After the normalization deal agreed in August and signed on September 15th, together with Bahrain, brokered by the US, under the name of Abraham Accords, on October 20, 2020, the newly established diplomatic relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates debuted with the first official visit by an Emirati delegation in Tel Aviv, Israel, with the purpose of concluding several agreements between the two countries.
Also, on Sunday, October 18th, delegations from Bahrain, the US, and Israel met in Manama for the signature of a Joint Communique on the Establishment of Diplomatic, Peaceful and Friendly Relations, together with Memorandums of Understanding regarding economic and trade cooperation, air services, agriculture, telecommunications and postal services, visas, financial services, cooperation between Ministries of Foreign Affairs, and cooperation between Chambers of Commerce. In addition, working groups met to discuss a wide range of additional areas for potential cooperation, including healthcare, port services, sports, and culture.
Coming back to the Emirati official visit in Israel, in the presence of US delegates, the meeting led to the signature of a Memorandum of Understanding regarding the mutual visa waiver for Emirati/ Israeli tourists, with an exemption of maximum 90 days per visit. This pact makes the UAE the first Arab state holding a visa waiver with Israel. Also, on Monday, before the visit, the first commercial flight from the UAE landed in Israel.
“The entry into force of the memorandum will allow UAE passport holders to enter the State of Israel without a visa”, said Omar Saif Ghobash, Emirati Assistant Minister for Culture and Public Diplomacy, noting that “this reflects both countries’ desire to strengthen promising relations and opportunities for cooperation that await the two countries, open up new horizons for cooperation in the region, and unlock economic potential with the aim of achieving the well-being of the peoples of the region and ensuring a better future for coming generations”. He underscored that the mutual visa waiver will have a positive impact on tourism, trade, investment, and other sectors, as well as strengthen cooperation between both countries.
During historic meetings in Tel Aviv this week, diplomats from Israel and the UAE signed a number of bilateral agreements for cooperation on aviation, financing, and investments. In addition, the UAE, Israel, and the US also announced the creation of a $3 billion trilateral fund (named Abraham Fund) to promote regional economic cooperation, through private investment in Israel, the West Bank, and elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa.
One of its first planned projects is the revival of an oil pipeline across Israel from Eilat, on the Red Sea, to Ashkelon, on the Mediterranean, to carry Emirati oil bound for European customers. It would allow the oil to bypass the Suez Canal, lowering energy prices and speeding shipments, said Adam Boehler, chief executive of the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation, a government agency. The “Med-Red” pipeline was built decades ago to move Iranian oil before the Islamic revolution of 1979 turned Israel and Iran from allies into bitter enemies.
The Emirati delegation also formally asked on Tuesday to establish an embassy in Tel Aviv, while Israel is expected to do the same in Abu Dhabi.
“Today we are making history,” Mr. Netanyahu said, assuring his guests that “the enthusiasm for this peace agreement among our peoples is enormous, it’s real, it’s broad, it’s deep.”
Moreover, the two countries agreed to upgrade West Bank checkpoints, with biometric systems and scanners, which Palestinians called it tacit assent to Israeli occupation. They were also enraged by the Emiratis’ decision to bring their below-the-radar cooperation with Israel into the open with formal diplomatic relations. The Palestinians had long counted on Arab solidarity to deny Israel such normalization until they had achieved statehood.
The visa-waiver agreement, in particular, frustrated Palestinians who pointed out that Israel would now let Emiratis visit Israel and Jerusalem with ease, while still forcing residents of the West Bank and Gaza Strip to submit to an often insurmountable permitting process, including extensive security checks, before gaining access to Muslim holy sites, like the Aqsa mosque compound.
One prominent member of the Palestine Liberation Organization, which leads the PA, said the UAE’s visit to Israel hurts Palestinians. “The bilateral agreements that were announced today and the delegations that come and go, all of that offers the occupation strength to escalate its aggression and its crimes against the Palestinian people and increases its intransigence and arrogance,” said Wasel Abu Youssef, as reported by Reuters.
“I need a permit issued by the Israeli military to visit Jerusalem,” Salem Barahmeh, who leads the Palestinian Institute for Public Diplomacy, wrote on Twitter. “The city I was born in. But now an Emirati can go visa-free because two warmongering, human rights-abusing regimes made a deal together for weapons. Does this sound just to you?”
“It is a stamp of approval for the Israeli occupation’s continuation,” said Ahmad Majdalani, the Palestinian Authority’s minister of social development. “It’s a gift that will encourage Israel to continue its unjust actions.”
Emiratis have insisted that their normalization of relations with Israel would ultimately prove helpful to the Palestinian cause. But Mr. Majdalani pointedly said that Emirati-funded checkpoint upgrades would not bring peace any closer. “We are not fooled by what they are doing,” he said.
In a statement, the Emirati minister of state, Ahmed Al Sayegh, said the fund was intended to “put the well-being of people first, regardless of their creed or identity.”
This article was edited using data from the following websites: www.al-monitor.com, www.aljazeera.com, www.thejerusalempost.com, www.voa.com, www.nytimes.com, www.whitehouse.gov, and www.gulfnews.com.