Since 13 August, when the normalisation deal between the UAE and Israel was announced, people from both countries have sought to benefit from new opportunities. There are, though, other goals within the reality of normalisation.
According to US President Donald Trump, who brokered the UAE deal and a similar one with Bahrain, they mark “the dawn of a new Middle East.” At a normalisation gathering at the White House, he added, “We’re here this afternoon to change the course of history.” His words were echoed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
When, in October, the UAE, US and Israel announced the establishment of the Abraham Fund, a media statement explained that the three parties would mobilise more than $3 billion in private sector-led investment and development initiatives to promote regional economic cooperation and prosperity in the Middle East and beyond. UAE Minister of State Ahmed Ali Al Sayegh said that the Fund “reflects the desire of the three countries to put the wellbeing of people first, regardless of their creed or identity.” The UAE, he insisted, “is confident the initiative can be a source of economic and technological strength for the region, while simultaneously improving the lives of those who need the most support.”
Others like the CEO of the US International Development Finance Corporation, Adam Boehler, and the Director-General of the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office, Ronen Peretz, also stressed the economic benefits of the deal.
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The Abraham Fund has led to the UAE and Israel signing multiple memorandums of understanding, including one on the use and development of the Eilat Ashkelon Pipeline Company (EAPC) infrastructure. Israeli and Emirati media reported that this step should open up access for the UAE to the European oil market.
However, Nikolay Kozhanov, a Research Associate Professor at Qatar University’s Gulf Studies Centre, injected a note of caution when he said that, “Such statements are somewhat inconsistent with reality.” Besides Russian plans to dominate the EAPC oil market, he explained, “The practical effect of Emirati access to the EAPC infrastructure will be much less than what is being claimed.” He stated that the UAE could only export between “100 to 160 thousand barrels per day,” stressing that “this is small and cannot realise much profit.”
Last month, the Israeli Tourism Minister issued 29 pages of Hebrew-language guidance advising Israeli tourism professionals and businesspeople how to deal with the expected 100,000 tourists from the UAE in the coming years. Many are expected to visit Al-Aqsa Mosque, which is the third holiest place in Islam.
One section of the guidance “reviews the importance of Jerusalem in the eyes of the residents of the UAE and the ceremonies that pilgrims from there and the Arab Gulf in general will seek to hold therein.” It also states that many of the tourists from the UAE fly to Makkah during the holy month of Ramadan, many of whom will probably visit Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque as well.
“Emiratis prefer to fly to places that can guarantee them… places of worship — mosques — places with restaurants defined as halal and a population with an affinity for the Arabic language or Islamic identity,” the guidance points out. “In this respect, Israel can address all the aspirations of the Emirati citizens as a destination for long or short vacations.”
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Israel is apparently keen to show that it cares about Muslim worship, as far as potential Emirati tourists are concerned at least. That is one of the stated aims of normalisation. Why, though, is there no MoU giving economic privileges to the UAE equal to those afforded to Israel? Why is Israel promoting religious tourism based on attracting Emirati Muslim tourists to Al-Aqsa Mosque, when it knows that there are fanatical Israeli organisations preparing to demolish the Noble Sanctuary of Al-Aqsa, including the mosques within the sanctuary, and build a Jewish temple in its place?
Palestinian worshippers are routinely banned from praying in Al-Aqsa, while illegal settlers are not only encouraged to enter the sanctuary fully armed to perform religious rituals, but also do so protected by the Israeli army and police. Settlers have taken over most of the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron, which is often closed to Muslims during Jewish festivals. Is there a UAE-Israel Memorandum of Understanding about that too?
Such a hypocritical approach is also evident in the fact that the guidance for Israeli tourist companies tells them not to speak about democracy, the authoritarian royal families in the Gulf or the UAE’s treatment of foreign workers when in the UAE or accompanying Emirati tourists in Israel. Values are put aside in order to exploit the other party even while Israel claims to be the most moral and democratic country in the Middle East, and its new best friend is the enemy of morality and democracy.
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Gideon Levy is a fearless columnist for Haaretz who does not consider Israel to be a democratic state as long as it is occupying Palestinian territories. He told me that Israel is making ties with an undemocratic state to serve its own interests. It is thus obvious that Israel and its allies are lying when they claim to be trying to develop the region and promote human rights.
Israeli human rights lawyer Eitay Mack believes that normalisation between the UAE and Israel is an opportunity for Israel to get money of the Emirates, not to share wealth and prosperity. “If you want to go to the UAE, and have a collaboration with them, don’t talk about anything that would light a fuse,” Eitay explained. That’s what people are being told. In order to “bring all their money,” he said, the government guidance tells Israelis to “stay silent” about rights abuses in the UAE.
When asked how normalisation with the UAE will serve regional peace, Netanyahu answered: “The deal connects the UAE with Israel; both of them are advanced democracies and their societies are advanced.” When his hypocrisy was pointed out, he deleted the same remarks which he had posted on Twitter.
One Israel journalist who is a member of Netanyahu’s Likud Party told me that there is an undeclared security attachment to the deal. When I asked other Israelis about the deal, I was told that it was just a “bridge” to reach bigger goals in the region. Israel is casting a very large net over the region, while the Arabs are sleepwalking to oblivion. Israel only cares about Muslim prayers when there is economic benefit in doing so.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.