The UAE and Bahrain have been met with cynicism and condemnation over their normalization agreements with Israel and called business collaborators and weapons dealers. But those who follow closely what is happening in the Arab world following the peace deals see that nothing short of a revolution is taking place.
In recent years more and more citizens of the Gulf states as well as Arabs in North Africa, Iraq and even Syria have been posting positive remarks about Israel on social media and contrasting the Israeli regime with the repressive regimes in many Arab countries. One graph, which went viral, compared the number of Arabs killed by Israel with the numbers being killed by other Arabs with the focus on Syria and its civil war.
The nuclear agreement between Iran and the West was a major catalyst for these processes with Israel perceived as the only country standing with the Gulf states against the Iranian threat. The rise to power of Donald Trump and the withdrawal of the US from the nuclear agreement and the renewal of the embargo and sanctions against Iran were looked upon by Sunni Arabs as an achievement of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Trump's Deal of the Century and the economic steps it proposed aroused anger towards the Palestinians who tried to torpedo regional development and refused every proposal. The late Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban's famous comment about the "Palestinians never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity" went viral in the Arab world around the time of the Bahrain conference when Trump unveiled his plan.
The media in Gulf countries has also changed direction in recent years and Netanyahu's visit to Oman two years ago was covered very positively throughout the Gulf including in Saudi Arabia. The feeling was that an agreement with Israel would be happening in the coming few years. Even so the recent agreements between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain took many people by surprise.
Timetables and the Palestinians
The timing of the agreement is of course tied to next month's US presidential elections. Trump has been able to present an important international diplomatic achievement that includes good news for the US defense industries. For the UAE and Saudi Arabia the timing is important because of the concern that Joe Biden will win the election and change diplomatic course on Iran. The unfolding of events has been conducted behind the scenes by Saudi Arabia's Crown Price Mohammed ibn Salman. The agreements between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain could not have happened without his consent and support. The UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed is his partner in striving for reform and innovation.
It was the timing for all these leaders that got these geopolitical moves going and created the revolution. There is still resistance to the process and there are not more countries rushing forward to sign peace deals with Israel. However, the Palestinian insistence that until there is a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians that fulfils their demands, there can be no normalization between the Arabs and Israel has collapsed. This was best expressed during the Arab League meetings of Arab foreign ministers, which first rejected an aggressive Palestinian proposal and then rejected a more moderate one. Most of the Arab foreign ministers, and not only from the Gulf countries, opposed the Palestinians.
Not only investments
The Arab boycott has finally been broken, psychologically and economically and the ramifications are huge. The opening of markets in Arab countries to Israeli goods is only one of them. The UAE and Bahrain are a bridge or pipeline and the demand will only grow. Vast capital sits in the Gulf and judging by the enthusiasm with which the agreements have been received by the managers of this capital, some of it will flow into Israel. There have been research initiatives regarding the Covid-19 pandemic and in areas like water, agritech, solar energy and fintech, there will be substantial cooperation and not just financial investments.
The Palestinians can yet benefit from this. In the private sector some business initiatives exist, a few of them in cooperation with Israeli organizations. The government would be wise to nurture entrepreneurship to help promote the Palestinian economy. This is a clear Israeli security interest and could perhaps bear diplomatic fruit.
"The sky is the limit," UAE Minister of Economy Abdulla bin Touq al Marri told me in a recent interview. There will be teething problems and less successful business deals but the expectation is that all the countries involved will reap huge economic benefits from the agreements.
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on October 4, 2020
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