Israel - UAE Pact 2020

This is a political analysis of the Israel-UAE Pact 2020, which was announced by the American President Donald Trump on Thursday, August 13, 2020. 

Though the author of this article has his own strong Christian views, this is prepared unbiased.

The two Arab nations which has signed a peace pact with Israel are Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994. The United Arab Emirates is the third Arab country and the first Gulf country to enter into a pact with Israel. And it has happened 25 years after the Jordan treaty.

To prepare this study, I have referred to materials, news and articles published in international and national newspapers, magazines and Christian periodicals like, The New York Times, The Daily, The Washington Post, Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Christianity Today, Los Angeles Times, Israel HAYOM, Jewish Virtual Library, The Jerusalem Post etc. I express my indebtedness towards them.

 What is the pact?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed of the United Arab Emirates and de facto ruler of the United Arab Emirates, have announced a peace agreement, with the intention of formalizing normal relationship between two countries. The pact will be known as “Abraham accord,” after the figure common to Judaism, Islam and Christianity.

According to the pact, Israel and UAE will have diplomatic and economic relations. Israel will suspend the annexation of the West Bank.

Israel and the Emirates have long maintained veiled relationship over mutual interests. The idea of formalizing the relationship come up several times over the past year.

For the last six weeks before the announcement made by the American president, Donald Trump, they had indirect talks between, through Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser to the White House. As a result the two nations have come to an agreement for peace and cooperation.

No treaty is yet signed between the two nations. The US President plans to arrange a celebratory, historical ceremony in the White House this year itself.

The agreement is a paradigm shift from the old “land for peace” formula to a “peace for peace, and peace via strength”.

What will follow the pact?

 Beyond formalizing a normal relationship between the two countries, what does this deal actually do? And what do both sides get and give up? What do we expect in future as an outcome of the agreement?

Throughout its 72-year history, Israel has been in conflict with most of its neighbors. Israel has fought four major wars with coalitions of Arab states that pledged to wipe away Israel. But the Arab coalitions always failed. Israel had diplomatic relations with only two Arab countries, Egypt and Jordan. All other Arab nations hesitated to recognize the Jewish state. 

According to the agreement, they shall open an embassy and have an ambassador in the other nation. From 2015 Israel has an informal diplomatic liaison office that works in the shadow of the International Renewable Energy Agency in the Emirates. It will be replaced by an official embassy, and an Israeli flag will fly in that country.

Flights will be allowed between the countries. Security cooperation between the nations and trading will deepen. Israeli companies will be able to operate in the UAE, and Israelis will be able to fly directly to the Emirates using their Israeli passports.

Flights from Abu Dhabi to Tel Aviv are also planned to bring pilgrims to visit the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.

Politically, the two nations are aligning strategically against a common foe, Iran. Other Gulf countries may follow the agreement.

On 16 August 2020, just after the announcement of the pact in Washington, Israel and the UAE inaugurated direct telephone services. The Emirati company APEX National Investment and Israel's Tera Group signed an agreement to partner in research on COVID-19. This is the first business deal signed between companies of the two nations after the normalization.

The director of Mossad Yossi Cohen arrived in the UAE on 18 August to discuss security cooperation, regional developments as well as issues that concerned both countries with the National Security Advisor Tahnoun bin Zayed Al Nahyan. This marked the first visit of an Israeli official since the announcement of the deal.

The Gulf countries is the birthplace and guardian of Sunni Islam. So they have a separate interest in securing its hegemony in the region.

The normalization of relationship with Israel may help the UAE to access US-Israeli intelligence and military technology.

Israel is increasing its friends among the Arab neighbors. U.A.E. has great influence over Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is the leading Arab country in the Gulf. Israel longs to obtain recognition and normal relations from Saudi Arabia. And political analysts say that the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s de facto ruler, would like join the group. But he is refrained by the religious conservative groups in his country. It says that his father too is not happy with Israel.

Oman and Bahrain may follow the Emirates in formalizing relations with Israel. Morocco and Sudan might also seek to establish diplomatic relations with Israel.

Annexation of West Bank

 The central point in this pact is the status quo of West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu had said before that he is planning to annex West Bank to the state of Israel. As a vital condition of the agreement, Israel is suspending its annexation plans.

As I said before, U.A.E. has been maintaining a veiled friendly relationship with Israel for a long time. But the Palestine issue was a hindrance to open relations. The Arab countries in general hold the view that Israel is oppressing the Palestinians and illegally occupying their lands.  So UAE could not open relationship with Israel without a general consensus among the gulf countries in this matter.

From the early days of the Trump administration, they have proposed many solutions to the Palestine issue. They were always in favor of Israel. It suggested a Palestine state with little authority, very much like a vassal state of Israel. But Palestinians rejected it.

And so Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu declared the annexation plan of the Israeli settlement area in the West Bank. But President Trump was not happy with this move. European Union and all Arab nations opposed it. Annexation will close all future opportunity for a peaceful settlement of the issue. It was a red line for the Arabs in the peace process with Israel. No Arab country could publicly cross the line.

Jared Kushner stepped into this situation. Now who is Jared Kushner?

Jared Corey Kushner is an American investor, real estate developer and the owner of the newspaper, the New York Observer. He is the son in law of President Trump, the husband of Ivanka Trump.

His grandparents were Jews who escaped narrowly from the concentration camp of Hitler. So it is natural that he has a softness for Israel and an influence over it. Kushner is now the senior White House adviser.

When Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu announced the annexation plans, Kushner for the President, stepped into the matter and told Netanyahu to stop it. Thus Netanyahu had already put his annexation plans on hold, at least until the U.S. presidential election in November 2020.

But this incident opened UAE and opportunity to make a bargain to Israel. The bargain was that U.A.E. shall normalize relations with Israel if they give up the annexation plan. Thus each side gave up something and came to an agreement publicly.

The pact is a sort of a classic diplomatic trade. A give and take trade.


UAE officially states that they have huge concerns about the Palestinians. The deal is an expression of it. They claimed to have extracted a promise from the Israelis to suspend Netanyahu’s election promises to the Jewish settlers to annex West Bank.

Many nations and political groups across the world has appreciated the agreement. Still there are nations and groups in the Middle East that belongs to both sides, who have opposed this pact. The Israeli settlers in the West Bank area and their political allies were expecting an Israeli sovereignty over the area. They are badly disappointed by the agreement.

Israel has kept the annexation in suspension for time being. So there is no immediate threat to the Palestinians there. But they feel abandoned by Arab nations. So, in protest, the Palestinian ambassador to the Emirates was recalled. Ahmad Majdalani, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Executive Committee, called it: “This is a black day in the history of Palestine.” He continues that, this agreement is a total departure from the Arab consensus. The Palestinian people have not authorized anyone to make concessions to Israel in exchange for anything.

Within the Arab region, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, and Oman publicly welcomed the Abraham Accord. Saudi Arabia has remained silent.

Iran, Qatar, and Turkey have criticized the accord. Turkey has threatened to withdraw its ambassador from Abu Dhabi.

The Iranian factor

In a sense, this pact is against Iran. Iran is the worst loser in the deal. It is a step forward to the formation of a united front against Iran. If the movement gets momentum to gather more Arab nations, Iran will have a bigger enemy alliance of the Gulf States and Israel. It may change equations in the Middle East.

UAE and other Gulf States share the same threat from Iran due to the Muslim Sunni-Shia divide. 

Politically, the Iranian regional aggression has brought the Arab nations and Israel closer together.

The major concern is Iran’s nuclear policy. Israel, Arab nations and the US suspect its secret plans to develop nuclear weapons.

So Israel and the Gulf countries prefer the presence of the US military in the region. It can help the power balance in the Middle East.

And U.S. has put forth conditions for the sale of F-35 jets and drones to the U.A.E. The condition was to normalize the relation with Israel. Arab states in the Gulf Cooperation Council viewed the purchases of American weapons as an informal defense pact that oblige the U.S. to protect them militarily.

America’s interest in the Arab region is to prevent the region falling under the Persian dominion.  The Gulf countries also fear an Iranian invasion directly or through pseudo war. That is why the annexation of West Bank became secondary to the Gulf nations.

Moreover, UAE has been in no friendly terms with Qatar and Turkey. Both these nations are supported by Iran.

 The Route Map to the Pact

 The actual route to the present Israel UAE agreement is long. So to make is shot, let us start it at a point in 2002.

In 2002, the Saudi-led Arab Peace Initiative promised normalization of relations with Israel. In exchange they demanded Israel to oblige to three conditions.

1.      Israel has to withdraw from the occupied territories at West Bank.

2.      It should come to a just settlement for Palestinian refugees and establishment a Palestinian state.

3.      East Jerusalem must be the capital of the Palestine state.

This proposal was endorsed by the Arab League and the Palestinian Authority supported it. But Israel disagreed.

The Arab region has politically changed a lot after this proposal. During the period that followed, the UAE and some other Gulf states secret relations with Israel.

For the Sunni Arab states in the Gulf area, Iran is a greater enemy than Israel. Tension with Iran kept on increasing. Though they have sympathies with Palestinians, they have always sought for an alliance against Iran.

And now, UAE has taken a different path.

The seeds of the relationship were planted during a U.S.-led anti-Iran conference in February 2019 in Warsaw. It was a conference without much preparation. Many European nations sent only bureaucrats as representative to the meeting. Though media reported that the meeting was a failure, it paved the first step to the UAE-Israel pact.

The Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, has been trying to improve the relations with the Gulf States for years. Its director, Yossi Cohen, has met frequently with the counterparts in the Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt.

At the initiative of Cohen, Sultan Qaboos bin Said of Oman hosted Netanyahu for a state visit in 2018. The Kingdom of Bahrain hosted a White House-led conference last year. Its intention was to promote Trump’s plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Yossi Cohen has made several secret trips in the past year to the Emirates to enhance cooperation between the nations. The outbreak of the coronavirus created new opportunities for cooperation.

Israel wanted more medical equipment to fight against the virus. And at the initiative of the Mossad, a secret flight from UAE came to Israel with necessary medical equipments. An Etihad cargo flight, painted in all white and without any marking, landed at Ben-Gurion Airport on Tuesday, 19 May 2020, just after 9 p.m. It carried 16 tons of coronavirus aid. It was supplied by the UAE in the pretense of help to Palestinians to cope with COVID-19 pandemic. A team to set up a lab also arrived from the Emirates.

On June 9, 2020, a second Etihad Airlines plane with Etihad logo and United Arab Emirates flag, brought another shipment of medical supplies.

But the Palestinian Authority refused the aid, because it had come through Israel. The supplies were transferred to the UN for distribution in the Gaza Strip.

But UAE refrained from publically announcing a cooperation even in the battle against the pandemic.

The root of the pact goes to another incident also. It may be traced to the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington. The terrorists behind the 9/11 attack used Dubai as a middle point to transfer funds. This fact, when it became public, posed a danger to the credibility of the UAE as the Middle East’s premier financial center. UAE suddenly realized the danger and quickly sought the help of Israel to develop the cyber security software. Gradually this relationship grew over the past two decades. 

Business dealings spread from computer surveillance and airport security into shipping, desalination, agricultural technology, real estate, and tourism.

The COVID-19 epidemic gave another opportunity for the UAE’s to support and gain access to Israeli research into a vaccine and treatment.

UAE has been dreaming to grow into a bigger regional role. Along with all these, the Iranian threat, the Palestinian issue, and pressure from Washington all played a role in the peace deal.

The business and financial relations, access to the Israeli civilian defense and intelligence technology also laid the groundwork for the deal. UAE will gain a lot in this area.

 The impetus

The sudden impetus to the agreement was an article published on June 12, by the UAE ambassador to the United States, Yousef Al Otaiba, published in Israel’s most widely-circulated newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth. The article was in Hebrew. It is a warning to the Israeli government against its annexation plans as well as an offer for the normalization of ties between Israel and UAE.  

It was turning point for the US administration and they proposed to Israel a normalization without annexation. Both the Emiratis and Israelites were open to the idea. Talks then proceeded through Jared Kushner, the president Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser to the White House.The negotiations were in secret. A preliminary agreement was reached a week ago and final details completed on Wednesday.

 The winners and losers

The agreement provided diplomatic victories for the Emirates, Netanyahu and Trump. The big losers are the Palestinians. The larger picture is that the Arab world is moving closer to Israel.

Israel and Netanyahu

In Israel, Prime Minister Netanyahu has been leading a fragile coalition government. He is facing corruption charges also. His annexation promise has been a repeated promise throughout the past three elections. And it has lost its attraction. Moreover, US administration has already asked him to stop the plan. The public was angry against Netanyahu’s handling of the coronavirus crisis. Thousands of Israelis were protesting against him on the streets. If another election happens, there were no chance for him to success. But now, he has something positive to campaign on. Even his domestic rivals have applauded the pact.

Netanyahu has long declared himself as the protector of Israel's interests, and the only Israeli leader capable of making dramatic moves on the global stage. He has been arguing for long that Israel can and should maintain diplomatic relations across the Middle East without making concessions to the Palestinians or withdrawing from territory. But Israel’s allies and neighbors told him that to make peace with the Middle East, he should give up the West bank.

This accord proves that Netanyahu is right. Now he finds a place in the short list of Israeli leaders who have signed a treaty with Arab states. He is joining the ranks of Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Rabin. 

Internationally, Israel gains another achievement by giving up the prospect of annexation of the West Bank. Annexation was a bone of contention between Israel, USA and the European countries. Now Israel is in a better position to improve relationship with them also.

Donald Trump

The American President, Donald Trump is receiving effusive praise from his friends. Robert C. O’Brien, the White House national security adviser, even proclaimed that the president should get the Nobel Peace Prize.

Trump is about to face the election in November 2020 and was not in a good position against his rival. The agreement has given him certain mileage to victory.

In the election campaign in America, the relation with Israel comes up often. Trump is already known as a staunch ally of the Netanyahu government. Now he has become the regional peacemaker.

Trump hopes that the pact will shore up his support among the Christian evangelicals.

United Arab Emirates

So far, UAE have neither been in the forefront of peace-making diplomacy. They had no good relationship with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Still, the Crown Prince Mohammad bin Zayed and other Emirate leaders believe that Israeli annexation would put an end to the idea of the two state solution to the Israeli-Palestine conflict. So they chose normalization as a better potion.

The better gain is that the Emirates and other Arab nations could keep away Iran and Turkey from the peace process.

The deal has positioned UAE as a diplomatic leader in the Gulf region. It could also bring an influx of Israeli tourists and money to UAE. The relationship will help the collaboration on medical and other research program.

The agreement also would give UAE access to unlimited U.S. weaponry, such as advanced drones.

These weapons had been denied to them to maintain Israel’s qualitative military edge. The United States supplied advanced weapons to Egypt after President Anwar Sadat made peace with Israel. Similarly, Jordan got F-16 war planes after King Hussein signed a peace treaty with Israel. And UAE also will be benefited with military weapons.


This pact is a mixed bag of good and evil for the Palestinians.

Suspension of annexation of the West Bank would seem a blessing for the Palestinians. A disastrous outcome is avoided. If Israel annexed the West bank, almost 30 percent of the territory of Palestine state would be lost. It would not only reduce the size of the state but also weaken the state.

But they are not gaining anything new by this agreement. The West Bank area is still with them. Only a threatening annexation was in air.

But Palestinian leaders have opposed normalization of relations between Israel and Arab states. Such peace process would support the Jewish occupation at West Bank. So they have rejected the agreement calling it “dangerous”.

The statehood of Palestine recognized by Israel has been a prerequisite for recognition of Israel by many of these Arab states. But now, Palestine is watching UAE holding the hand of peace with Israel without a deal that would give Palestine a statehood.

This gives a new message to the Palestinians: the Arab states have other priorities on their agenda than the interests of the Palestinians. Nobody is going to wait for them. The Arab nations prefer their security and progress. Their posture of never initiating or offering counter proposals to negotiations will weaken their position more.

And the Palestinians feel betrayed.

 Abraham Accord

So far we have been discussing what the UAE-Israel agreement really is, the route map to the agreement, and the winners and losers in the game.

Now let us move to another side of the agreement. This agreement should be understood against the backdrop of the political and religious movements going on in the Middle East.

It is interesting to note that the first Arab-Israeli peace deal since 1994 is named by the President Donald Trump as “Abraham Accord”. The accord will be known after the great Patriarch, Abraham.

Abraham is not only the father of faith to the Jews, he is the father to the Muslims and Christians. He is referred to as ‘Abraham’ in the Christian faith, ‘Ibrahim’ in the Muslim faith, and ‘Avraham’ in the Jewish faith. No other historical character can symbolize the unity among these three great faiths.

Though unnoticed by the world, some evangelical leaders were also engaged in behind-the-scenes advocacy. Johnnie Moore, and the novelist Joel Rosenberg, have led evangelical delegations to the UAE since 2018. Moore has personally visited UAE three more times. They also led two delegations to Saudi Arabia.

His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the UAE, proclaimed the year 2019 to be the "The Year of Tolerance" in the UAE. He declared UAE as the global capital for tolerance. He expressed his desire to entrench the values of tolerance, dialogue, coexistence and openness to different cultures. UAE would reject extremism and promote coexistence.

And in 2019, between 3 and 5 February, Pope Francis visited the United Arab Emirate. This historic visit that lasted for three days was the first of its kind in the Middle East.

Religious freedom was on the agenda when Pope met the largest-ever Christian gathering in the heart of Islam. A document called, the Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together was signed by Pope Francis and the Grand Imam Ahmed El-Tayeb in February 2019.

And in commemoration of the event, UAE’s Higher Committee of Human Fraternity announced the inauguration of the Abrahamic Family House, dedicated to interfaith harmony. Abrahamic Family House is a complex that will house a Christian church, Jewish synagogue, an Muslim mosque and an educational center. The design of the project was unveiled in New York in 2019 itself. It will be built on an island Saadiyat Island, the cultural heart of Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.The project is currently under construction and is expected to complete in 2020.

 These movements were messages to the world that the Arab nations are changing.

In 1995, the US Congress voted to move the US embassy to Jerusalem. But both the Republican and the Democratic parties resisted the move, afraid of a deadly violence. But on December 6, 2017, US President Donald Trump announced the United States recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. He ordered to relocate the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. On 14 May 2018 Trump moved the US embassy to Jerusalem, to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the Israeli Declaration of Independence. On March 25, 2019 Trump recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. President Trump also envisions further protection for minority Christian populations in the Arab nations.

Christian Evangelicals

The US Evangelicals were instrumental in bringing the peace deal to a reality. More than any president prior, Trump has respected evangelical opinion.

For the Evangelicals, the occupied West Bank is the biblical lands of Judea and Samaria. And they believe Israel has a historic right to the land. So they disagree with the term, annexation.

John Hagee, the pastor and founder of Christians United for Israel (CUFI), stands for a public normalization of relationship between Israel and Arab nations. CUFI was among the first Christian organization to applaud the pact. They believe that Jews must be supported to return to their homeland. Jewish return to their land would fulfil biblical prophecy about the return of Jesus.

Evangelical leader Joel Rosenberg said that “Evangelicals want Israel to be safer, stronger and more peaceful, not necessarily bigger.”

Though most Evangelicals believe in the Bible prophecy that indicates that one day Israel will have all the land that was promised to Abraham in the Bible, they prefer peace in the Middle East than the annexation of West Bank.

To many evangelicals God promised the land of Israel to the Jews and to the Jews alone.

The belief is based on the covenant God made with Abraham, as described in the Book of Genesis in the Bible. “The whole land of Canaan, where you now reside as a foreigner, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you" (Genesis 17:8).

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