By Saima Afzal
On September 15, 2020, Israel and the UAE signed an agreement mediated by U.S. President Donald Trump. Under this deal, Israel and the UAE established full diplomatic relations and UAE became the first Gulf state and the third Arab state, besides Egypt and Jordan, to fully recognize Israel. The agreement commences an era of alliance and cooperation towards a more stable, prosperous and secure region. The two sides have opened embassies in each other’s countries and signed a plethora of trade agreements. Bahrain also signed an agreement with Israel, and Sudan and Morocco followed the suit to normalize ties with Israel. Despite having no disputes or conflicts with Israel, Pakistan remains committed to its policy of non-recognition of the Jewish state, a long-standing position that is rooted in feelings of Islamic solidarity with Arab countries. Though the UAE-Israel deal doesn’t entail any direct and immediate impacts on South Asian region, it could have some notable implications for the foreign policy of Pakistan.
Under the peace deal, the undersigned countries agreed to maintaining and strengthening peace in the Middle East and around the world, to promote interfaith and intercultural dialogue to advance a culture of peace among the three Abrahamic religions, and seek to end radicalization and conflict.
Therefore, the agreement paves the way to enhance trade, investment, tourism and technological collaboration. In addition to these gains, a strategic alliance against Iran was the key motivator as the two states and U.S. considers Iran as a chief threat to regional stability. This opposition to Tehran is shifting alliances in the region and bringing about a strategic realignment of Middle Eastern power. After the normalization of relations between the UAE and Israel, the United States, a staunch Israel ally approved a $23 billion sale of F-35 fighter jets to the UAE after the Emiratis recognized the Jewish state. Now Israel and UAE are forecasting $600 to $700 million dollars of bilateral trade and set the target of achieving $1 trillion for the next decade. The Gulf country has also signed more than 60 memorandums of understanding with Israel since normalizing relations in 2020.
However, the increasing number of Arab countries normalizing relations with Israel has been condemned by the Palestinians, seeing it as a betrayal to their cause. Palestinians feel thoroughly abandoned with very limited options. Though, the United Arab Emirates has offered to mediate between Israel and Palestine, behind the scenes are billions of dollars in potential business deals between the UAE and Israel. The Abraham Accord represents a change in approach to Middle East’s conflict and yet it does not claim to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
The U.S. played an important role in bringing the UAE and Israel together. Israel is a close ally of the United States and the U.S. supports Israel in all forums. On December 6, 2017, President Donald Trump announced the United States recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and ordered to relocation of its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, while violating several UN resolutions and international law. It indicates that U.S. recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. The emergence of the coalition between the UAE and Israel is quite positive for the United States, since it offsets a region dominated by Iran, Russia, and Turkey that does not serve American national security interests. The United States also sees Iran as an existential threat to its interests in the Middle East, however, normalization between key Arab countries and Israel serve US designs to counter Iran.
There are 1.6 million Pakistani diaspora in the UAE — the second largest Pakistani expatriates’ community abroad and in last fiscal year, Pakistan received $13.77 billion in remittances from the UAE. The UAE has granted citizenship to 5,000 Israelis after amending its citizenship law and now they can independently move to Gulf and Arab countries without a prior visa. The UAE-Israel alliance may negatively impact Pakistan’s workforce in the UAE and their remittances, which in turn will have negative effects on the depleted economy. The UAE-Israel alliance has been converted into a trilateral alliance that includes India, UAE and Israel. Israel is investing in the UAE in same way that the UAE is investing in mainland India, as well as in IIJOK. This alliance is likely to affect our national narrative/security. UAE’s tilt towards India may dilute Pakistan’s stance on IIOJK at OIC forum and cements the Israel-UAE-India nexus. Pakistan will not normalize its ties with Israel until there is a two state solution to which Palestinians agree. Pakistan is committed to its stance despite the immense pressure from the United States, especially after Saudi Arabia has opened its airspace to Israel.
To conclude, the Israel-UAE nexus does not provide tangible benefits for Palestinians whose future and livelihoods continue to be negotiated and determined by external actors. It is a strategic victory for Israel, which has begun a path toward normalization with Arab governments. Arab countries are focusing on their national interests and least interested in finding a Kashmir and Palestine solution — this has created space for non-Arab Muslim countries, such as Malaysia and Turkey, to take up the leading role of Muslims Ummah. Therefore, Pakistan needs to strengthen its relations with its reliable friends and likeminded countries such as China, Turkey, and Malaysia to protect its security.
*The writer is Islamabad based analyst and can be reached at [email protected]