Opinion

The Arab-Israeli entente cordiale: a ray of hope

La entente cordiale árabe-israelí: un rayo de esperanza

Showing a good knowledge of the Arab proverb that advises to get along like brothers, but working together like strangers, the Emirati government has shown no little courage in promoting diplomatic normalization between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, joining Jordan and Egypt in the small club of Arab countries that have official relations with Israel. And it does so less than a month after launching a space probe to Mars, appropriately named "Hope," after the country celebrated the 2019 Year of (religious) Tolerance, and played a key role in the Manama Dialogue Conference.

The Emiratis seem determined to escape the centripetal force that traps everything too close to the Iranian-Israeli dialectic, and have launched a series of regional initiatives that include explicit support in Libya for forces opposed to Turkey. This establishment of diplomatic relations takes on particular importance at a time of friction in the Eastern Mediterranean, which has led both Israel and France to express their support for Greece and Cyprus in the face of Turkish naval assertiveness: both Ankara and its allies in Tehran had a stake in Israel's annexation of the West Bank, as stipulated in the Kushner Plan. The diplomatic agreement between the United Arab Emirates and Israel has suspended the annexation sine die, depriving the Iranian Hassan Rohani of a powerful propaganda cause, which would have been very useful at the present juncture as a smokescreen to cover up the chaos that Hezbollah has brought to Lebanon. 

The compromise with the Emirates is also useful to Netanyahu, whose political sagacity cannot have escaped the fact that in the face of a potential victory in November by the Biden-Kamala duo, Israel's interests are better served by postponing an annexation that effectively only has the unconditional support of radical Zionism at home, and is rejected outright and widely abroad. On the other hand, the fragile government coalition; the sword of Damocles of the corruption trial in which Netanyahu is being prosecuted; and the opposition of his rival Benny Gantz to the annexation, have undoubtedly acted as a spur to materialize this unprecedented diplomatic alliance, as will have been the letter recently published in an Israeli newspaper -written in Hebrew by Yousef al-Otaiba, ambassador of the Emirates in Washington- in which he warned without ambiguity that the Israeli annexation of the West Bank would put an end to international relations between the two countries. The price to be paid for Netnayahu is thus quite similar to that paid by Nixon when he traveled to China: to assume the disaffection of his most radical supporters in a calculated exercise of strategic utilitarianism.

Even the majority of Palestinians have had to breathe a sigh of relief at the news of the suspension, even though they are forced to publicly show their discontent, and that in the diplomatic agreement one can read between the lines the Emirati's impatience with some maximalisms present in the Palestinian cause, something that should be taken note of by the factions most inclined to continue being travel companions of the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporter, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which distances them, more than brings them closer, to their longings for self-determination. 

However - beyond its value as a rhetorical device, threaded through nostalgia for the former Ottoman Empire's historical ties with Palestine - Erdogan's real concern is Qatar's reaction to the Israel-UAE agreement, given the importance of Qatar's financial support in keeping the Turkish economy afloat, and in sustaining its allies in Libya. Already in 2017, a schism occurred that alienated Qatar from the rest of the Gulf monarchies, and encouraged Turkey to send troops to Qatar, an added element of destabilization in a region where Yemen is the scene of a war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which is useful to both Turkey and the UAE to cover up their respective operations to gain geopolitical influence in the Horn of Africa, especially in Somalia. Qatar's reaction to the Arab-Israeli entente cordiale will therefore be decisive, given that Qatar does not lack a certain strategic ascendancy over Israel that it is doubtful it would be willing to put at risk by letting Abu Dhabi overshadow it after the signing of the agreement with Israel, which has not been able to take the Qatari authorities by surprise, since it actually gives the green light to the existence of a de facto alliance between Israel and the Emirates was an open secret, manifested in initiatives such as the purchase by Israel, through proxy agents, of medical material and equipment to combat COVID-19 in the Emirates. 

Perhaps unwittingly, it is certainly likely that, acting as facilitator for the agreement, Donald Trump has given a gift to Joe Biden, who, should he arrive at the White House in November, will be able to devote himself to restoring the battered world order rather than being drawn into managing the intractable situation that would have created the Israeli annexation of the Palestinian territories. As in the mythical Pandora's box, perhaps it is possible, after all, to find hope underneath all the world's ills.