leaders expressed concerns that the formalizing of relations between Israel and the UAE circumvents Palestinians and disincentivizes the Israeli government from engaging in direct negotiations regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Ayman Odeh, the chairman of the Arab Joint List, shared: “…As long as Israel continues to control millions of Palestinians in the occupied territories, illusions of peace will continue to be celebrated on foreign lawns while reality here in Israel still requires fixing.” 

Socio-Economic and Regional Implications
Although it is still being finalized, the deal is expected to have a range of implications, not least on security, tourism, the economy, and relations with other Arab states.  Some within Arab society see the potential for the deal to strengthen the Arab economy through tourism and business collaboration. Jedi Khattar from Yarka, for example, welcomed the move as positive for regional peace and economic growth; he explained, “It is impossible to ignore the fact that the UAE is a global economic power, and that Israel has lots of technological developments. This connection can significantly contribute to the countries’ economies, and also lead to cooperation on other levels, including the fight against COVID-19, agriculture, real estate, and workforce development.”  Others, like Jalal Bana, go further, saying these foreigh relations present socio-economic and diplomatic opportunities for Arab citizens, and suggests that "If anything, Arab Israelis – having a profound understanding of the language, culture, and customs – should demand to be part of any delegation sent to the UAE, as well as positions in any future Israeli Embassy in Abu Dhabi." 

However, if ambiguity remains regarding its implications for the broader peace process, the deal between Israel and the UAE will be met with at least some distrust within Arab society. Nur Raslan, a lawyer, shared her opinion in a YNet news article: "On the surface, this agreement is welcome due to the growing trend of global violence. Yet, on the other hand, it is superficial and may lead to complex issues without any in-depth discussion regarding them."

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