Last week, President Trump met with Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as the foreign ministers of Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) at the White House to sign the Abraham Accords. At the agreement’s core is a full normalization of diplomatic relations between Israel and these former Gulf adversaries. In practice, this means that Israel may post an ambassador to the UAE and Bahrain while they may do the same. It also means that Israel will likely increase cooperation with these countries on a number of fronts, including tourism, investment, and direct flight agreements.
Crucial to Israel’s bilateral agreement with the UAE is a pledge by the country to temporarily halt its annexation of territory in the West Bank, home to large numbers of Palestinians. While Prime Minister Netanyahu has long supported annexing Palestinian land, the promise to put the expansion plans on hold was needed for normalization of Israeli-Emirati relations, as the UAE supports Palestinian statehood. This promise may prove to be tenuous in the future as Prime Minister Netanyahu stated that he is “still committed to annexing parts of the West Bank to Israel,” despite the agreement with the UAE.
A representative, national poll conducted by the Israeli Democracy Institute from August 31-September 2 asked the Israeli public for their views on the Israel-UAE agreement. On this, the poll reveals that most Israelis (79%) feel their country will benefit economically from the agreement. Their hope for the agreement extends to the diplomatic and tourism domains as well. For both, over three quarters (76%) of those surveyed expressed some level of confidence that Israel will benefit. In the national security domain, Israelis were more split in the belief that their country will stand to gain from the agreement. Slightly more than half (53%) of respondents feel that Israel’s security and military will receive some benefit. Lastly, similar numbers (51%) believe their country’s agreement with the UAE will contribute to promoting negotiations with the Palestinian Authority.
Holding a much different view than Israelis are the Palestinians, who have called the Israel-UAE agreement “a betrayal.” As the UAE and Bahrain were once unswerving in their commitment to securing Palestine’s independence before establishing normal relations with Israel, this turn of events is a blow to the Palestinian independence movement. A recent survey by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research finds that dismay is widespread among the Palestinian population. Conducted in Gaza and the West Bank from September 9-12, nearly nine out of ten respondents (86%) see the agreement between Israel and the UAE as serving only Israel’s interests. Asked to select a word representing their feelings towards the agreement, over half (53%) chose “betrayal.” Other respondents expressed their negative views towards it by selecting “abandonment” (17%) and “insult” (13%), putting negative opinions firmly in the majority. Only 19 percent of those polled feel that the normalization agreement spells the end of Israel’s attempts to annex the West Bank. Three quarters (75%) see the agreement as just putting those attempts on hold.
Since the agreements were only just recently signed, their full impact on Israel and Palestine remains to be seen. But, given the balance of power in the Israeli-Palestinian relationship, it is safe to say that the accords’ benefits will go disproportionately to Israel.