THE peace deal between Israel and the UAE announced on Thursday seemingly came out of the blue. But for those aware of happenings in the Middle East, the relationship between Tel Aviv and Abu Dhabi had been blossoming behind the scenes for many years.

Thursday’s announcement by US President Donald Trump was only a formal acknowledgement of these clandestine efforts. Especially over the past year or so, efforts towards normalisation had gained pace, with cultural exchanges between the Zionist state and the Gulf sheikhdom, as well as efforts on social and mainstream media, to help pave the way for the establishment of ties.

Also read: Timeline — Israel, UAE deal follows years of failed peace initiatives

While the three main protagonists of this move — the US, Israel and the UAE — have hailed it with fulsome adjectives such as “bold” and “historic”, the Palestinians have been less sanguine. A spokesman for President Mahmoud Abbas termed the deal “disgraceful” while Hamas has described it as a “stab in the back”.

Israel, built on the ruins of Palestine, and the UAE, on the tip of the Gulf, share no geographical borders, so why the rush towards normalisation? Clearly, both these states — leading members of the American axis — share common geostrategic goals, and the welfare of the Palestinians certainly does not seem to be one of them.

Both Tel Aviv and Abu Dhabi are at daggers drawn with Tehran, and this alliance will certainly send alarm bells ringing in the latter capital. Moreover, the sheikhs that rule the UAE share a visceral dislike of political Islam — including its leading proponents in the Arab world, the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas (the latter being an offshoot of the former).

Israel, on the other hand, has faced off with Hamas in Gaza numerous times, butchering the hapless civilian population in the process. Also, Hamas is a key ally of Iran, which means Israel and the UAE can now openly compare notes in order to confront their respective bêtes noires. And of course, Mr Trump will use the deal to show his evangelical voter base that he has added another ally for Israel in the Arab world.

Peace in the Middle East is a goal everyone cherishes. But peace must be based on justice and fair play; otherwise such ‘peace deals’ are fig leaves for capitulation. The Israel-UAE deal is being hailed for stopping the illegal annexation of the West Bank by Tel Aviv. This is a blatant untruth as soon after the deal was announced, Benjamin Netanyahu told the media “there is no change to my plan to extend sovereignty” over the occupied territories.

Can such peace deals ensure the human and national rights of the Palestinians in the form of a viable two-state solution? The Palestinian answer to this can perhaps best be summed up in a tweet by veteran PLO leader Dr Hanan Ashrawi: “May you never be sold out by your ‘friends’.”

Published in Dawn, August 15th, 2020

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