You canâ€™t undersell the UAE-Israel deal
US President Donald Trump said the UAE-Israel dealÂ was “huge,â€ and he nailed it.
The agreement between the United Arab EmiratesÂ and Israel is indeed aÂ diplomatic breakthroughÂ and credit rightly goes to Trump and his team.
All that comes next will flow through Washington and the White House.Â King Abdullah of Jordan can exhale, as annexation is off the agenda, the condition of Abu Dhabiâ€™s signing up. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a bystander on Israeli-Arab matters, chimed in that he might suspend Turkeyâ€™s ties with the UAE in solidarity with the Palestinians (Pinar Tremblay has the background here on the Turkey-UAE “cold war”).Â Iran, which has had a warming trend in ties with UAE, slammed the move as “stupid.”
Â Other Gulf states may follow the UAE lead at some point.Â Bahrain and Oman are the most likely candidates, and according to Israeli media reports, similar agreements are already be in the works.Â Bahrain hosted the administrationâ€™s “Peace to Prosperity”Â workshop last year, and Oman today released a statement that the UAE deal fulfills â€œtheÂ aspirations of the peoples in the region in sustaining pillars of security and stability.”Â
Israel had trade representative offices in Oman and Qatar in the 1990s, but these were shut down during the second intifada in 2000.Â
Asked by Al-Monitor last year if Oman would establish relations with Israel, Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah, Omanâ€™s minister responsible for foreign affairs, said, â€œWeâ€™ll see, everythingâ€™s on the table.â€
Contacts between Israeli and Gulf officials haveÂ been an open secret for some time.Â
â€œIt’s not a secret that in the last few years, we worked with many moderate Arab countries in the region,â€ Danny Danon, Israelâ€™s ambassador and permanent representative to the UN, said in an exclusive interview with Al-Monitor in September 2019. â€œAnd what’s happening recently, when we see the aggression coming from Iran, we hear they are more open to collaborate with us, even more publicly. â€¦ So we are collaborating.Â We are cooperating.â€
At the core of the deal was Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahuâ€™s commitment to put off his plan to extend sovereignty to the Jewish settlements in the West Bank in return for formal relations with the UAE.Â
Yousef al-Otaiba, UAE minister of state and ambassador to the United States, told Al-Monitor in June that annexation would make the Middle East â€œeven more unstable,â€ and â€œput an incredible amount of political pressure onÂ our friends in Jordan.â€
Ben Caspit reports from Israel that the reaction to the deal was â€œmixed,â€ with the dissenters being Netanyahuâ€™s right wing and settler supporters, who wanted annexation to be the prime ministerâ€™s “legacy”Â issue.
â€œThe breakthrough was not the achievement to which he aspired,â€ writes Caspit. â€œWhat he â€” and his votersÂ â€”Â really wanted was to implement historic Israeli sovereignty over a significant part of the West Bank. That will no longer happen. The agreement with the UAE is a candy to dispel spreading bitterness, a pain relief tablet to ease the hangover plaguing Netanyahuâ€™s electoral base since the heady White House event in late January at which the upcoming annexation was declared.â€
Palestinian officials responded with anger to the announcement. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is already playing a weak diplomatic hand, and it just got weaker.
Nabil Shaath, a senior adviser to Abbas,Â told Daoud Kuttab that the tripartite US-UAE-Israel agreement â€œis a crime by the UAE against Palestinians.â€
Shaath added that there is “no justification for the action of the sons of the late Sheikh Zayed, who was genuinely committed to the Palestinian cause.â€
Egypt as bellwether for Gulf investment
Until the COVID-19 pandemic, Egypt had been mostly an IMF success story, with improvements in GDP growth, employment, and debt ratios.Â Because of its success since 2016, Egypt was the only country in the Middle East and North Africa region anticipating 2% GDP growth this year.Â The IMF approved a 12-month stand-by arrangement worth $5.2 billion this summer to help address the economic impacts of COVID-19.
Karen Young defines Egypt as a â€œbellwether of sorts in the regionâ€ for Gulf investment.
â€œDespite its challenges, Egypt is a consistent destination for foreign investment within the Middle East,â€ she writes. â€œIts large consumer market, its appetite for mega-contracting projects in real estate and infrastructure, its active local equity exchange, the Egyptian Exchange, and its strategic location have made it a traditional hub for regional investment flows. If things are bad in Egypt, you can expect them to be worse elsewhere across Middle East markets.â€
The states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) have been Egyptâ€™s main sources of capital and job creation over the past decade, but it is unclear if that trend will continue, given the impact of the coronavirus.
â€œEgypt has beenÂ caught in the middleÂ of intra-Gulf disputes before,â€ Young concludes, â€œbut the kinds of investment and access to capital needed in the next year or so will dwarf the challenges of the post-2011 era. Moreover, Egypt will compete with any number of other emerging market destinations for its debt issuance, and for multilateral lending and aid. The Gulf states may not be willing or able to come to the rescue.â€
Are migrant workers getting stiffed?
â€œThe double blow of low oil prices and theÂ coronavirusÂ crisisÂ has already pushedÂ over half a million migrant workers out of Arab Gulf states,â€ writes Sebastian Castelier.
â€œReturned to their countriesÂ of originÂ in haste,Â migrant workersÂ whose wages have not been paid are unable to defend their rights in the Gulfâ€™s courts of justice,â€ Castelier reports. â€œTheir embassies have come under criticism for largely refusing to document grievances before repatriation.â€
He said none of the six GCCÂ countries have ratified the International Labor Organizationâ€™s Protection of Wages Convention, “which provides that ‘wages shall be paid regularly.’ Furthermore, most Gulf legal frameworks deny workers the right to union representation and prevent collective complaints, leaving workers alone to navigate justice mechanisms.â€