The costs and benefits of Arab-Israeli normalization on Abraham Accords’ two-year anniversary

Special Bahrain Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al-Zayani, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US President Donald Trump and UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan sign the Abraham Accords at the White House in 2020. (AFP)
Bahrain Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al-Zayani, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US President Donald Trump and UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan sign the Abraham Accords at the White House in 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 16 September 2022

The costs and benefits of Arab-Israeli normalization on Abraham Accords’ two-year anniversary

The costs and benefits of Arab-Israeli normalization on Abraham Accords’ two-year anniversary
  • As part of the deal with the UAE, Israel pledged to suspend its plans to annex occupied Palestinian territories
  • Two years on, even the agreement’s signatories doubt whether it has changed Israel’s behavior for the better

WASHINGTON D.C.: Two years ago this week, the UAE and Bahrain formalized the peace deals they had reached with Israel the previous month by signing the Abraham Accords at the White House, in a ceremony overseen by then US President Donald Trump.

As Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed and Abdullatif Al-Zayani, respectively the UAE and Bahrain’s foreign ministers, and former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu put their signatures on the document on Sept. 15, 2020, the moment was hailed as the beginning of a new era of Middle East diplomacy.

As part of the agreement, Israel said it would suspend its plans to annex occupied Palestinian territories. Sheikh Abdullah said that the UAE remained committed to a two-state solution and that its support for the Palestinian cause was “unshakable.”

The prospect of immediate economic and diplomatic benefits prompted Sudan to normalize relations with Israel in October 2020. The North African country became a signatory to the Abraham Accords in January 2021, around the same time it was removed from the US State Sponsors of Terrorism list.

Morocco normalized its relations with Israel two months after Sudan did, with Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz signing a security agreement with his Moroccan counterpart in November 2021. Israel recognised Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara in exchange for establishing ties.

Two years on from the Abraham Accords signing ceremony on the White House lawn, it is now possible to assess some of the outcomes of the agreement, such as how it has affected bilateral ties and who stands to benefit most from them, in a logical and dispassionate manner.

Apart from diplomatic engagement and economic cooperation, Israel and the Abraham Accords signatories were expected to collaborate on a number of shared interests, including energy, agriculture, tourism, security and technological innovation.

Israeli and Bahraini government officials have been interacting with each other publicly since the signing of the accords. Israel began importing aluminum from Bahrain, and the two countries are planning to sign an agreement that allows the transshipment of goods arriving by sea in Bahrain onto planes heading to Israel.




Israel’s Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (L) welcomes Bahrain's Minister of Foreign Affairs Abdullatif bin Rashid Al-Zayani upon his arrival for the Negev Summit, at Sde Boker in the southern Negev desert on March 27, 2022. (AFP/File Photo)

Last year Israel’s Prime Minister Yair Lapid, the foreign minister at the time, made the first ministerial visit to Bahrain, where he inaugurated the Embassy of Israel in Manama. In February this year, Gantz became the first Israeli defense minister to ever officially visit the Gulf country. He was accompanied by several top military and security officials, including the Israeli navy chief.

Gantz signed a memorandum of understanding with his Bahraini counterpart, formalizing a security relationship that his office claimed would “help advance intelligence cooperation, a framework for exercises, and cooperation between the countries’ defense industries.”

Gantz’ visit came as the US Navy’s 5th Fleet, based in Bahrain, launched its biennial International Maritime Exercise 2022. The Israeli Navy took part in the drill, for the first time publicly joining Arab and Muslim countries with which Israel does not have diplomatic relations.

With regard to Morocco and Israel, today the two countries cooperate in such areas as education, tourism, cross-border investment, renewable energy and security. Morocco has a strong Jewish tradition with many historic Jewish buildings, monuments and cemeteries, as well as the largest Jewish community in an Arab country. Israel, meanwhile, is home to one of the largest Moroccan expatriate communities.




Israeli and Moroccan flags are pictured during an official ceremony in Israel's Mediterranean coastal city of Tel Aviv. (AFP)

An 84 percent year-on-year growth in Morocco’s trade with Israel to $41.6 million is viewed by the two countries as the beginning of a valuable new trading relationship. Israeli technical know-how combined with capital from the Abraham Accord partners, Bahrain and the UAE, could turbocharge Morocco’s moves to diversify away from fossil fuels .

By contrast, the full agreement between Israel and Sudan has yet to come to full fruition because of instability and the October 2021 coup. In May the Biden administration suspended development, trade and investment assistance to Sudan, including food aid related to its normalization deal with Israel, such as wheat shipments.

Predictably, trade and commerce between Israel and the UAE has flourished since the normalization of relations two years ago. In May this year, the two countries signed a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement that is expected to increase bilateral trade to more than $10 billion within five years, and add $1.9 billion to the UAE’s gross domestic product by 2030.

On June 27, Amir Hayek, Israel’s ambassador to the UAE, said in a message posted on Twitter that total trade volume between the two countries for the first five months of the year reached a value of $912.1 million, compared with $399.5 million during the same period last year.




Palestinian and other activists raise national flags as they face Israeli security forces, during a demonstration against Jewish settlements. (AFP)

Israel and the UAE have also signed multi-billion-dollar deals in the fields of medicine, bilateral investment and space travel over the past two years.

In July, the US, Israel, the UAE and India announced the formation of a new bloc, I2U2, with the aim of enhancing technological collaboration in the region and tackling transnational challenges in six main areas: Water, energy, transportation, space, health and food security.

Tourism between the UAE and Israel has also expanded rapidly since 2020. Commercial flights between the two nations began in November 2020, with daily flights introduced the following year. Tourism websites aimed at attracting Arab visitors to Israel encourage them to visit Al-Aqsa Mosque and Jerusalem’s Muslim Quarter, in addition to the Museum of Islamic Art.

The flow of tourists in the opposite direction has been even more substantial. Between 2020 and 2021, about 230,000 Israelis visited the UAE, despite pandemic restrictions.




Then-Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan (L) receiving Israel's President Isaac Herzog (2nd-L) in Abu Dhabi earlier this year. (AFP)

The increase in tourism between Israel and the UAE has, however, exposed the wide gulf that separates the two societies. In August many Arab and Israeli news outlets reported that Israeli police had briefly arrested two Emirati tourists after a shooting in Tel Aviv.

Though the pair were released and received an apology from the officers who arrested them, many social media users suggested that the Israeli police had racially profiled the tourists, mistaking them for Palestinians. One Twitter user said that “if you are Arab, Israel will always treat you like a suspect.”

The alleged arrest of the Emiratis is not the only reason Arabs worldwide have questioned whether normalization agreements will encourage the hardliners in positions of power in Israel to adopt a more reasonable stance toward Palestinians and the holy sites in Jerusalem.

Prince Turki Al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia’s former intelligence chief and a former ambassador to London and Washington, has expressed doubts that Arab normalization efforts with Israel will lead to improved rights for Palestinians.

“The Palestinian people are still occupied; they are still being imprisoned by the Israeli government. Attacks and assassinations of Palestinian individuals take place almost on a daily basis,” he told the Arab News talk show “Frankly Speaking” in May.

“The stealing of Palestinian land by Israel continues despite assurances that Israel gave to the signatories of the peace (accord) between the UAE and Israel. So, there is no sign whatsoever that appeasing Israel is going to change their attitude.”

In July, citing a poll carried out by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, which asked residents of Arab countries about their views on Arab-Israeli normalization, UAE academic Abdulkhaleq Abdulla said Emiratis view the normalization process in a negative light. The 2022 poll found that only one in four Emiratis surveyed considered the improved ties to be a positive development.

In the lead-up to the signing of the Abraham Accords, Yousef Al-Otaiba, the UAE ambassador to the US, writing in the Israeli news website Ynetnews, said: “In the UAE and across much of the Arab world, we would like to believe Israel is an opportunity, not an enemy. We face too many common dangers and see the great potential of warmer ties. Israel’s decision on annexation will be an unmistakable signal of whether it sees it the same way.”




The flags of the UAE and Israel fly at the Expo 2020 Dubai. (AFP/File Photo)

Two years on, following two military offensives against Gaza, few Arabs are probably under the illusion that the normalization initiatives under the Abraham Accords have changed Israel’s behavior, much less ended its policy on the annexation of Palestinian land.

Repeated calls by the Arab League for an end to Israeli violations of the sanctity of the holy sites in Jerusalem, a halt to the violence and the restoration of calm appear to have fallen on deaf ears.

Attacks by Israeli security forces on Muslim worshippers in Al-Aqsa Mosque and permission for Jewish prayers at the holy site are viewed by the Arab League as a flagrant provocation to Muslims everywhere.

Participating in a discussion on Sept. 8 organized by the Atlantic Council think tank to mark the two-year anniversary of the Abraham Accords, Al-Otaiba appealed for more to be done to advance a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“All the stuff that we’re talking about is great, but we can’t avoid talking about the two-state solution. We really can’t,” he said at the virtual event, during which he described the Palestinians as “the elephant in the room.”

Referring to the Abraham Accords, Al-Otaiba said: “I don’t think it was meant to solve — I think it was meant to buy space and time to create room for diplomacy to address the two-state solution. I still believe the two-state solution is the only game in town. I think we need to pursue it.”

 


Iranian students clash with riot police in Tehran

Iranian students clash with riot police in Tehran
Updated 58 min 13 sec ago

Iranian students clash with riot police in Tehran

Iranian students clash with riot police in Tehran
  • Concern grew over violence at Sharif University of Technology overnight where riot police confronted hundreds of students
  • Footage shows shooting and screaming being heard as large numbers of people run down a street at night

PARIS: Iranian students have clashed with security forces at a top Tehran university amid the wave of unrest sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini, state media and rights groups said Monday.
Kurdish Iranian Amini, 22, was pronounced dead on September 16, days after she was detained for allegedly breaching rules forcing women to wear hijab headscarves and modest clothes, sparking Iran’s biggest wave of protests in almost three years.
Concern grew over violence at Sharif University of Technology overnight where, local media reported, riot police confronted hundreds of students, using tear gas and paintball and carrying weapons that shoot non-lethal steel pellets.
“Woman, life, liberty,” students shouted, as well as “students prefer death to humiliation,” the Iranian Mehr news agency reported, adding that the country’s science minister later came to speak to the students in an effort to calm the situation.
The Oslo-based group Iran Human Rights posted video apparently showing Iranian police on motorcycles pursuing running students in an underground car park and, in a separate clip, taking away detainees whose heads were covered in black cloth bags.
In other footage, shooting and screaming can be heard as large numbers of people run down a street at night, in footage AFP has not independently verified.
“Security forces have attacked Sharif University in Tehran tonight. Shooting can be heard,” IHR said in a Twitter message Sunday.
In another video clip, a crowd of people can be heard chanting: “Don’t be afraid! Don’t be afraid! We are all together!” IHR said the footage was taken at Shariati metro station in the capital Tehran on Sunday.
The New York-based group Center for Human Rights in Iran said it was “extremely concerned by videos coming out of Sharif University and Tehran today showing violent repression of protests + detainees being hauled away with their heads completely covered in fabric.”
Mehr news agency said that “Sharif University of Technology announced that due to recent events and the need to protect students ... all classes will be held virtually from Monday.”
Since the unrest started on September 16, dozens of protesters have been killed and more than a thousand arrested. Members of the security forces have been among those killed.


Student killed, 15 injured in Egypt’s school fence collapse as authorities vow action

Student killed, 15 injured in Egypt’s school fence collapse as authorities vow action
Updated 03 October 2022

Student killed, 15 injured in Egypt’s school fence collapse as authorities vow action

Student killed, 15 injured in Egypt’s school fence collapse as authorities vow action
  • Section of a concrete stair fence collapsed as students rushed upstairs to their classrooms.

CAIRO: Egypt’s Minister of Education Reda Hegazy ordered an investigation into the collapse of a stair fence in a girls’ preparatory school in Giza, killing one student and injuring 15 more.

According to reports, the police was notified that a section of a concrete stair fence collapsed as students rushed upstairs to their classrooms.

In an official statement published on Sunday, Hegazy paid condolences to the family of the deceased student and ordered a probe into the incident.

The head of the educational directorate, school principal, and supervisors of the school building were referred to the relevant authorities for further investigation as the minister vowed “firm and urgent action against those responsible,” read the ministry’s statement.

Hegazy also ordered a review into all the school buildings nationwide to ensure safety of the students. A report will be submitted to the ministry with the results of the review.


Israel military kills 2 Palestinians during West Bank raid: Ministry

Israel military kills 2 Palestinians during West Bank raid: Ministry
Updated 03 October 2022

Israel military kills 2 Palestinians during West Bank raid: Ministry

Israel military kills 2 Palestinians during West Bank raid: Ministry
  • The identities of the two men were not immediately known

TEL AVIV: The Israeli military shot and killed two Palestinians during a raid in the occupied West Bank early Monday, Palestinian officials said.
The military alleged that the men tried to ram their car into soldiers, a claim that could not be independently verified. Palestinians and rights group often accuse Israeli troops of using excessive force against Palestinians, who live under a 55-year military occupation with no end in sight. Israel says it follows strict rules of engagement and opens fire in life-threatening situations.
The military said soldiers were attempting to arrest a suspect in the Jalazone refugee camp near the city of Ramallah when the two Palestinians allegedly attempted to run over soldiers with their car. The soldiers opened fire on the car, the military said.
The Palestinian Civil Affairs Authority, which coordinates on civilian issues with Israel, said the military shot and killed the two men. Their identities were not immediately known.
Israel has been carrying out nightly arrest raids in the West Bank since the spring, when a spate of Palestinian attacks against Israelis killed 19 people. Israel says its operations are aimed at dismantling militant infrastructure and preventing future attacks. The Palestinians see the nightly incursions into their cities, villages and towns as Israel’s way of deepening its occupation of lands they want for their hoped-for state.
The Israeli raids have killed some 100 Palestinians, making this year the deadliest since 2016. Israel says most of those killed have been militants but local youths protesting the incursions as well as some civilians have also been killed in the violence. Hundreds have been rounded up, with many placed in so-called administrative detention, which allows Israel to hold them without trial or charge.
The raids have driven up tensions in the West Bank, with an uptick in Palestinian shooting attacks against Israelis. They have also drawn into focus the growing disillusionment among young Palestinians over the tight security coordination between Israeli and the internationally-backed Palestinian Authority, who work together to apprehend militants.
Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Mideast war and 500,000 Jewish settlers now live in some 130 settlements and other outposts among nearly 3 Palestinians. The Palestinians want that territory, along with east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, for their future state.


Palestinian activists turn to TikTok amid Israeli anger over ‘propaganda videos’

Palestinian activists turn to TikTok amid Israeli anger over ‘propaganda videos’
Updated 02 October 2022

Palestinian activists turn to TikTok amid Israeli anger over ‘propaganda videos’

Palestinian activists turn to TikTok amid Israeli anger over ‘propaganda videos’
  • After Facebook, Instagram clamp down on content, Chinese-owned platform sees user surge

RAMALLAH: Palestinian activists are turning to TikTok to rally against activities by Israel, which accused the social media platform of igniting the security situation in the Middle East in recent weeks.

Israel had successfully pushed Meta to block thousands of Palestinian accounts and content from its social media platforms, such as Facebook and Instagram, in addition to limiting Palestinian content through Twitter and Snapchat. However, TikTok, owned by Chinese company ByteDance, has rejected the Israeli allegations and refused to change its policies.

Thousands of Palestinian social media activists switched to TikTok during the past few weeks to enjoy online freedom and bypass Facebook’s restrictions.

Amer Hamdan, a Palestinian political activist, told Arab News that he recently switched from Facebook to Tiktok after suffering from restrictions imposed by the former, which he said flags the use of words including martyr, resistance and occupation.

Hamdan, who had 200,000 followers on his Facebook page, added that his account was closed because he published a picture of Khalil Al-Wazir, the Palestinian leader who Israel assassinated in Tunisia in 1988.

“Because Facebook is no longer the ideal platform for the Palestinians to spread their cause, the alternative is TikTok, which provides an adequate and sufficient space for the dissemination of media covering armed parades of Palestinian military groups and pictures of Palestinian resistance fighters with their weapons,” said Hamdan.

TikTok previously ranked third in Palestine — after Facebook and Instagram — in social media app usage. However, it jumped to second place during recent weeks, with Palestinian social media experts telling Arab News that though 3 million Palestinian accounts are on Facebook, more than 1 million Palestinians are on TikTok, with the number rapidly increasing.

Palestinian activists also see more technical flexibility while publishing on Tiktok compared to Facebook, with the platform allowing three-minute clips for all users, and 15-minute videos for users who have 1,000 followers or more.

“Within a year, TikTok will be the number one social media platform used by Palestinians,” Hamdan said.

Sam Bahour, an expert in business development affairs, said that social media is gaining “exceptional importance” for Palestinians by enabling them to communicate and bypass Israeli restrictions across the West Bank, Gaza Strip, as well worldwide through the diaspora.

Ahmed Al-Qadi, from a center that specializes in researching social media activities, told Arab News that after the violent events in the Palestinian territories last May and after Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and YouTube removed Palestinian content, people switched to TikTok.

On the other hand, Israeli political analyst Yoni Ben-Menachem told Arab News that TikTok is a “tool of dangerous influence” and incites violence through videos glorifying attacks against Israelis.

Ben-Menachem added that TikTok content targets young people, who are particularly vulnerable to misinformation and propaganda.

Last May, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz met with senior officials from ByteDance, demanding that the company block Palestinian content. But Gantz’s appeal was denied, with the company only promising to pay more attention to published content.

Young Palestinians have filmed Israeli incursions into Palestinian cities and towns, house demolitions, arrests, killings, settler attacks and racist treatment, with the content going viral on TikTok.

Despite the Israeli government’s anger, officials do not expect TikTok to take any action against Palestinian accounts, whether based in the West Bank and Gaza Strip or abroad.

“Maybe TikTok will close a few Palestinian accounts, but thousands of accounts that incite against Israel will remain active, and whoever loses his account can open a new account under a pseudonym,” said Ben-Menachem, adding: “TikTok has become the most dangerous means of incitement against Israel.”


International community urges Yemeni parties to renew truce

International community urges Yemeni parties to renew truce
Updated 02 October 2022

International community urges Yemeni parties to renew truce

International community urges Yemeni parties to renew truce
  • Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit on Sunday urged the Houthis to “positively” comply with initiatives and efforts to renew the truce
  • Rashad Al-Alimi, president of Yemen’s Presidential Leadership Council, expressed his government’s support for the UN Yemen envoy’s efforts to extend the truce

AL-MUKALLA: A six-month-old UN-brokered ceasefire in Yemen’s war between Iran-backed Houthis and the Arab coalition ended on Sunday with no word from the rivals on whether it would be extended.

The US, UK, China, other world powers and the secretary-general of the Arab League have all urged Yemen’s government and the Iran-backed Houthis to extend the UN-brokered truce.

Despite mounting pressure, only the Yemeni government had earlier agreed to extend the truce.

The US ambassador to Yemen, Steven H. Fagin, expressed concern about the various Yemeni parties’ hesitation to express their support for extending the truce.

“I call on the parties not to squander the progress of the last six months and to prioritize the Yemeni people by accepting an extension and expansion of the truce,” Fagin said in a brief statement. 

On Sunday, the UK Ambassador to Yemen Richard Oppenheim reissued the same call to the Houthis and other Yemeni parties to follow the UN envoy’s suggestions for extending the truce.

“I encourage the Houthis to work with the UN to extend the Truce. It’s the only route that will provide an opportunity for them to deliver benefits for ordinary Yemenis” he said on Twitter. 

The UN-brokered truce, which began on April 2 and has been extended twice, has dramatically reduced violence in Yemen, allowed flights to leave Sanaa airport, and eliminated fuel shortages throughout the country by allowing dozens of fuel ships to reach the port of Hodeidah.

The only term of the truce that has not been implemented is the opening of roads in besieged Taiz, as the Houthis have refused to open at least one main road leading into and out of the city, which is the main demand of the Yemeni government.

As the UN Yemen envoy, Hans Grundberg, shuttled between Muscat, Riyadh, and Sanaa to persuade Yemeni leaders to renew the truce, foreign diplomats and humanitarian organizations in Yemen sent last-minute appeals to both sides on Sunday.

“China emphasizes its support for the special envoy and is willing to make unremitting efforts with the international community to resolve the Yemen issue,” the Chinese Embassy in Yemen said in a statement. 

The EU’s mission in Yemen also demanded that the Yemeni government and the Houthis accept the UN envoy’s proposal, renew the truce, and implement its provisions.

“Time to consolidate and develop a truce, including opening roads and agreeing on the payment of salaries, that has delivered and can bring more benefits to the #Yemeni people,” the mission said in a statement on Twitter.

Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit on Sunday urged the Houthis to “positively” comply with initiatives and efforts to renew the truce and work to alleviate suffering.

The latest UN proposal includes a six-month cease-fire while the Houthis open only minor roads in Taiz, paying public employees in their territories, while the Yemeni government covers any shortfall in payments, allowing more fuel ships to enter Hodeidah port, and opening new routes from Sanaa to Muscat, Doha, and Mumbai. 

Rashad Al-Alimi, president of Yemen’s Presidential Leadership Council, expressed his government’s support for the UN Yemen envoy’s efforts to extend the truce.

During a meeting with the UN envoy in Riyadh on Sunday, the Yemeni leader stated that he is committed to supporting any peace initiative to end the war in Yemen and alleviate the suffering of Yemenis, and he urged mounting pressure on the Houthis and their Iranian backers to stop undermining peace efforts.

In Sanaa, the Houthis rejected calls to renew the truce on Saturday night, threatening to resume military operations, including strikes on oil companies in government-controlled areas.