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.”

 


Conservative women join Iran protests for Amini

Conservative women join Iran protests for Amini
Updated 03 December 2022

Conservative women join Iran protests for Amini

Conservative women join Iran protests for Amini
  • Canada slaps more sanctions on regime

JEDDAH: Black-clad women in Iran’s Sistan-Baluchistan province on Friday joined nationwide protests sparked by Mahsa Amini’s death.

Online videos showed dozens of women on the streets of the provincial capital Zahedan holding banners that declared “Woman, life, freedom” — one of the main slogans of the protest movement that erupted in mid-September.

“Whether with hijab, whether without it, onwards to revolution,” women dressed in body-covering chador garments chanted in videos posted on Twitter.

Women-led protests have swept Iran since Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian of Kurdish origin, died following her arrest in Tehran for an alleged breach of the country’s dress code.

Security forces have killed at least 448 protesters, with the largest toll in Sistan-Baluchistan on Iran’s southeastern border with Afghanistan and Pakistan, according to Iran Human Rights, an Oslo-based non-governmental organization.

“It is indeed rare,” IHR director Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam said of the protests by women in Zahedan, which has seen men take to the streets after Friday prayers for more than two months.

“The ongoing protests in Iran are the beginning of a revolution of dignity,” he said.

“Women and minorities, who have for more than four decades been treated as second-class citizens, are empowered through these protests to come out to the streets and demand their fundamental human rights.”

Baluchi women were among the “most oppressed” in Iran and their protests were the most organized by them so far since demonstrations broke out across the country, Amiry-Moghaddam added.

Scores of men also took to the streets again on Friday, chanting “we don’t want a child-killing government,” footage posted online by activists showed. Security forces were seen opening fire with bird shots and tear gas on male protesters in Taftan, a locality in Sistan-Baluchistan, in a video published by IHR.

A prominent Sunni cleric said it was wrong to charge protesters with capital offenses. Molavi Abdolhamid, a powerful dissenting Sunni voice in the Shiite-ruled country, said it was wrong for the hardline judiciary to charge protesters with “moharebeh” — a term meaning warring against God — which carries the death penalty.

Meanwhile,  Canada has issued additional sanctions against Iran over its denial of rights for women and girls and for cracking down on peaceful protests, Minister of Foreign Affairs Mélanie Joly said.

The latest sanctions target four individuals and five entities that Ottawa said were tied to Tehran’s “systematic human rights violations” and actions that “threaten international peace and security.” She added that Canada “will not stand idly by while the regime’s human rights violations increase in scope and intensity against the Iranian people.”


Israeli peace activists show presence in West Bank hot spot

Israeli peace activists show presence in West Bank hot spot
Updated 03 December 2022

Israeli peace activists show presence in West Bank hot spot

Israeli peace activists show presence in West Bank hot spot
  • The video shows a soldier pushing a man to the ground and punching him in the face after a tense standoff with a small group of peace activists

HEBRON: Dozens of Israeli peace activists toured the occupied West Bank’s largest city on Friday in a show of solidarity with Palestinians, amid chants of “shame, shame” from ultra-nationalist hecklers.
The encounter in the center of Hebron signaled the widening rift among Israelis over the nature of their society and Israel’s open-ended military rule over the Palestinians, now in its 56th year.
After parliamentary elections last month, the most right-wing and religious government in Israel’s history is poised to be installed in coming days or weeks, with former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu returning to power.
In coalition agreements, Netanyahu has already handed key authorities in the West Bank to ultra-nationalist faction leaders, including former fringe figure Itamar Ben-Gvir, known for his anti-Arab rhetoric.
The new roles include oversight of Israeli settlement construction and the paramilitary border police, often deployed in Palestinian population centers.
At the same time, peace activists and pro-Palestinian rights groups have come under attack in recent years from right-wing politicians branding them traitors.
The immediate trigger for Friday’s tour was an incident in volatile Hebron that was caught on video last week.
The video shows a soldier pushing a man to the ground and punching him in the face after a tense standoff with a small group of peace activists.
Another soldier is heard telling the activists: “Ben-Gvir is going to sort things out in this place. That’s it, you guys have lost.”
The soldier uttering the taunts was initially sentenced to 10 days in military jail, but the army then reduced the sentence to six days.
As incoming national security minister, Ben-Gvir will have control over the border police whose troops are often deployed alongside regular soldiers in the West Bank.

As about 200 peace activists arrived in the center of Hebron on Friday, they were greeted by a group of protesters holding a banner reading: “The people of Israel demand: expel the anarchists from Hebron.” One man shouting through a bullhorn yelled, “shame, shame,” as the visitors listened to tour guides in a parking lot, separated from the right-wing protesters by security forces.
Friday’s visit was part of the regular offerings of anti-occupation groups, but turnout was larger than usual because of the election results and last week’s incident in Hebron, said Ori Givati, a spokesman for Breaking the Silence, one of the groups organizing the trip.
He said activists were worried — but also determined to continue their work, including tours to West Bank hot spots like Hebron, where dozens of heavily guarded settlers live in a city of tens of thousands of Palestinians.
“There is definitely fear for the safety, first and foremost for Palestinians under this occupation that are now going to be under a government that promotes hate and racism more than ever toward them, and toward our organization and other organizations and activists that are now in a reality where their activity here is delegitimized, also more than ever,” Givati said.
Those chanting slogans against the peace activists portrayed themselves as defenders of Israeli settlements and soldiers.
Matan Gerafi of the right-wing Im Tirtzu group alleged the activists aimed to discredit soldiers and branded them “anarchists.”
Palestinians were largely out of sight as the Israeli groups faced off.
Issa Amro, a Palestinian activist in Hebron, said he believes the hard-line ideology of Ben-Gvir and others will spread further in Israeli society.
“The settlers here are celebrating the election of their fascist representatives in the government,” he said. “What happens in Hebron will end in Tel Aviv.”

 


Israeli police shoot dead Palestinian in West Bank

Israeli police shoot dead Palestinian in West Bank
Updated 03 December 2022

Israeli police shoot dead Palestinian in West Bank

Israeli police shoot dead Palestinian in West Bank
  • The Palestinian Red Crescent told AFP its medics “were prevented from dealing with a wounded person who was later declared dead”

HUWARA: Israeli police shot dead a Palestinian on Friday in the occupied West Bank, in an incident described by the force as a stabbing and by a Palestinian official as a quarrel.
Israeli police said its border guards were approached by several suspects in the town of Huwara when one “pulled out a knife and stabbed one of them.”
The guards “responded by shooting one suspect and neutralizing him,” police said in a statement, before confirming to AFP the Palestinian was killed.

Israeli machinery demolishes a Palestinian house in Hebron in the Israeli-occupied West Bank amid the recent surge in violence in the conflict. (Reuters)

There are regular patrols by Israeli forces through the town of Huwara, which straddles the main road south of Nablus in the northern West Bank.
A member of the Huwara municipality, Wajeh Odeh, told AFP the shooting followed “a quarrel.”
“An Israeli soldier pushed the Palestinian to the floor and shot him from zero distance,” Odeh said.
Heavily armed border guards were deployed along the street following the incident, according to an AFP journalist at the scene.
The Palestinian Red Crescent told AFP its medics “were prevented from dealing with a wounded person who was later declared dead.”
Israeli police said one of its officers suffered minor injuries.
The shooting marks the ninth Palestinian killed since Tuesday in the West Bank, mostly in clashes with or raids by Israeli forces.
In one incident, a man was shot dead after running over a soldier in an alleged car ramming.
The recent surge in violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has alarmed the international community.
On Monday, the UN envoy for Middle East peace, Tor Wennesland, warned the situation in the West Bank was “reaching a boiling point.”
At least 145 Palestinians and 26 Israelis have been killed so far this year across the West Bank, Israel and the contested city of Jerusalem.
Israel has occupied the West Bank and east Jerusalem since the 1967 Six-Day War.
The US representative for Palestinian affairs, Hady Amr, on Wednesday said Washington is “deeply aware of the tragic loss of life” in the Palestinian territories.
Those killed in recent months include Israeli soldiers, Palestinian militants and scores of civilians.
Forty-nine Gazans were killed in just three days of fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants in August.

 


Syria confirms man killed in October was Daesh chief

Syria confirms man killed in October was Daesh chief
Updated 03 December 2022

Syria confirms man killed in October was Daesh chief

Syria confirms man killed in October was Daesh chief
  • The security source told the agency that Al-Hashimi “is the same person known as Abdel Rahman Al-Iraqi”

DAMASCUS: A Daesh commander killed in Syria in October was the group’s overall leader, a Syrian security source was quoted as saying on Friday by pro-regime media.
The source, quoted by SANA news agency, credited the army and local groups with the operation that led to the death of Daesh chief Abu Hasan Al-Hashimi Al-Qurashi.
Daesh on Wednesday said he died in battle and announced a replacement to head up its remaining sleeper cells.
The US military’s Central Command said Al-Hashimi was killed in an operation carried out by Syrian fighters in Daraa province in the country’s south in mid-October, but said the US provided no support.
In mid-October, Damascus said it had launched a joint operation against Daesh with former rebels in the province.

FASTFACT

The US military’s Central Command said Abu Hasan Al-Hashimi Al-Qurashi was killed in an operation carried out by Syrian fighters in Daraa province in the country’s south in mid-October, but said the US provided no support.

At the time, SANA identified one of the slain extremists as Abu Abdel Rahman Al-Iraqi.
The security source told the agency that Al-Hashimi “is the same person known as Abdel Rahman Al-Iraqi.”
He was “killed during a security operation” against Daesh carried out by “the Syrian army with local groups” in the city of Jassem on Oct. 15, the security source said.
Daraa province was the cradle of Syria’s 2011 uprising but it returned to regime control in 2018 under a ceasefire deal backed by Russia, which supports the government. The fighters were allowed to keep light weapons.
The province has seen years of security chaos, including killings and clashes, and Daesh terrorists have also claimed attacks there.
A fighter who took part in the operation had told AFP there was “an exchange of information” between rebels and the regime to “identify the houses where the jihadists were hiding.”
“Nobody told us that the Daesh chief was among them,” the fighter had said. Abu Abdel Rahman al-Iraqi was among the jihadists killed in the fighting, he added.
Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor, said Iraqi blew himself up in a house where he was dug in after family members left the building.

 


Syria resisting Russia’s efforts to broker Turkiye summit, sources say

Syria resisting Russia’s efforts to broker Turkiye summit, sources say
Updated 02 December 2022

Syria resisting Russia’s efforts to broker Turkiye summit, sources say

Syria resisting Russia’s efforts to broker Turkiye summit, sources say
  • Erdogan's government supports rebel fighters who tried to topple President Bashar al-Assad and has accused the Syrian leader of state terrorism
  • Assad says it is Turkiye which has backed terrorism by supporting an array of fighters including Islamist factions

BEIRUT/ANKARA: Syria is resisting Russian efforts to broker a summit with Turkiye’s President Tayyip Erdogan, three sources said on Friday, after more than a decade of bitter enmity since the outbreak of Syria’s civil war.
However, two Turkish sources, including a senior official, disputed that Damascus was delaying and said that things were on track for an eventual meeting between the leaders.
Erdogan’s government supports rebel fighters who tried to topple President Bashar Assad and has accused the Syrian leader of state terrorism, saying earlier in the conflict that peace efforts could not continue under his rule.
Assad says it is Turkiye which has backed terrorism by supporting an array of fighters including Islamist factions and launching repeated military incursions inside northern Syria. Ankara is readying another possible operation, after blaming Syrian Kurdish fighters for a bombing in Istanbul.
Russia helped Assad turn the tide of the war in his favor and says it is seeking a political end to the conflict and wants to bring the two leaders together for talks.
Erdogan has signalled readiness for rapprochement.
Speaking a week after he shook hands with Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi last month, after repeatedly saying he could not meet a leader who came to power in a coup, he said Turkiye could “also get things on track with Syria.”
“There can be no resentment in politics,” he said in a televised discussion at the weekend.
However, three sources with knowledge of Syria’s position on possible talks said Assad had rejected a proposal to meet Erdogan with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.
Two of the sources said Damascus believed such a meeting could boost Erdogan ahead of Turkish elections next year, especially if it addressed Ankara’s goal of returning some of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees from Turkiye.
“Why hand Erdogan a victory for free? No rapprochement will happen before the elections,” one of the two said, adding that Syria had also turned down the idea of a foreign ministers’ meeting.
The third source, a diplomat with knowledge of the proposal, said Syria “sees such a meeting as useless if it does not come with anything concrete, and what they have asked for so far is the full withdrawal of Turkish troops.”
Turkish officials said this week the army needed just a few days to be ready for a ground incursion into northern Syria, where it has already carried out artillery and air strikes.
But the government has also said it is ready for talks with Damascus if they focus on security at the border, where Ankara wants Syrian Kurdish YPG fighters pushed from the frontier and refugees moved into ‘safe zones’.
An Assad-Erdogan meeting could be possible “in the not too distant future,” the senior Turkish official said.
“Putin is slowly preparing the path for this,” the official said. “It would be the beginning of a major change in Syria and would have very positive effects on Turkiye. Russia would benefit too... given it is stretched in many areas.”