Fiyaz Mughal

The UAE-Israel agreement leaves the Palestinian leadership behind

The threat of Iran is leading to normalised relations between Israel and Gulf states, writes Fiyaz Mughal

August 14, 2020 11:33

The tweet ame out of the blue from President Trump. It provided a press statement that Bejamin Netanyahu’s government would cease the annexation of the West Bank and the United Arab Emirates would normalise relations, including the opening of  reciprocal embassies as well as trade and cultural delegations to both countries. 

It was a sensational media and leadership coup for the UAE, aimed at strengthening its future trade, defence and cyber capabilities. 

But this is not the full picture. Behind Sheikh Zayed’s move is a desire that the country take a leading role in three areas.

First, to place the country at the heart of an ideological bulwark against the increasingly hard-line, Islamist direction of Iran, Turkey and Qatar, that tacitly facilitate Islamist and Muslim Brotherhood affiliated groups. 

Secondly, it was previously unfathomable that Saudi Arabia would be a key strategic ally in disrupting Islamist networks, given the country’s past record of exporting a harsh, authoritarian form of Islam. Yet, the last few years have seen Saudi Arabia take a strong posture against these networks, thereby placing itself firmly into the camp of Muslim majority nations like the UAE which understand that opening up to new ideas, modernity and different faith institutions is the right, best and only way ahead. Without Saudi approval, the UAE could not have taken this step. (Interestingly, the UAE will open its first synagogue in 2022). 

Have no doubt, tectonic plates are indeed shifting in the Middle East, driven by ideology, trade and the desire for strategic alliances that are showing clear fault lines. The UAE has placed itself at the helm of these changes and playing a leading role in charting an alternate course to the disturbing hard-line approach favoured in Ankara and Tehran.

Thirdly, today’s announcement also sends out other tacit messages. It demonstrates that countries like Saudi Arabia and the UAE want to move on from the Israel and Palestinian conflict and settle the matter as soon as possible. They recognise Iran as the major threat ahead and they probably believe that a solution could be based on a future Palestinian state of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, with ‘land swaps’ as part of a deal. Normalising relations allows the discussions to take place more openly and ensures that there is a future Palestinian state potentially on the table. (I know from my travels between Jerusalem and Jericho that settlements peppered the West Bank landscape and that a ‘two state solution’ was seen as dead many years ago. Today’s announcement provides hope for that vision).

It is highly unlikely that Mahmoud Abbas will accept this. Either way, the Palestinian leadership is being left behind and needs to look very carefully at what is left. At the current juncture, they have no card to play and this may be the only option left before a Palestinian State becomes a distant and then forgotten memory for future generations.

Today’s announcement was not a total surprise.  With Iran as the regional threat, it was only a matter of time before normalisation of relations between Israel and countries like the UAE happened. Sheikh Zayed is a pragmatist and believes in an Islam based on personal spirituality rather than its politicisation, something that has reversed in Turkey from a secular outlook to one that is religiously fuelled by an Islamist leadership. I know which one I subscribe to - and which makes for a more prosperous, stable Middle East. 

Now is the time for people of good will and for Muslims and Jews who want a better future, to support, stand up and back these normalised relations and an end to Palestinian suffering and threats to Israel. 

Fiyaz Mughal OBE is the founder of Faith Matters


August 14, 2020 11:33

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