Gulf States Leverage New Alliances to Call for Israeli-Palestinian Peace

The current violence between Israel and Gaza is the first major conflict since the signing of the Abraham Accords

{DUBAI} Israel’s new Arab allies remain firm in their rejection of the violence which has escalated this month between Israel and the Palestinians, and they are using their new diplomatic ties under the US-brokered Abraham Accords as a powerful bargaining chip to work to negotiate peace.

The unrest, which manifested itself during the Holy Month of Ramadan as a Jerusalem real estate dispute and escalated into the worst conflict between Israel and Gaza in years, has left at least 48 Palestinians and seven Israelis dead, and hundreds more wounded.

The United Arab Emirates, the first country to normalize relations with the Jewish state, has always been a firm supporter of the Palestinian cause. It was just last summer that the UAE stated its position, calling a halt to Israel’s plans to annex parts of the West Bank, shortly before the accords were announced on August 13.

The new dialogue with Israel has enabled the UAE to better mediate between Israel and the Palestinians.

In spite of allegations of betrayal from pro-Palestinian factions in the wake of the accords, the UAE has remained resolute in its support of the Palestinians and its political leaders have been quick to condemn the unrest, putting responsibility for the violence squarely on the shoulders of Israeli security forces.

It is a test of the strength of the accords, but in no way a sign of their collapse, according to Haisam Hassanein, a US-based policy expert in Arab-Israel relations. It also is the first time since the signing of the Abraham Accords that serious military confrontation between Palestinians and Israel has taken place, making it an opportunity to see the accords in action.

الله يحميكم ويحفظكم، نتمنى ان تنعموا بالسلام في كل مدن اسرائيل قلوبنا معكم
ونحن كلنا معكم في مواجهه الارهاب
تحبة طيبة من السعودية pic.twitter.com/H76lC4h6Jq

— Elat אילת (@bearithme) May 11, 2021

The new relationship between Israel and the UAE, he said, “has opened the door for growing voices in the region that try to make it fail; however, I believe because the terror group Hamas intervened militarily, it will give an opportunity for Israeli diplomacy to explain the complicated situation the Jewish state faces on the ground to its new Arab partners.”

Hassanein believes the current situation is also a valuable test of American diplomacy, to stand in the face of the countries speaking out against the Gulf-Israel normalization and escalating the situation.

“There are certainly those trying to test American boundaries and this is why an American role to stress maintaining the accord between the new peace partners is very important,” he said.

On Tuesday, Dr. Anwar Gargash, diplomatic adviser to UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, condemned Israel’s violence against the Palestinians in a statement on Twitter.

“The UAE stands with the Palestinian rights, with the end of the Israeli occupation, with the two-state solution and with an independent Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital,” he tweeted.

Gargash echoed the sentiments of Khalifa Shaheen Almarar, the UAE’s minister of state, who in a statement to the national news agency, Wam, called on the Israeli authorities to take responsibility for de-escalation, to end all attacks and practices leading to continued tension, and to “preserve the historical identity of occupied Jerusalem.”

Social media has been awash with posts in support of the Palestinians – many from those who would not otherwise share political views so openly in the Gulf. The conflict has touched many people’s hearts and, perhaps due to the signing of the peace accords, brought it much closer to home.

The response from Bahrain, the second Gulf state to sign the accords back in September, has been in line with its neighbors. The country’s small, indigenous Jewish community has remained tight-lipped, however, preferring to distance itself from the escalating crisis.

Bahrain’s Foreign Ministry released a statement Saturday condemning the actions of Israeli security forces in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah and in the Old City of Jerusalem, standing firmly beside their fellow Muslims. But political consultant Ahmed Khuzaie said it does not signal cause for alarm for the newly established diplomatic ties.

“That’s what a healthy relationship should be like, having different views on different matters only strengthens the ties, when communicated in a manner that provides opinions and proposes solutions,” he told The Media Line. He said the result of the disagreement will, in fact, fulfill the purpose of the accords, not the opposite.

This success of the accords can be seen through the changing wave of public opinion, Khuzaie says. “The general population in Bahrain is historically supporting the Palestinians and their cause, and normally they take to the streets in multiple demonstrations with massive numbers, in the thousands,” he said.

شعب البحرين لن يتخلى عن قضيته المركزية قضية فلسطين – منطقة كرانة لن 11 مايو 2021 #القدس_أقرب #البحرين #فلسطين#المسجد_الأقصى #غزة #القدس pic.twitter.com/IOBWN9bD1Q

— Alwefaq Society (@ALWEFAQ) May 11, 2021

“This year, the numbers did not exceed a few hundreds, scattered around a few villages and most of those demonstrators in fact Shiites who have been answering the Ayatollah Khomeini’s call for parades every last Friday of the holy month of Ramadan. Expectations were to see more people this year, considering all that’s happening in Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarah riots, but the reality proved otherwise,” Khuzaie said.

There has, however, been a marked silence from the region’s leaders regarding condemnation of Hamas, which began a rocket barrage on Tel Aviv on Tuesday evening, leaving half the country’s population sitting in bomb shelters. The rocket attacks started on Monday, beginning with a volley of rockets headed for Jerusalem.

Hassanein says there is still a fear of criticizing Hamas directly using a government statement out of concern that it could appear as if that equates to abandoning the Palestinian cause. Criticism instead can be heard through the likes of political commentators which is, he says, a positive step forward in showing the challenges of a nation living with the daily threat of Hamas.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry’s social media team has seen messages of support coming in from Arab countries including Morocco – which joined the accords on December 10, 2020, with one drawing by a young child of the two countries’ flags and a message which read: “Keep your head up, God gives his hardest battles to his strongest soldiers.”

“Stay strong Israel”.
A message of support from our friends in Morocco 🇲🇦🇮🇱 pic.twitter.com/b4HYiIjitZ

— Yonatan Gonen (@GonenYonatan) May 12, 2021

Even from Saudi Arabia, in spite of it not being a signatory to the accords, one Twitter user shared a photo of the flags of Saudi Arabia and Israel merging, with the words: “May God protect you. We hope that you will enjoy peace in all cities of Israel. Our hearts are with you and we are all with you in the face of terrorism. Kind regards from Saudi Arabia.”

According to Morocco World News, Morocco’s Foreign Affairs Minister Nasser Bourita spoke out Tuesday against the incidents in Sheikh Jarrah, where Palestinians have been threatened with eviction from their homes pending a Supreme Court hearing.

In an emergency meeting of Arab League leaders, he said: “We all agree on our categorical rejection of all violations and unilateral measures that harm the legal status of Al-Quds Al-Sharif (Jerusalem) and the legitimate rights of the brotherly Palestinian people in achieving their aspirations for freedom and independence.” He warned that if the hateful rhetoric of Israeli extremists is not quelled, it will further fuel the cycle of violence.

Reaffirming support for the Palestinian cause, he reasserted the kingdom’s commitment to the Palestinian issue, stating that Jerusalem remains “at the forefront of its concerns.”

Hassanein says that, moving forward, there is a sense of hope in dealing with the conflict with the support of a wider group of allies, when there are such high stakes in the new relationships, from economics to military cooperation.

“In general, there have been frustrated views against Israel whenever there is confrontation with the Palestinians, but this time there is a more positive feeling because there is a constituency that believes in the importance of the Abraham Accords, and they understand the role Iran and its proxy Hamas are playing in trying to harm it,” he said.

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