Despite Abraham Accords doubters, Emiratis still bullish on Israel ties

During the rioting in Jerusalem and after Operation Guardian of the Wall, the UAE released statements that were critical of Israel, but they were staid and not especially harsh.

Flydubai flight to Israel from the UAE (photo credit: EMIL SALMAN/POOL)
Flydubai flight to Israel from the UAE
(photo credit: EMIL SALMAN/POOL)
DUBAI – Important news happened this week that did not get the attention it deserves: Israel and the United Arab Emirates signed an agreement to avoid double taxation.
This agreement has been in the works since shortly after the Abraham Accords were signed, so it wasn’t the most surprising turn of events.
But what makes the agreement a big deal is the timing: For Finance Minister  Israel Katz and his Emirati counterpart, Obaid Al Tayer, to sign an agreement this week sends a strong message that the Abraham Accords are still on track.
When Hamas began shooting rockets at Jerusalem last month, and Operation Guardian of the Walls began, there were some commentators and politicians who said it was a sign of the Abraham Accords’ failure or collapse.
Many of those comments were bad-faith arguments using the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a backdrop for existing gripes about the Trump administration, such as, “I guess Jared Kushner didn’t really bring peace to the Middle East.”
This is like the inverse of the perverse “linkage” theory that blames Israel for all the conflicts in the Middle East. No one who was looking at the Abraham Accords intelligently and honestly when they were signed in September said they were going to solve all of the region’s problems.
 In fact, Israel and the UAE grew closer partly because, as the adage goes, the enemy of my enemy is my friend – both are concerned about Iranian aggression.
But the Abraham Accords were still a landmark moment for the Middle East, signaling to four other Arab states that having diplomatic relations with Israel would benefit them and be good for stability and progress in the region. And it told the Palestinians that they no longer have veto power and can no longer stand between Israel and the rest of the Middle East across the board.
The other argument about the Abraham Accords during the latest Israel-Gaza conflict, which seems to be made in better faith, was that the nascent relations between Israel and Arab states would not withstand the pressure of anger in the Arab world about Israeli police entering al-Aqsa Mosque – even if it was to stop rioters from lobbing rocks and fireworks – and another mini-war with Gaza.
That concern was reasonable because it has happened in the past. Qatar, for example, broke off lower-level relations with Israel over the three-week Gaza War in 2008-2009, known as Operation Cast Lead. Several other Muslim and Arab countries cut ties with Israel during the Second Intifada. Even nondemocratic countries have public opinion to worry about, and Jerusalem is a hot-button issue.
At the same time, this is the narrative Iran and Hamas put forward. For example, a few days after the latest escalation from Gaza 
ended, Iran’s Tasnim News Agency put out a report that can be seen as reflecting the regime’s views.
“The countries that wanted to compromise with the enemy” – meaning Israel – “will retreat from this decision for a long time,” the report said. “While the hopes of reviving the Palestinian cause have recently been dashed by the treacherous stances of the compromising regimes” – meaning the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan – “and the Palestinian Authority, the realities of this war have shown that all Palestinians are ready to make any sacrifice to defend their cause.”
In other words, Iran sought to sabotage Israel’s new diplomatic relationships – but Tehran failed.
During the rioting in Jerusalem and after Operation Guardian of the Walls, the UAE released statements that were critical of Israel. but they were staid and not especially harsh. They behaved like many other countries with which Israel has diplomatic relations – critical, but not sparking a crisis.
Developments in relations with the UAE were put on hold for those couple of weeks, but they have already made a comeback and are slowly coming back on track, an Israeli diplomatic source said. They may stay slow for the next two weeks, the source said, adding that he is not worried about the next two years and beyond.
In that vein, the Economy Ministry on Tuesday announced it plans to open an economic office in Abu Dhabi this summer.
An Emirati diplomat confirmed that the UAE was still bullish on relations with Israel and was not shocked that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is still around. The benefits of Israel and the UAE working together, economically and on the security front, remain clear, the source said.
On a person-to-person level, Emiratis and Israeli friendships are still going strong. Groups working to strengthen ties are still holding zoom meetings and chatting over WhatsApp each day. Emiratis with big social-media accounts that cheer on relations with Israel are still doing just that.
And The Jerusalem Post and the Khaleej Times are holding a conference in Dubai to celebrate and strengthen diplomatic and business ties that is fully booked, with more people clamoring to get in.
So this week’s UAE-Israel tax treaty may have been a small headline, but it has a big impact: It says the historic peace and progress the Abraham Accords brought about is still barreling ahead to the benefit of both nations.