On September 15, 2020, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain become the first Gulf states to publicly normalize their relations with Israel. Led by Donald Trump’s United States, Morocco and Sudan are doing the same.
Until last year, Egypt and Jordan remained the only two Arab countries to recognize the Jewish state thanks to agreements – already under the aegis of the United States – that ended the wars waged against it.
A year after normalization, what is the state of relations between Israel and its new Gulf partners, particularly the Emirates?
– priority for the economy –
In the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, Israel and the Emirates hope to reap economic benefits from their new honeymoon. After the normalization of their relations, the two countries concluded numerous trade agreements.
Since then, the number of Israeli startups in the fields of artificial intelligence, financial technologies and agriculture has increased in the wealthy Gulf state, which does not hide its ambitions in these areas.
The volume of trade reached 500 million dollars (more than 423 million euros) last August, excluding investments, after several agreements in the areas of tourism, aviation and financial services.
“The main benefits for the Emirates have been economic,” Elham Fakhro, a golf specialist at the International Crisis Group, told AFP. These benefits, she said, were particularly significant in “tourism, cybersecurity, cultural and diplomatic exchanges.”
About 200,000 Israelis have visited the Emirates since relations began, according to the Israeli consul-general in Dubai, the most popular of the Gulf state’s seven principalities.
On the defense front, the United States has agreed to sell more than $23 billion in F-35 fighter jets and drones to the Emirates following its diplomatic normalization with Israel.
– Soon Saudi Arabia? –
After the Emirates and Bahrain, the focus was once on Saudi Arabia, the leading Arab economic power, country of Islam’s holiest sites and close partner of the USA. But Ryad has rejected any normalization without a solution to the Palestinian question.
However, the Israelis and the Saudis have the same regional adversary: Iran. In this regard, unofficial relations have warmed and strengthened, analysts observe.
“It is unlikely that Ryad, led by King Salman, will officially normalize relations with Israel,” said Hugh Lovatt, a researcher at the European Council on International Relations (ECFR).
“But it is clear that the two countries already share an important level of political and security dialogue,” he told AFP.
And if Saudi Arabia should take the plunge, “it will do so on its own terms and according to internal calculations,” notes researcher Elham Fakhro.
As for the other Gulf states, Qatar and Oman also have discreet relations with Israel, but have not announced their intention to formalize them. For its part, Kuwait has taken a firm position in support of the Palestinian cause.
– What are the consequences for the Palestinians? –
The Palestinians denounced the normalization deals as a “stab in the back” and said they legitimized Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory, which the UN recognized as illegal.
In the eyes of the Emirates, in exchange for this deal, Israel agreed to renounce the “annexation” of the Palestinian territories. But Benjamin Netanyahu said the project was postponed, not canceled.
In May, Israel’s new Arab allies found themselves in a delicate position to more or less harshly condemn the Jewish state after hundreds of Palestinians were injured in clashes with Israeli security forces.
The violence around the holy site of Al-Aqsa Mosque in Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem was sparked by the possible eviction of Palestinian families from a neighborhood in favor of Jewish settlers.
However, according to analysts, these events did not have a lasting impact on the normalization agreements, as the latter “never concerned the Palestinians,” according to Elham Fakhro.
“They are based on important bilateral interests that actually have nothing to do with the Palestinian issue,” affirms Hugh Lovatt.