Part II Israeli and the UAE: The Frame

As a simple commentator on its contents and apparent benefits and shortcomings, the initial blog (Part I), slightly edited, depicted the agreement between Israel and the United Arab Republic (UAE). In the following series of blogs, I want to re-examine the pact in more depth and at several steps removed, not simply because a few weeks have passed since the parties signed on and Israeli and American delegations have visited Abu Dhabi, but I want to rise above the fray and examine the conflicting interpretations and responses to the agreement.

First, a few basic facts. The UAE, the Emirates, is a federation of seven absolute monarchies ruling seven political entities – Abu Dhabi (the capital), Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ros Al Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm Al Quwain. They are combined into a federation that was created in 1971 when the polities emerged from their status as British protectorates. Qatar and Bahrain declined to join the federation; neither will follow the UAE in entering an agreement with Israel at the present time in spite of the ballyhoo to the contrary.

Emir Sheik Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani reiterated to Jared Kushner in Doha on 2 September that Qatar, which itself has been the target of an embargo by the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Egypt (denying Qatar access to their air space), remains committed to a two-state solution as a condition of a peace deal with Israel and that his country backs the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, calling on Israel to withdraw to its pre-1967 borders (the Green Line) in exchange for diplomatic recognition from Arab states. Bahrain, which is an ally of the UAE, followed with its own announcement that there would be no deal until Palestine was recognized as a state, but this did not stop the country (as well as Oman) continuing negotiations on trade and security arrangements.

Given the Trump Peace to Prosperity proposal for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that is based on a spaghetti configuration of borders, the UAE, in contrast to Qatar or Bahrain, can easily identify with that situation given its own past struggle with its internal and external borders. Unlike most states which envisioned the enclave idea and borders in the proposed Trump peace deal that were three times as long as the existing borders as a supposedly impossible mishmash, the Emirates were not discombobulated by the complexity of the plan, even as they continued to insist that the Green Line had to be the reference point for resolving the border between an Israeli and a Palestinian state. The UAE also had its own struggles with external as well as internal borders.

The UAE is a Sunni regime that borders Iran to the north, a Shiite regime with hegemonic ambitions in the Middle East. Qatar lies to the west, Oman to the east and Saudi Arabia to the south and west. Iranian ambitions go back long before the current religious regime for Iran has long claimed territory it once controlled during the Safavid empire. The day before independence in 1971, an Iranian destroyer group took the Tunb islands that had been part of the UAE, forcing the population to flee. Sheikh Khalid bin Mohammed Qasimi was also forced by the Shah of Iran to cede the island of Abu Musa to Iran for $3 million a year. The UAE border with Oman was not settled until 2008. The UAE and Saudi Arabia have never formally settled their dispute over the Buraimi Oasis.

The UAE is also a minnow in a sea of political whales with a population of only about ten million (the UN estimates the 1 July 2020 population at 9,890,402), roughly a similar size to Israel (UN estimate 8,655,535). However, in the case of the UAE, just 15% are Emirati citizens; the rest are ex-pats.

Perhaps the most important comparison of the UAE and Israel is in their respective ambitions. Israel is a research gold star. It has more Nobel Prizes per capita than the United States, France and Germany. Israel has eight universities and a host of other post-secondary institutions. It is recognized as the “start-up nation” with more hi-tech start-ups per capita than anywhere else and second only to the U.S. in absolute numbers, an astounding performance for a country of less than nine million. Look at this sample list of a myriad of innovations:

  • The USB drive
  • The Firewall, a cornerstone of cyber security to protect against malware
  • The SniffPhone that can detect cancerous tumours, Parkinson’s dementia, multiple sclerosis and other diseases
  • Re-Walk, the battery pack exoskeleton for paraplegics to enable them to walk
  • The PillCam, the swallowable miniature camera to diagnose infection, intestinal disorders and cancers in the digestive system
  • The flexible stent used to open up arteries to treat coronary heart disease and blockages
  • Azilect, a drug for Parkinson’s disease
  • Copaxone immunomodulator to treat multiple sclerosis.

These are but a few of the many discoveries in mathematics, computer science, chemistry, biotechnology, physics, robotics, optics, economics, agriculture and, of course, defence, including the iron dome system to protect Israel from missile attacks. The UAE has for years admired Israel’s education and research accomplishments, It recognizes that this is not because it is populated by Jews, for Druzim teenagers now perform the best on competitive Israeli examinations. Sheikh Zayed, ruler of Abu Dabai, developed the UAE into a transportation (both aviation and maritime) and business hub and used the country’s oil and gas revenues to develop first class educational and health systems as well as infrastructure. The rulers of the UAE envision many possible synergies between the two countries, including tourism that, until the COVID-19 crisis, has expanded so much in Israel.

I now offer an intellectual frame for analyzing the agreement and the different perspectives on it, a framework that goes back to my work as a graduate student. I then called it the dialectic of correlative coherence, but kept this title hidden as too pompous as I utilized parts of that frame to undertake analyses. If you are put off my abstract theory, a reader can skip the rest of this blog and simply go directly to the analysis that begins with the next blog tomorrow.

At its most basic level, there are diachronic and synchronic elements. The two diachronic dimensions are: a) a divided one of before and after; and b) a uniting one of from here to there, say from birth to death or from independence to collapse. The first is a clear point of division in time. The second is a continuity over time flowing from past to future.

There is a general consensus that the UAE-Israeli accord  is a game changer, that for Palestinians totally upset at the agreement, it is the trigger in a development long underway and under the radar that has awoken them up to an over-reliance on Arab states and Arab initiatives in the peace process. They themselves have to change course. For Israeli peaceniks, it is an important milestone after 26 years since the Jordanian and the 42-year-old Egyptian peace agreement. It is the first peace agreement between a non-belligerent non-frontline Arab state and Israel. Further, instead of just grudging acceptance of Israel, the UAE-Israel Agreement envisions a much broader and deeper relationship. For Israeli (and American) realists, it is proof positive that peace can be advanced by end runs rather than trying to get butting heads to back up and take a different route.

The diachronic dividing line can be correlated with a birth of a nation out of conflict and moving towards peace, either as a result of the demonstration of strength (Netanyahu) or a substantive change in attitude toward Israel by Arab regimes, or, in the case of Palestinian critics, away from the sidetrack of the fruitless negotiations of Oslo, that brought them no nearer to a state of their own, towards a renewal of resistance and possible violence. Thus, the analysis is supplemented and complemented by a synchronic analysis. The first is an inside/outside frame. Normally, in conflict analysis, there are allies (the inside) versus enemies (the outside). In the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the inside refers to the core of the conflict over land and the outside to relations between Israel and other Arab states with which Israel has no dispute over territory. The inside meant pursuing a land for peace deal and the outside, now that Jordan and Egypt have made deals long ago, a peace for peace deal without any land being exchanged.

On the synchronic side, we have the above identical view various groups examining the deal – it represented a switch from an inside/outside approach to an outside/outside one. But there is another synchronous frame that reveals the greatest difference among different commentators. As above, I have taken only three groups: Palestinians who are severe critics of the deal; peaceniks (Israeli and diaspora) presumably detached but who offer qualified applause for the agreement; agents (Israeli, Arab, American) that pushed the deal and offer their enthusiastic support. All three groups analyze the deal in terms of winners and losers, who came out on top and who appear to be losers. 

The synchronic dimension that focuses on inside/outside has universal agreement; this is a peace for peace deal that inverts the discussions of the last 75 years of agreements based on land for peace. Previously the core of the debate was how much land, including possibly all of it for extremists on either side, needed to be traded for peace. We now have an agreement that required no land to be surrendered. But each group of commentators has a different view of the winners and losers.

In sum, as the base of the frame, we have:

Diachronic:  a) before/after – a point of divide

                   b) beginning and end – a lineal connection

Synchronic: a) inside/outside, a process of inversion – peace for peace versus land for peace

              b) above and below as the parties are torn between a cause to die for, to sacrifice for (desire) and an end to live for (life) in terms of which winners and losers can be determined.

The next level of analysis operates on the political plane in terms of the key players. For Palestinian critics, it is the street, whether the Palestinians in the street who are angry and distraught distinguished by their inept and ossified undemocratic leadership, or the ordinary disenfranchised Arab citizens in the UAE as distinct from their absolute monarchs, the weak Left in Israel as distinct from the imperialistic deceiving Right leadership, or the wider global protest movements – e.g. Black Lives Matter – with whom the Palestinians must ally and to whom they now believe they must appeal in order to emerge victorious.

Then there are those who are neither in the street nor in their posh governing offices. They are ordinary citizens in every case who go about their business largely indifferent to politics, but among them are cohorts that must and can be aroused to join one side or the other. There are also the literati, the journalists, the academics as well as the judicial and administrative observers and assessors of the political dynamic underway who are supposed to be detached from the passions but are determined to influence the average citizen. They bring one type of cerebral approach to their work, but one which is very different than a third group, the political executives, their advisers and cheerleaders who see opportunities and challenges and calculate possibilities as committed agents in the fray. The latter if they are to lead, must combine passion with calculation.

These are the players. But what drives them? What are the end goals of each group and what are their motives? What are their fears and what are their passions? We are not talking just about their hearts and minds, but their guts and, in the end, the thymos or thumos, that for which they are willing to sacrifice, that for which they are willing to live and die. It is the desire for recognition. In the words of the Emirati national anthem, “long live my nation, my country, which I serve sincerely. Long live the flag, we sacrifice our souls for our country.”

Finally, in addition to the political realms within a polity and the socio-psychological analysis of what drives each group, there are the specific issues. I have already indirectly discussed the financial issue and the expected cooperation on tourism, high-tech production, education, research and capital investment. Just before the plane took off to return the Israeli delegation, both sides announced a deal aimed at joint investment and removal of financial barriers, including the recognition of Israeli credit cards in the UAE.

At the most basic level for a polity, there is always territory and access to it. However, this is a case of post-WWII agreements in which once again territory was not the key factor. But didn’t Israel plan to annex parts of the West Bank? Didn’t the initiative by Netanyahu frighten the world that this could be a prelude to war? Did not the Emirates insist on and get a deal in inverse, peace in return for no territory – that is, for Israel? That depends on the interpretation that itself has to be assessed. For how long has annexation been suspended? Was there a side agreement, an exchange of letters? Did the U.S. offer guarantees? Halting and suspending the annexation, taking it off the table, is not the same as cancelling. Most significantly, the English and Arabic accounts of the Israel-UAE agreement differ, the former referring to the “suspension” of the annexation and the latter to the agreement “being stopped.”

If giving up annexation has to be evaluated, the physical linkage between Israel and the UAE was there for everyone to see. An Israeli airline flew over Saudi Arabian air space for the first time to land in Abu Dhabi. Clearly an agreement over landing rights as well as the use of Saudi air space, had to be part of the deal, even if Saudi Arabia was not ostensibly a signatory to the agreement. And it was not. Nevertheless, on 1 September, Saudi Arabia announced that all flights to and from the UAE to Israel will be permitted to use Saudi airspace. Bahrain followed. Was the UAE a stalking horse for a Saudi initiative? Will Oman, Sudan and Bahrain follow in UAE’s footsteps?

At least not very soon, though Bahrain had been expected to be the next state to sign a peace agreement with Israel before the UAE deal was announced. King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa of Bahrain told Jared Kushner that Saudi Arabia was the regional power and that Bahrain would follow, not precede, Saudi Arabia. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman then told Jared Kushner that Saudi Arabia would not make an agreement with Israel until the Palestinians have their own state. But that evidently does not prevent Saudis from engaging in a number of economic partnerships and projects with Israelis, including the creation of a high-tech hub northwest of the Neorn region in Saudi Arabia.

There is another interesting note about that first flight. The plane was named Kiryat Gat. Kiryat Gat was the spot where Israel and Egypt signed an armistice agreement on 24 February 1949. Further, Kiryat Gat was built on the site of the destroyed Palestinian village of Iraq al-Manshiyya from which Palestinians fled to become refugees.

There is another issue concerning place and space. Where will the UAE embassy be located? Everyone, or almost everyone expected it to be in Tel Aviv, but the UAE surprised most observers by announcing that the embassy might be in Haifa or Nazareth with a large Arab-Israeli population. Jerusalem Mayor, Moshe Lion, would not stop pushing Jerusalem. He lobbied to get the UAE to put the embassy in Jerusalem, where he claims, with Israeli incentives and UAE partners, Israel can turn East Jerusalem into a high-tech hub. One additional issue concerns East Jerusalem – access to the Temple Mount.

The Vision for Peace contained a provision that: a) all Muslims who come in peace may visit and pray at Al Aqsa Mosque, and b) Jerusalem’s other holy sites, presumably including the Temple Mount, will remain open to worshippers of all faiths. That means that if Israel decides a Muslim visitor to the mosque poses a threat, that individual can be denied entry. Further, Jews who come in peace are guaranteed access to the Temple Mount.

There is the fourth and most important space issue, that of Iran which borders the UAE and for which Israel is the only formidable rival in the Middle East standing in the way of its hegemonic ambitions. For most observers, that is probably the most important reason that the UAE entered into the deal. We will have to see how various parties interpret the importance of this factor. It seems evident that the UAE is attracted to making a deal to obtain the value of Israel’s nuclear umbrella.

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