Thu, 24 Sep 2020

Analysts: More Countries to Follow Suit After Israel/UAE Agreement

Voice of America
15 Aug 2020, 08:35 GMT+10

ISTANBUL - After Israel and the United Arab Emirates agreed to normalize diplomatic relations, some regional leaders applauded the move and others condemned it.

And some countries appeared to be interested in following suit.

The agreement could be the beginning of a new trend that may eventually lead to normal relations between Israel and much of the Middle East, according to Hisham Kassem, a veteran Egyptian publisher and analyst.

"There will be other countries to follow," he said. "And eventually there will be normalization between Israel and the whole of the Arab world."

But the controversy over whether this agreement helps or hurts the Palestinian people is already fueling regional divisions.

In the deal, brokered by the United States, Israel agrees to halt current plans to annex vast portions of the West Bank. The United Nations said it hopes the agreement "will create an opportunity for Israeli and Palestinian leaders to re-engage in meaningful negotiations."

Palestinian leaders reacted with almost unanimous fury.

"We vehemently denounce and refuse this agreement," reads a statement posted on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Facebook page. The statement calls the move "a betrayal" by the UAE and accuses Israel of lying in order to eventually snap up more Palestinian lands.

The agreement says Israel promises to stop the annexation for now, but not forever, said Giorgio Cafiero, the CEO of Washington-based Gulf State Analytics.

"While we can talk about all the benefits this brings the UAE, Israel and Donald Trump," said Cafiero. "It is clear that the Palestinians are the losers here."

Following UAE's lead

Bahrain in the Persian Gulf and Sudan in North Africa appear to be the most interested in establishing diplomatic ties with Israel next, according to Cafiero. Or at least they have the most to gain, and the least to lose, he said.

"It could help Bahrain establish a more formal partnership with a powerful country in the Middle East that shares its perception as Iran as a major threat," he said. "When it comes to Sudan, the current government has signaled its keenness to engage Israel."

Sudan may be reluctant to say it can work with Israel out loud, as the Jewish state is deeply unpopular in Muslim countries in the Middle East and North Africa. Analysts say Sudan is also straining under the weight of Western sanctions, and normalizing relations with Israel might bring some relief.

Other analysts have speculated that Saudi Arabia could also benefit from establishing ties with Israel, but the kingdom has remained relatively quiet.

Currently, Egypt and Jordan are the only two countries that have normal relations with Israel. For decades, the other Arab countries have agreed not to do so, hoping to pressure Israel into returning some land to Palestinians.

Breaking this long-standing agreement may help Palestinians in the short term by delaying the annexation, but it may also permanently reduce the Arab world's ability to influence Israel on this issue, said Kassem in Egypt.

"If this trend continues of piecemeal settlements without addressing the main issue-the Palestinian/Israeli conflict," he said, "the problem will never really go away."

Deepening divisions

Across the Middle East, other leaders have put out statements either for or against the deal, often taking sides against their established foes.

For example, Egyptian President Abdul-Fattah el-Sissi tweeted that the new relationship was "taking steps to bringing peace in the Middle East."

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, at odds with both Egypt and the UAE, reacted by threatening to end Ankara's diplomatic relationship with the UAE.

"I think this development can serve to exacerbate polarization in the already deeply divided region," said Cafiero.

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