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.”

 


Egyptian parliament looking to activate law for organ, cornea transplantation

Egyptian parliament looking to activate law for organ, cornea transplantation
Updated 12 sec ago

Egyptian parliament looking to activate law for organ, cornea transplantation

Egyptian parliament looking to activate law for organ, cornea transplantation
  • The parliament has not taken a decision yet despite its discussion over the past few days
  • MP Makram Radwan sparked controversy in parliament when he submitted a request for a briefing on the amendment to the Human Organ Transplant Law

CAIRO: A debate has been underway within the Egyptian parliament over amendments to the Human Organ Transplant Law.
The parliament has not taken a decision yet despite its discussion over the past few days.
The amendments focus on the activation of two laws: one issued in 2010 banning organ sales, which has not yet been fully implemented due to the revolution in 2011, and one issued in 1962 regarding the organization of the eye bank.
The Health Affairs Committee in the Egyptian House of Representatives recommended that the Ministry of Health activate the provisions of the Human Organ Transplant Law passed in 2010 in which Article 8 of its executive regulations allows people to request in their wills that their organs be donated following their death.
MP Makram Radwan sparked controversy in parliament when he submitted a request for a briefing on the amendment to the Human Organ Transplant Law.
“Egypt has fallen behind many countries that have implemented the law,” Radwan told Arab News.
“Although we have an organ transplant law, it has not been activated. There can be no organ transfer without prior approval to protect doctors.”
As for the law regarding the eye bank, the matter was raised at the request of Representative Karim Badr Helmy.
Badr told Arab News: “I am not calling for something new. This was within the provisions of the 1962 law regulating eye banks.”
Helmy demanded that all cornea banks be re-operated in hospitals licensed to establish them.
He also proposed that the health minister issue a decision to set procedures for transferring the corneas of the dead to university hospitals and other hospitals of the ministry that are licensed to establish banks to preserve them.
Dr. Khaled Omran, one of the fatwa trustees at the Egyptian Dar Al-Iftaa, told Arab News that organ donation is highly beneficial, helping many patients, and is considered of a form of charity.
Omran said that a donation takes place in accordance with conditions set by the law and approved by Dar Al-Iftaa.
The first is that the patient must be legally, and not just clinically, dead
The second is that the donation must be based on a person’s will documented by doctors.
The third condition is that the donation of organs related to the reproductive system must be prevented in order to avoid any suspicion of mixing lineage.


Egypt turns to religious edicts to protect children from harmful video games

Photo/Shutterstock
Photo/Shutterstock
Updated 3 min 47 sec ago

Egypt turns to religious edicts to protect children from harmful video games

Photo/Shutterstock
  • Apps can stimulate minds but also cause addiction, incite violence, Dar Al-Iftaa official says
  • Some games are used by extremist groups like Daesh to exploit young people, he says

CAIRO: One of Egypt’s top Islamic organizations, Dar Al-Iftaa, is trying to raise awareness of the potentially harmful impact of mobile games and apps on young people.

A recent report by the Global Fatwa Index showed that 33 percent of the fatwas on technological affairs issued this year were related to the subject and that many of them stressed the need to protect children from exploitation and violent or other harmful content.

“Video games and modern applications are a double-edged sword,” Sheikh Awaida Othman from Dar Al-Iftaa, the Egyptian government’s principal Islamic legal institution for issuing fatwas, told Arab News.

“Despite their ability to develop minds, they come with many disadvantages, most notably mobile addiction, spreading violence, social isolation, and the incidence of unrest and psychological disorders.

“The latest preemptive fatwas of the Egyptian Dar Al-Iftaa dealt with the issue of buying and selling currencies in video games because it is legally permissible, but with controls that must be taken into account … the game should not become a daily habit that devolves into an addiction that causes health and psychological issues and mental exhaustion.”

Echoing a finding in the fatwa index that suggested some apps could be used for political exploitation, Othman said ultra-right movements in the West relied on video games to recruit and exploit children and adolescents.

He added that in some online games users were able to create secret networks and chat without surveillance, just as members of extremist organizations like Daesh did.

The most prominent of these was Fortnite — one of the world’s most popular fighting games — as it incited violence, he said.

“ISIS (another name for Daesh) adopts the same terrorist strategy and ideology by exploiting video game platforms to recruit young men and minors, and using hidden channels of communication to ensure anonymity,” Othman said.

Sheikh Sayed Abdulaziz, secretary-general of Egyptian Family House — an initiative started in 2011 that promotes religious coexistence — said that religious institutions, families and educational and media groups needed to work together and heed the warnings about video games.

“The steady and intensive increase in video games and phone applications is difficult to monitor and therefore requires religious institutions to dedicate people to follow up on these developments and issue proactive fatwas regarding them,” he told Arab News.

“The lack of fatwas related to video games directly reaching the youth and children category requires work in parallel with religious bodies, the media, schools and universities.”

He added: “We must also pay attention to following up on new apps and making sure that they are following public morals in order to prevent the spread of material among youths that is religiously or nationally inappropriate.”

 


Egypt slams European Parliament report on human rights situation

Egypt slams European Parliament report on human rights situation
Updated 29 min 56 sec ago

Egypt slams European Parliament report on human rights situation

Egypt slams European Parliament report on human rights situation
  • Many Egyptian deputies and politicians voiced their rejection of the European Parliament’s call and asserted that it was blatant interference in Egypt’s affairs

CAIRO: Egyptian MPs and politicians have rejected what they are calling the European Parliament’s “blatant” interference in Egypt’s domestic affairs.

In a statement issued on Friday, the European Parliament called for the immediate and unconditional release of dozens of human rights defenders, lawyers, journalists, activists, politicians and social media influencers currently sitting in Egyptian prisons and for the reversal of the excessive use of arbitrary pre-trial detention in Egypt.

The European Parliament also appealed to the member states of the EU “to support the call for the creation of an international mechanism for monitoring and reporting gross violations of human rights in Egypt at the UN Human Rights Council, as well a deep and comprehensive review of the EU’s relations with Egypt in light of the very limited progress in Egypt’s human rights record.”

Many Egyptian deputies and politicians voiced their rejection of the European Parliament’s call and asserted that it was blatant interference in Egypt’s affairs.

Hind Rashad, a member of the House of Representatives, told Arab News: “I strongly reject all lies and attempts to interfere in the affairs of the Egyptian state.”

His comment came as Egypt’s parliament asserted that the EU position reflected only a biased and subjective view of the reality in the country.

Tamer Abdel Qader, also a member of the House of Representatives, told Arab News that the European Parliament’s statement on human rights in Egypt constitutes “blatant interference” in the affairs of “a country that enjoys all sovereign rights.” He also said the statement violates UN charters, “as it included many lies, fallacies and rumors.”

Abdel Qader added: “This old school has had its...policies exposed more than once, and everyone knows what the intentions of the (drafters) of these policies (are) towards the Egyptian state, which recently launched the National Strategy for Human Rights and laid frameworks for its implementation in front of everyone.

“Among the inaccuracies in the statement is that Egypt executes children, bearing in mind that Egyptian laws criminalize the trial or execution of children…Egyptian laws stipulate that they be placed in care homes for their rehabilitation and integration into society.”

Political expert Hazem El-Gendy, deputy head of the Egyptian Wafd Party, told Arab News that the decision of the European Parliament confirmed beyond any doubt that “there is a state of hostility and ambush adopted by some international institutions against Egypt” and that these are “not sufficiently aware of the developments of the situation in Egypt.”

El-Gendy said: “The resolutions say that Egypt has been living under a state of emergency since 2017, despite the announcement by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi to cancel it in October 2021 … The declaration of a state of emergency came in light of the war waged by the state and terrorist groups in Sinai.”

Mahmoud Bassiouni, member of the National Council for Human Rights, also told Arab News that the European Parliament’s statement constitutes meddling in Egypt’s domestic affairs and ignores the efforts of the Egyptian state to improve human rights.

He added that the controversial statement relied on a single source of information.


Amnesty International lauds UN probe into Iran human rights violations

Amnesty International lauds UN probe into Iran human rights violations
Updated 43 min 26 sec ago

Amnesty International lauds UN probe into Iran human rights violations

Amnesty International lauds UN probe into Iran human rights violations
  • ‘The cries of the people in Iran for justice have finally been heard’
  • The fact-finding mission comes 73 days on from the murder of 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini

LONDON: Amnesty International has applauded the establishment of a fact-finding mission to investigate human rights violations in Iran as “long overdue” given the “dire situation” in the country.
Responding to Thursday’s announcement from the UN Human Rights Council that the “landmark” resolution had been passed, Amnesty’s Secretary-General Agnes Callamard said: “The cries of the people in Iran for justice have finally been heard. It not only enhances international scrutiny of the dire situation, but puts in place a process to collect, consolidate and preserve crucial evidence for future prosecutions.
She added: “We hope it marks a fundamental shift in the international community’s approach to tackling the crisis of systematic impunity that has long fueled crimes under international law and other serious human rights violations in Iran.”
The fact-finding mission comes 73 days on from the murder of 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini while in the custody of Iran’s notorious morality police.
Amini’s death ignited a tinderbox of pent-up frustrations over falling living standards and discrimination against women and minorities, and has fueled the most widespread protests seen in the country since the 1979 revolution, with no signs of the protesters backing down.
The fact-finding mission is mandated to “collect, consolidate and analyze evidence of such violations and preserve evidence, including in view of cooperation, in any legal proceedings.”
Amnesty said as the resolution was being negotiated, Iranian authorities continued to reject the findings of UN experts and human rights organizations, and have persisted in widespread use of unlawful lethal force and sought the death penalty for protesters.
Iran has faced repeated cycles of protests since 2018, all of which have been met with violent reprisals.
“States must now ensure that the mandate is made operational and sufficiently resourced without delay and call upon the Iranian authorities to cooperate fully with the mission and allow unhindered access to the country,” said Callamard.
“This vote must also serve as a wake-up call for the Iranian authorities to immediately end their all-out militarized attack on demonstrators.”
Callamard said Amnesty has “consistently” documented crimes under international law committed by Iranian authorities against protesters, including unlawful killings, unwarranted use of lethal force, and mass arbitrary arrests and detentions.
It has also recorded enforced disappearances, torture and other ill-treatment, and the sentencing of individuals to lengthy prison terms or death.
Amnesty said: “Iranian authorities have ignored repeated calls by the international community to open criminal investigations into such crimes.
“Instead, they have sought to destroy evidence of crimes while persecuting survivors and victims’ relatives.”


Israeli wounded in Jerusalem bus stop bombings dies

Israeli wounded in Jerusalem bus stop bombings dies
Updated 26 November 2022

Israeli wounded in Jerusalem bus stop bombings dies

Israeli wounded in Jerusalem bus stop bombings dies
  • A 15-year-old Israeli-Canadian was also killed in Wednesday's twin blasts
  • Thirteen others were wounded, medics said, in the first bombings to hit the contested city since 2016

JERUSALEM: An Israeli wounded in rare bombings to hit Jerusalem earlier this week died Saturday, the hospital treating him announced, the latest casualty as violence surges in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek hospital announced the death of Tadesa Teshuma “who was fatally wounded in an attack at the entrance to Jerusalem.”
A 15-year-old Israeli-Canadian was also killed in Wednesday’s twin blasts, which hit bus stops frequented by ultra-Orthodox Jews at the city’s western exit.
Thirteen others were wounded, medics said, in the first bombings to hit the contested city since 2016 according to Israel’s Shin Bet domestic security agency.
A security source told AFP the explosives were detonated remotely and no group has claimed the attacks, which were celebrated by Palestinian militant group Hamas.
The bombings come amid a spike in violence, which has claimed the lives of six Israelis and 14 Palestinians this month across Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank.
Israeli security forces remain on high alert and on Saturday police briefly closed a main road in Jerusalem, not far from the site of the bombings, due to a suspicious package. The incident turned out to be a false alarm, police said.
During the second intifada, or uprising, in the early 2000s, Palestinian militants repeatedly planted bombs at urban bus stops, including in Jerusalem.
Much of the recent violence has centered on the West Bank, where more than 125 Palestinians have been killed this year according to an AFP tally.
At least 26 Israelis have also been killed in attacks across Israel and the Palestinian territories.
The dead have included Israeli troops, Palestinian militants and civilians on both sides including multiple children.
Earlier this year, 49 Gazans were killed in a three-day conflict between Israel and Palestinian militants in the coastal enclave.