In 2020, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco announced controversial normalization agreements with Israel, following moves decades ago by Egypt and Jordan, which signed deals with Israel in 1979 and 1994, respectively.
During a White House ceremony on Sept. 15, the UAE and Bahrain signed the US-sponsored deal, officially known as the Abraham Accords, to establish diplomatic relations with Israel.
“It must be admitted that the UAE and Bahrain normalized relations with Israel at the official level, but normalization at the secret level was already in place long ago,” Ateq Jarallah, a Yemeni researcher, told Anadolu Agency.
He cited US pressure and weakness of the Arab countries and Islamic institutions for the two Gulf states normalizing ties with Israel.
“The Arab peoples were not at the same level of opposition and rejection of normalization, so the UAE found this opportunity to formally announce its normalization with Israel,” he said.
Ahmed Atawna, the director of Vision Center for Political Development, believes that Iran’s rising influence across the region was also a main reason behind the UAE and Bahrain’s normalization with Israel.
“Iran’s strong presence in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen increased the need of the Arab Gulf states to American support and protection. This allowed the US to put more pressure on these countries and condition granting its services through Tel Aviv.”
Jarallah opines that the Emirati aspiration to bolster its regional influence was behind its decision to normalize ties with Israel.
“The UAE does not see itself as a charming country in the international community and popular level in the Arab and Islamic countries. Therefore, it believes that shielding behind the Zionist lobby will strengthen its influence in the region and defend its human rights record at the international level,” he said.
As for Bahrain, Jarallah said, “its gains are few equally to the size of the country. Its best gain is to be present in international agreements, as well as to find a way-out of any popular Shia movement threatening its regime.”
Atawna shared a similar view: “It may seem to these countries that they gained immediate benefits through strengthening relations with the US and acquiring some Israeli security and military systems, or having a friend or an ally in the region to help them face potential risks.
“But these countries will not secure any real gains, mainly since these countries are very rich and have successful experiences in terms of economics, healthcare, and education compared to Israel.”
In contrast, these countries are losing a lot on the strategic level.
“They are strengthening Israel’s influence in the region, which will sabotage these countries from within as what we have seen in Egypt and Jordan, which normalization with Israel got them nothing,” Atawna said.
Abu Dhabi said that Israel has suspended plans to annex large parts of the occupied West Bank under its normalization deal with Israel. But this agreement raised concerns that such a move would prevent a mutually agreed two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from ever becoming possible.
“This normalization will not lead to fundamental changes in the region, except that it represents a strong blow to the Palestinians and the Palestinian cause,” Atawna said.
“The agreement significantly weakened the Palestinian political position, because normalization opposes the basis of the Arab Peace Initiative, as it is built on the idea of granting a Palestinian state in return for Arab normalization with Israel, but now Israel obtained normalization without giving the Palestinians anything.”
This concern is also highlighted in the Palestinian Authority’s criticism of both the Bahraini and Emirati agreements as President Mahmoud Abbas noted that peace cannot be achieved without the end of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian lands.
In the short term, Jarallah expects that “normalization has reached its climax and it is possible to stop temporarily at this point.”
“However, if the current collapse of the Arab peoples continues, another round of normalization may take place in the form of official visits to Tel Aviv and Israel’s military influence in the Gulf and the Red Sea may increase with the help of the Emirates,” he said.
On the regional level, normalization will increase the intensity of escalation between Arab states of the Gulf and Iran, which is very concerned to any Israeli presence in the region.
Iran’s anxiety towards Israel was clear in the “threatening statements of many Iranian officials to any country that could allow any Israeli and American presence in the region. These tensions will increase the complexity of the region,” Atawna said.
Sudan’s decision to normalize relations with Israel has drawn wide condemnations from political parties inside the country.
“The transitional government has no right to take such a decision and they even said they will leave it to parliament but they didn’t,” said Fadul Allah Burma, the chairman of the Naional Umma Party.
“We agreed after the revolution [against President Omar al-Bashir] that we will keep balanced foreign relations with the world, but this did not happen,” he said.
Kamal Karar, a leading member of the Communist Party, termed the normalization deal as “humiliating”, citing that the transitional government signed the US-sponsored deal in the hope of relieving the country’s debts.
On the same day Khartoum signed the US-sponsored deal to normalize ties with Israel, Washington signed a memorandum of understanding with Sudan to clear $1 billion of the country’s arrears to the World Bank.
US Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin, who signed the two agreements, said Sudan will get a lot of international economic benefits. “That will create significant positive opportunities for Sudan in unlocking significant amounts of funds both at the World Bank, the IMF, and at the United States.”
For his part, Sudanese Justice Minister Nasur Aldin Abdul Bari, who signed the deal, said Sudan is strongly willing to go further in building diplomatic ties with Israel.
“With this signature, we confirm our joint vision of working together to reinforce the mutual respectful between the different Abrahamic religions and the different cultures in the region is the only guarantee for the nations of the region and the new generations,” he said.
Morocco and Western Sahara
Official diplomatic relations between Morocco and Israel began in 1994 at a low level. But Rabat froze ties with Tel Aviv in 2000, following the outbreak of the second Palestinian intifada.
Even before the official recognition, relations between the two countries have extended to the past many decades, witnessing the immigration of Moroccan Jews to Israel and meetings between officials from the two countries. That also included a meeting between the King of Morocco and the Prime Minister of Israel.
Morocco and Israel agreed to normalize relations in a deal brokered with the US help in December. As part of the deal, the US recognized Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara, a disputed region claimed by both Rabat and the Algeria-backed Polisario front.
Rabat says the move was not normalization, but rather a resumption of official relations that began in 1993 but were suspended in 2000.
Abdel Fattah El-Fatihi, the head of the Rabat-based Sahara and Africa Center for Strategic, said Morocco’s normalization with Israel took place for many reasons, including its position on the Sahara region.
“Morocco has normalized for several reasons, including that it is interested in re-strengthening its ties with its Jewish citizens, who number more than 1.5 million Moroccan Jewish citizens in Israel,” El-Fatihi said, noting that such a move “would revive Morocco’s tourism activity after the coronavirus pandemic.”
The political expert stressed that the move will also help Rabat attract major foreign investments “as well as what it seeks to benefit from the technological superiority [of Israel] for its development projects.”
“On the political level, Morocco — utilizing its relations with Israel — is expected to play a strong role in the Palestinian-Israeli dialogue,” El-Fatihi said.
He went on to say that “in order to resume its diplomatic relations with Israel, Morocco will strengthen its negotiating position on the Sahara, and this will be reinforced by America’s mobilization of its allies for international recognition of the Moroccan Sahara.”
“The region will also be a destination for important US investment projects as well as strengthening military and security cooperation between Morocco and the US.”