Israel and the United Arab Emirates have announced that they are to normalise diplomatic relations under a historic US-mediated deal. As part of the agreement, Israel will suspend the annexation of parts of the West Bank, something that has generally been considered illegal under international law since World War Two, which it had previously said it would start to implement last July.
The deal is a significant achievement for Israel, which previously had full diplomatic relations with only two Arab countries, Egypt and Jordan, though it maintains unofficial contacts and trade relations with a number more. Most have in public stuck to the Arab League’s “Three No’s” policy, formulated in the aftermath of the 1967 Six-Day War: no peace with, recognition of, or negotiations with Israel.
The coup is vindication for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s strategy of courting Arab countries who share a common adversary with Israel in the form of Iran. A joint statement released by the three countries (and tweeted by President Donald Trump) alluded to their “similar outlook regarding the threats … in the region”. It is an unequivocal diplomatic achievement for Trump, which he will likely brandish as proof of his statesmanship in the run-up to November’s presidential election (unlike his so-called Middle East Peace Plan, which was quickly abandoned after it was presented in January).
The deal demonstrates the dividends Israel making diplomatic concessions can pay. Normalisation with Egypt was achieved in 1979 after Israel agreed to cede the Sinai Peninsula, occupied during the 1967 war, back to Egypt. The theory of “land for peace” has been widely derided by the Israeli right as a dangerous fiction in recent years. Normalisation with the UAE demonstrates quite the contrary: that when Israel is willing to make concessions on its territorial ambitions, Arab states will engage.
Yet the agreement also demonstrates just how far the needle has swung. Israel agreed to suspend the annexation of land that it does not rightfully own under international law, an idea which it had held off on implementing anyway. The agreement was not caveated on making some sort of progress on ending the occupation of the Palestinian Territories – merely on holding off on its further entrenchment. The deal spins the status quo as a win. It is the latest suggestion that Arab countries are coming around to the view the Israeli government has long argued: that Arab countries should work with the Jewish state where their interests align, without the precondition of a resolution to the Palestinian issue.