The process is unprecedented. For the first time, a senior Arab diplomat from the Gulf decided to speak in Hebrew in an Israeli newspaper. In a column published Friday by the daily Yediot Aharonot, Youssef al-Otaiba, Ambassador of the United Arab Emirates in Washington, warns Israel that the annexation of all or part of the West Bank, announced from July 1, although contrary to international law, would sound the death knell for Israeli rapprochement -Arab started in recent years.
“The annexation will certainly put an end to Israeli aspirations for better relations with the Arab world and the Emirates on the security, economic and cultural levels”, underlines the influential UAE ambassador, whose country is at the forefront of global warming diplomatic efforts underway between the Gulf monarchies (Saudi Arabia, Oman, Kuwait) and Israel. United by a common fear of Iran, Abu Dhabi, Riyadh and Tel Aviv have gradually become objective allies against the Islamic Republic.
Read also Israel and the Arab Gulf countries: a diplomatic revolution
If they do not officially maintain diplomatic relations, in the absence of a resolution of the thorny Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the three countries cooperate in particular on the level of intelligence vis-a-vis the “destabilizing activities” of Iran in the region. Most of these discussions may remain secret, but some public signs clearly illustrate this paradigm shift in the Middle East. On May 19, a direct flight by Etihad Airlines connected Abu Dhabi and Tel Aviv for the first time. Chartered by the United Nations, the cargo plane contained medical aid intended for the Palestinian territories within the framework of the fight against Covid-19. The humanitarian operation was repeated on June 9.
“In the interest of Israel”
Already in November 2018, the former Israeli Minister of Culture and Sports Miri Regev accompanied the national judo team to Abu Dhabi, which participated for the first time in the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam in Israeli colors. A month earlier, former Israeli communications minister Ayoub Kara had gone to Dubai to participate in an international conference on telecommunications, at the invitation of his UAE counterpart.
“Much of this progress that will be highlighted when an Etihad flight lands at Ben-Gurion airport or when an Israeli athlete competes in Abu Dhabi and Dubai will be made more difficult,” said Ambassador Youssef al-Otaiba, in a video interview with the UAE daily The National. “The change in attitude you have witnessed – people less hostile towards Israel – could be undermined by the decision to annex. “
Read also Abu Dhabi-Tel Aviv: a flight for history
Questioned by Le Point, a diplomatic source from the Gulf recalls the many areas in which Israelis and Arabs could strengthen their cooperation. “Located at the gateway to Israel, the Gulf represents all of the region’s economic, military and political capital. These countries could intensify their exchanges on the security, economic, commercial, scientific level and make it possible to increase the tolerance of Judaism in the region “, underlines the source, who indulges in this confidence:” I would have thought that it would be in Israel’s interest to have better relations with the Arab Gulf States. “
Cantilevered Arab countries
But on a triple charge of corruption, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was appointed in May to head a national emergency government along with the former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz sees the annexation of the West Bank from July 1 as a unique opportunity to permanently mark the history of his country, especially since his ally Donald Trump is no longer certain of winning the presidential election next November. On condition of anonymity, an expert living in the Gulf is astonished that the considerations of internal policy of the Hebrew State prevail over its long-term security.
Read also Why the Trump plan embarrasses Arab countries
The year 2020, however, promised to be under other auspices for the Arab-Israeli relationship. Strengthened by their privileged relationship with the Trump administration, Mohammed ben Zayed (MBZ), the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, and Mohammed ben Salmane (MBS), the all-powerful prince of Saudi Arabia, had discreetly accompanied the efforts of Jared Kushner, son-in-law and special adviser to the President, aiming to concoct his “peace plan” on the Middle East. At the end of January, Youssef al-Otaiba, the Ambassador of the United Arab Emirates to the United States, was even present at the White House to attend the revelation of the document.
Read also Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law who became bis vice president
Netanyahu’s campaign promise
However, this “agreement of the century”, in reality, paved the way for the Israeli annexation of the West Bank, campaign promise by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, content with a hypothetical Palestinian state landlocked under certain strict conditions. Above all, he put the Arab countries of the Gulf at odds with their public opinion, always sensitive to the Palestinian question, forcing them to backtrack.
Read also “The peace plan of Trump can bring us to war “
“We have been supporting peace efforts in the Middle East for years, but remain enthusiastic supporters of the Palestinian people and the peace initiative of the Arab world”, recalls in his tribune Youssef al-Otaiba, with reference to the Saudi proposal in 2002 according to which the Arab states said they were ready to normalize their diplomatic relations with Israel in exchange for a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders (therefore without the Israeli settlements in the West Bank and the occupied Golan, editor’s note).
Risk of “major conflict”
In an attempt to bring Israel to reason and to abandon its unilateral annexation project, Anwar Gargash, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, assured on Twitter that his country was implementing “all possible diplomatic means to to face this stage and all the risks it entails for peace and stability in the region ”. “No one overestimates the influence of the United Arab Emirates,” said the diplomatic source from the Gulf. “It’s just to make sure that the Israelis fully understand the choice they have to make. “
في خضم القلق العربي والدولي الكبير تجاه القرار الاسرائيلي المتوقع بضم أراضي فلسطينية وبصورة غير شرعية وتصعيدية, اختارت الامارات أن تتحرك بكل السبل الدبلوماسية المتاحة لمواجهة هذه الخطوة بكل ما تحمله من مخاطر على مسار السلام وإستقرار المنطقة.
– د. أنور قرقاش (@AnwarGargash) June 12, 2020
Other Arab states, which nevertheless officially recognize the state of Israel, have indeed been less diplomatic. In an interview on May 15 with the German weekly Der Spiegel, King Abdullah of Jordan, whose country risks being destabilized by an annexation of the West Bank, warned the Hebrew State of a “major conflict” if it took the plunge.