The announcement of the full normalization of the relationship between the United Arab Emirates and Israel yesterday brought two kinds of reactions in the region and around the world. Countries like France, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Arab states like Bahrain and Egypt praised the agreement. Other countries like Iran and Turkey condemned the United Arab Emirates’ move, and the Palestinian leadership naturally condemned the agreement, calling it “a stab in the back.” But in spite of the mixed reactions, could that new agreement bring about new benefits to the region, and to the Palestinians in particular? I believe it could if the Palestinians are willing to change their strategy and adapt to this new Arab approach regarding the relationship with Israel.
This agreement isn’t a big surprise for many since the United Arab Emirates and Israel shared an under-the-table relationship for years. But nobody expected for this relationship to become public through a full normalization in the near future, especially when Israel was preparing to annex parts of the West Bank. This move by the UAE seems to suggest a new Arab approach to normalizing relations with Israel. Most importantly, it contradicts the 2002 Arab initiative in which Arab states committed against normalizing relations with Israel until it withdrew into its 1967 borders. With the UAE agreeing to fully normalize its relationship with Israel, it opens the door for a new approach to the Israel-Arab conflict that doesn’t fit into the Palestinian strategy of keeping the relationship between Israel and Arab countries off the table until a Palestinian state on 1967 borders is established.
The new Emirates approach to the relationship with Israel poses a challenge to the old Palestinian strategy for dealing with Israel and the Arab world. However, this development could open an opportunity for Palestinians to learn their lesson and take advantage of Arab states’ new relationship with Israel. The Palestinian leadership’s does not seem to have changed its stance in the slightest since 2002 in regard to the Arab states’ relationships with Israel. Meanwhile, countries are making regional coalitions as a result of rapid changes caused by conflicts there, such as wars in Libya, Yemen, and Syria. Additionally, Iran’s growing influence in the region has become the focus of many of the Arab states, rather than the Palestinian cause. Yet the Palestinian leadership did not show an interest in adapting to this new reality.
With that being said, the Arab states did not forget about the Palestinians. Rather, they changed their strategy, and so must the Palestinian leadership, too.
In response to this news, the Palestinian leaders accused the UAE of betraying the Palestinian people and the Islamic holy sites, while clearly ignoring the fact that the Emirates’ agreement convinced the Trump administration and the Israeli government to stop the annexation of the West Bank. The Palestinian approach should have been different. They have to accept the new reality of the Middle East, and instead of attacking Arab states who form relationships with Israel, they could have used that change to bring more benefits to the Palestinian people.
Whether the Palestinian leadership likes it or not, the region’s geopolitics are changing. The Arab countries are leaning toward full normalization with Israel for their own benefit. Thus, Palestinian leaders must now choose if they will use this reality for their own good—to move toward fulfilling their dream of building a Palestinian state—or if they will stick to their obsolete strategy. Just as the UAE’s agreement stopped Israel’s intended annexation of parts of the West Bank, other agreements and relationships between the Arab states and Israel could offer the Palestinians what decades of disagreement failed to accomplish.