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Israel, UAE And US Fast-Track Normalization Amid Media Spectacle

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Israel, UAE And US Fast-Track Normalization Amid Media Spectacle

Lights, Camera, Action… The Israel/ US delegation arrives at Abu Dhabi

Israel and the United Arab Emirates have started discussions to open embassies in each other’s countries, during meetings between senior officials in Abu Dhabi on Monday. The official statements emphasized the economic aspects of normalization, and Israeli and US representative urged other nations in the region to join the ‘peace’ process.

The Israeli delegation headed by National Security Advisor Meir Ben-Shabbat, together with his US counterpart Robert O’Brien, White House Adviser Jared Kushner, and other senior officials arrived on the first-ever direct flight by an Israeli airline from Israel to the UAE. The El Al plane, bearing an Israeli flag, was also the first-ever Israeli flight over Saudi Arabia to be conducted overtly.

The countries’ foreign ministries, along with US representatives, discussed details of the normalization deal and other bilateral agreements between the countries.

Foreign Ministry Director-General Alon Ushpiz said: “We are starting a historic process and we plan to promote the institution of full relations and opening embassies in the two countries as soon as possible to strengthen the cooperation between Israel and the UAE.

“Movement of people, goods and finance is the central key to realizing the great potential in the relations.”

Separately, Israeli National Security Advisor Ben-Shabbat held a lengthy meeting with his Emirati counterpart, Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed.

Israeli and UAE officials met for wide-ranging talks covering other areas including science and space, civil aviation, foreign policy and diplomacy, tourism, finance and health to consider opportunities for cooperation, often with a US facilitator.

Israeli journalists embedded with the delegation made glowing reports of the officials and their discussions.  The Jerusalem Post was allowed access to some of the meeting on condition that specific details of the discussions would not be disclosed.

The UAE also hosted a tour and dinner for Israeli journalists at the Louvre Abu Dhabi, and approved journalists held discussions with officials from a range of cultural, scientific and diplomatic areas, speaking on condition of anonymity.

In a press conference in Jerusalem on Monday evening, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said peace with the UAE will be a ‘warm peace’, based on economic cooperation as a fundamental component.

Israeli National Security Advisor Meir Ben-Shabbat called on more countries to join them in peace.

In a press conference in Jerusalem, Netanyahu invited a UAE delegation to Israel to be “welcomed on a red carpet, as well.”

“I felt an immense pride,” Netanyahu said after seeing Israeli flags waving in Abu Dhabi. “This is a new age in our history.

Suggesting Israel is in talks with other Arab states, Netanyahu said: “There are many things I cannot tell you, but I am sure you will find out in time.”

US National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien said he is “hopeful this will be the first step in creating momentum… [that] will lead to other nations deciding it is in their best interests to normalize ties with Israel.”

Jared Kushner said the Saudis were ‘very gracious’ for allowing the first Israeli flight in their airspace, and that the flight is “a manifestation of what is possible in the Middle East.”

“We can take it as a sign,” Kushner said. “It’s an encouragement for this progress.”

Netanyahu radioed in a message to the plane while it was flying over Saudi Arabia, saying the delegation on the plane is “opening the door to a different kind of peace. Peace with investments, peace with tourism, peace with many fruits and peace that will be between our two nations and all the nations of the region.”

The US representatives accompanying the event made clear that Israeli annexation of Palestinian land is an intrinsic part of the normalization deal. Speaking with the embedded journalists on the flight to the UAE, Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner addressed the Trump peace plan and its allowing for Israel to extend its sovereignty to parts of Judea and Samaria.

Israel is “going to be focused right now on the relationship with the UAE. I think that’ll make peace, in time, with the Palestinians, much more possible,” he said.

Annexation was included in the plan because it was clear that “in the context of any agreement, Israel wasn’t going to give up that territory,” and the US “had to make sure Israel’s security was protected.”

He claimed that recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and potentially recognizing Israeli sovereignty in the West Bank would “take those provocative issues off the table.” LINK

The statements would appear to confirm that all affirmations claiming otherwise are merely spin, made as part of the campaign to promote the bilateral deal and convince other Arab and Muslim leaders to normalize relations with Israel.

In spite of earlier comments by the UAE and a joint statement by the three countries that indicated the annexation plan would be ‘suspended’, senior UAE official Omar Ghobash has admitted his government did not “have any guarantees as such” that Israel would not annex occupied Palestinian territory in the future.

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh on Monday slammed the flight as “very painful” and “a clear and a blatant violation of the Arab position towards the Arab-Israeli conflict”.

“We had hoped to see an Emirati plane landing in a liberated Jerusalem, but we live in a difficult Arab era,” he said.

Hamas spokesperson Hazem Qassen said the UAE-Israel deal went against the position of the Emirati people, and was “in Zionist interests only … fuelling disagreements in the region”.

In the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee, said Kushner and his team were “scrambling to convince as many Arab and Muslim leaders as possible” to give Trump an election boost.

“They will be a prop at the backdrop of a meaningless spectacle for a ridiculous agreement that will not bring peace to the region,” she said.

The Israel-UAE accord also faces another problem: a possible sale of stealth F-35 fighter jets to Abu Dhabi. Netanyahu has denied reports the deal hinges on the sale of F-35s to the UAE, saying he opposes a move that could reduce Israel’s military advantage. “This deal did not include Israel’s acceptance of any arms deal,” the Israeli prime minister said last week.

Ever since the 1960s, the US has guaranteed to maintain Israel’s ‘qualitative military edge’ in the region. However, it is extremely unlikely that any weapons deal between the US and the UAE would jeopardize that understanding.

“Although this is not really public, from what I understand arrangements are being made that the version that the Arab country gets is not the absolute latest version,” Joshua Teitelbaum, a Gulf specialist at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University told AFP. LINK

Other news reports note that there are other less pleasant aspects to this ‘different kind of peace’ and expanding commercial opportunities that the US and Israel are hoping to spread throughout the Middle East. One major element is:

“Israeli cooperation with Gulf countries in the field of espionage and the sale of special capabilities and expertise that will help gulf governments track down dissidents. The Israeli NSO company in question is also mentioned in a very important and sensitive topic related to its advanced spyware, ‘Pegasus’, which enables penetration of mobile phones.” LINK

On the same day as the Israeli/ US official delegation travelled to the UAE, Hamas announced that it has reached new understandings with Israel to de-escalate the situation in the Gaza Strip.

An announcement published by the office of Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar said the understandings were reached “after a round of discussions and contacts, including with Qatari envoy Mohammed al-Emadi.”

Emadi has been shuttling between Israel and the Gaza Strip for several days in an effort to prevent an all-out military confrontation.

The Hamas announcement made no mention of Egypt’s mediation efforts with Israel. An Egyptian intelligence delegation that visited the Gaza Strip 10 days ago did not return to the area since then. The border with Egypt remains closed, completing Israel’s blockade of the people of Gaza.

The announcement came after two weeks of tensions between Israel and Hamas, during which hundreds of explosives-laden and incendiary balloons were released toward Israel and Israel conducted nightly bombing raids on the besieged Palestinian enclave.

“Understandings have been reached to contain the escalation and halt the Zionist aggression on our people,” Hamas said in its statement.

According to Hamas, the new understandings include “a number of projects that serve our people in the Gaza Strip and would help them cope with the outbreak of the coronavirus.”

In addition, under the terms of the understandings, Hamas and Israel agreed to restore the calm that prevailed before the latest round of violence.

Al Jazeera reported that

“In return (for a de-escalation), it says that Israel is undertaking to go back to the pre-escalation situation which means allowing fishermen out into the Mediterranean, easing the restriction on goods coming in and also presumably the restoration of fuel supplies to Gaza’s only power station.” LINK

The Jerusalem Post noted that reports in a number of Arab media outlets claimed that the Qatari-engineered understandings include a pledge to carry out several infrastructure projects, increasing the Qatari cash grant to thousands of Palestinian families, reopening all the border crossings with Israel and restoring the fishing zone to the areas previously agreed.

In addition, the reports said, the new accord calls for increasing the fuel supply to the power plant in the Gaza Strip to solve the electricity crisis there. Other reports quoted sources close to Hamas as claiming that the understandings also require Israel to facilitate the entry of medical supplies and medicine into the Gaza Strip in the aftermath of the increase in the number of coronavirus cases.

While Israel has not made any official statements, at least some of the reported details appear to have been confirmed by subsequent developments, as late on Monday night the Israeli Office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories announced it had agreed to resume the shipment of fuel into Gaza.

“Following efforts to calm the situation, and in light of security consultations led by Defense Minister Benny Gantz, a decision was taken to resume the routine activity of the Kerem Shalom crossing, including the entry of fuel products, starting tomorrow [Tuesday],” COGAT said.

Gaza’s fishing zone, which had been closed, would now be set once again at 15 nautical miles, it said.

“The resumption of the civilian policy toward the Gaza Strip is subject to the continuation of the calm and the security stability,” COGAT said. LINK

Israel’s sudden interest in finalizing a temporary de-escalation with Hamas appears to have two main motives. One motive is to provide some ‘positive’ news to accompany the Israeli/ US delegation to the UAE. The second motive would be for Israel to smooth things over on the Gaza border for a while so that it can put all its military attention on the border with Lebanon and Hezbollah.

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