Abraham Accords hold firm despite Gaza conflict

Dubai

Economic interests and a negative view of Hamas mean that the fighting in Gaza is low down on the UAE agenda.

The current fighting with Hamas has provided the first test for the Abraham Accords. If the Palestinians were expecting that the conflict would damage the peace agreements between Israel and the UAE and the other Arab countries that established full diplomatic relations with Israel last year, then those hopes have been dashed.

The way that the Gulf states view the current events can be seen from the main headlines in the region's media and on social media. Most of the headlines in the past few days have not been about the Gaza Strip or even the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem but rather the provocative comments by Lebanon's Foreign Minister Charbel Wehbe who was forced to resign after accusing the Gulf states of supporting the rise of ISIS. He called the Saudis Bedouin and caused a storm in the Gulf. Saudi Arabia mulled expelling the Lebanese Ambassador Fawzi Kabbara from Riyadh and breaking diplomatic ties altogether.

Last Friday UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed expressed his concern about the Gaza conflict and sent his condolences to victims - all the victims. He called for a ceasefire and stressed - and this is the important part - the importance of the Abraham Accords in creating a better future for coming generations. In other words, he is espousing the reverse of the violence and defiance of Hamas and the other organizations and countries advocating incitement.

Social media is even more interesting. The most widespread sentiment is criticism of Hamas, an organization which has few fans in the Gulf, mainly because it is a body that has brought large-scale destruction to the Gaza Strip. Attacks in the social media focus on the Hamas leaders Ismail Haniyah and Khaled Mashal sitting in their grandiose houses in Qatar. In one cartoon that went viral, the two leaders are seen - one in his luxury Mercedes and the other in his fitness room - with drinks in hand and giving a V for victory sign. The cartoon headline says Jerusalem is calling you and beneath it says, "They are living in comfort and abundance and sending the Gazans to be killed for them." Other reports mocked the fact that Gazan leaders were leaving for Egypt.

But what symbolizes more than anything else the new atmosphere in the Gulf are the facts on the ground. The UAE airlines (Emirates, Etihad Airways and flydubai) have not stopped flying to Israel, in contrast to many of the American and European airlines. They have only reduced the number of flights due to lower demand. Sources have told "Globes" that there were diplomatic talks on the matter and it was agreed to continue the flights.

And there was a good reason to continue the flights - they were fully booked with Israeli tourists continuing to visit Dubai and goods and businesspeople from both countries. In all economic sectors, it is business as usual and if some trips were cancelled, the meetings went ahead as video calls.

Matters are even more interesting in the defense industries sector and according to one source, there is major interest in the Israeli weapons systems that are being used including defensive systems like Iron Dome as well as assault systems and the sophisticated surveillance systems supporting them. According to the source, there have been enquiries for data about the performance and results in the field of these systems.

Tel Aviv University Institute for National Security Studies social media analyst Irit Perlov, who researches the Arab world, said that the Islamic political leaders of the Gulf see Hamas as almost representing a threat and hence the neutral declarations and lack of condemnation of Israel. She stresses that the Gulf States look at the events in terms of the business opportunities created such as good real estate deals. "If they could buy Sheikh Jarrah from the various parties and make it into a tourist project, then that's what they'd do. We're demolishing property in the Gaza Strip and hey want to build."

This week "Globes" revealed that the UAE had wanted to invest in infrastructure projects in Gaza but that readiness has disappeared because of the situation.

Perlov recalls that one of the UAE's richest families the Al Abars had wanted to buy all the Jewish settlements being evacuated in Gush Katif in Gaza in 2005 for $600 million but pulled out of talks because of a backlash against it in the Arab world.

The bottom line today is that the Palestinian problem is low down on the agenda of the Gulf states. Economic considerations and a negative view of Hamas mean that the Abraham Accords are holding firm.

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on May 19, 2021

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