TEHRAN – Israel's agreement to establish diplomatic ties with the United Arab Emirates marks a watershed moment in its relations with Arab countries, but the Palestinians say it puts a just resolution of the Middle East conflict even farther out of reach.
The UAE presented its decision to upgrade longstanding ties to Israel as a way of encouraging peace efforts by taking Israel's planned annexation of parts of the occupied West Bank off the table, something Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu swiftly rebuffed by insisting the pause was “temporary.”
From the Palestinian perspective, the UAE not only failed to stop annexation, which would dash any remaining hopes of establishing a viable, independent state. It also undermined an Arab consensus that recognition of Israel only come in return for concessions in peace talks — a rare source of leverage for the Palestinians.
“I never expected this poison dagger to come from an Arab country,” Saeb Erekat, a senior Palestinian official and veteran negotiator said Friday. “You are rewarding aggression. ... You have destroyed, with this move, any possibility of peace between Palestinians and Israelis.”
President Donald Trump has presented the U.S.-brokered agreement as a major diplomatic achievement and said he expects more Arab and Muslim countries to follow suit. Israel has quietly cultivated ties with the UAE and other Gulf countries for several years as they have confronted a shared enemy in Iran.
In Israel, the agreement has renewed long-standing hopes for normal relations with its Arab neighbors. Netanyahu has long insisted, contrary to generations of failed peace negotiators, that Israel can enjoy such ties without resolving its conflict with the Palestinians. For now, he seems to have been proven right.
“It’s hard to claim right now that the 53-year-old occupation is ‘unsustainable’ when Netanyahu has just proved that not only is it sustainable, but Israel can improve its ties with the Arab world, openly, with the occupation still going,” wrote Anshel Pfeffer, a columnist for Israel's Haaretz newspaper.
But the Middle East conflict was never between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, which have fought no wars and share no borders. And the nature of the agreement will likely force the Palestinians to harden their stance and redouble their efforts to isolate Israel.