This briefing is provided by a friend of RZIM.
- The United Arab Emirates is a federation of seven small Gulf states including Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
- The President of the UAE Federal Council is Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed who is seen as a pro-Western moderniser.
- In comparison to other Gulf states, the UAE is relatively tolerant of other faiths.
- The first open church building (St. Josephs) in the Gulf was inaugurated in Abu Dhabi in 1965 and it became a Cathedral in 1983.
- Bahrain broke ground on a new Cathedral in 2018 which eventually become the headquarters for the Roman Catholic Church in the region.
- The new peace deal between the United Arab Emirates and Israel is known as the Abraham Accord (AA).
- It promises to establish normal inter-state relations which include, business relations, tourism, scientific cooperation and eventually, Embassies and full diplomatic relations.
- The AA includes the provision that the Israelis will immediately cease their plans to annex the West Bank and to re-open negotiations on ending the Israel-Palestine conflict.
- The deal had been brokered by President Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner on behalf of the White House.
- Israel and the UAE already had security cooperation
- Israel opened a diplomatic office in Abu Dhabi in 2015.
- The UAE is only the third Arab state to sign a peace agreement with Israel (Egypt, 1979 and Jordan, 1994 have been the others)
- In classical Shari’a any treaty with a non-Muslim is, by definition, temporary. This comes from the belief that all non-Muslims are ‘pact-breakers’ according to the Qur’an. (See quote below)
- The motivation for the deal from an UAE perspective has been the growing power of Iran, the threat of jihadism and the opportunities for technological advance. (Gardner, 2020)
- Several other Gulf monarchies, notably Bahrain and Saudi Arabia have praised the deal as defending Arab and Islamic interests.
- Iran’s leader Ayatollah Khamenei has condemned the deal as ‘treason’ and has suggested that it will not last very long.
- Turkey has threatened to cut off ties with the UAE and the Palestinians have also likened the deal to a betrayal.
- The First Abu Dhabi Bank has already stated that it will open talks with Israeli banks (such as Bank Hapoalim) about financial inter-relationships. (Anon, 2020b)
- The OECD is predicting a severe recession for Israel this year.
- Unemployment and ‘unpaid leave’ is at approximately 34%
- Non-oil economic activity in the UAE had begun to fall even before COVID-19 struck and the pandemic has only increased that dynamic.
- The UAE banking sector has high exposure to the real estate and construction sectors, both of which have been struggling severely since 2017.
- Oil production, which accounted for 30% of UAE GDP had been declining rapidly since 2018.
- “The UAE betrayed the world of Islam, the Arab nations, the region’s countries and Palestine…. The treason will not last long.” Ayatollah Khamenei, 17th August 2020 (Anon, 2020a)
- “How should the idolaters have a covenant with Allah and his Messenger?.. How? If they get the better of you they will not observe towards you any bond or treaty, giving you the satisfaction with their mouths but in their hearts refusing; and the most of them are ungodly.” (Q9:7-8)
- “You will surely find the most intense of the people in animosity toward the believers [to be] the Jews and those who associate others with Allah; and you will find the nearest of them in affection to the believers those who say, ‘We are Christians.’ That is because among them are priests and monks and because they are not arrogant.” (Q5:82)
- “And the Jews say, “The hand of Allah is chained.” Chained are their hands, and cursed are they for what they say. Rather, both His hands are extended; He spends however He wills. And that which has been revealed to you from your Lord will surely increase many of them in transgression and disbelief. And We have cast among them animosity and hatred until the Day of Resurrection. Every time they kindled the fire of war [against you], Allah extinguished it. And they strive throughout the land [causing] corruption, and Allah does not like corrupters.” (Q5:64)
Living in non-Muslim majority states it is difficult to appreciate the extraordinary magnitude of the Abraham Accord signed in August between the UAE and Israel. Commentators have understood that the issue of Palestine is a significant hurdle to overcome when treaties between Arab states and the Israelis are concerned, and some appreciate the depth of anger in the Middle East and North Africa (and other Muslim majority countries around the world), when the state of Israel came into existence in 1947. But, for the vast majority of journalists, commentators and International Relations specialists, the scale of the problems between Arabs and Jews will have been completely missed.
Clearly, as noted in the ‘Key Facts’ section above, there are very pragmatic economic considerations which are driving the UAE’s willingness to sign an open agreement with Israel. There has been quiet cooperation in the area of security over more than two decades as both states fear the impact of Iran and jihadism (much as with Saudi-Israeli cooperation), but to go beyond that to have a treaty between ostensively Jewish and Muslim states is extraordinary even for a state which has been rightly seen as relatively tolerant in comparison the monarchies around them.
The quotations given in the ‘Quotes’ section above highlight the deeper reasons why this Accord is so extraordinary (even though it is not the first between a Jewish and Muslim state).
Firstly, Shari’a, which all the Gulf states base their judicial and constitutional systems upon, leaves no room for any permanent treaty between Muslims and non-Muslims. As Q9:7-8 noted, Muslims are taught in the Qur’an that there cannot be lasting treaties between Muslims and non-Muslims because non-Muslims will break them. The first permeant treaty between a Muslim and non-Muslim ruler was that between the Ottoman Caliph-Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent and Francis I, King of France in 1535. (Oliver-Dee, 2012) The Ottomans were also signatories to the ‘Concert of Europe’ in 1856. Treaties between Muslims and non-Muslims therefore became more prevalent much later in the period of the Islamic Empire(s).
Secondly, if treaties with non-Muslims generally were a later innovation for Muslim rulers, the notion of any kind of treaty with a Jew was not only extraordinary, but, in a very really way, would be considered blasphemous. For it went against the teaching of the Qur’an not only in terms of placing any kind of trust in a Jew to keep a treaty but also making a deal with those whom the Qur’an says are enemies of Islam and are generally troublemakers (Q5:64 and 5:82 quoted above). In that context it could be reasonably argued from an Islamic point of view that Ayatollah Khamenei’s characterisation of the actions of the UAE as “traitorous” in the signing of the Abraham Accord were correct.
Given these two factors it seems reasonable to conclude that the UAE must have thought very hard about whether to make this agreement. For, not only have they implicitly acknowledged the right of Israel to exist, but they have also turned their backs on the plight of their fellow Arabs: the Palestinians.
At least three implications can therefore be drawn from the signing of the Abraham Accord: firstly, that the UAE’s economic situation is likely to be very bad indeed and the leadership must assume that there is no other route that they can follow to improve their circumstance. Secondly, that the influence of Shaikh Khalifa bin Zayed must be very strong within the UAE to withstand the backlash which has already started.
In a geo-strategic context therefore, it seems likely that bin Zayed has agreed to this Accord because he wants to improve his relationship with the US and to increase the opportunities for the investment that he hopes being seen as open and tolerant will bring to his state.
The third implication is that this Accord will likely increase the strength of the relationship between Iran and the Palestinians, particularly Hamas, who had already begun to forge a relationship, but who will now most almost certainly deepen their cooperation. For, even though Hamas is Sunni-based, it has increased its cooperation with Shi’a Iran over the past decade and for that reason it could very well be that Iran will increasingly be able to use Gaza as a base for operations against Israel, much as it has done in Southern Lebanon for many years.
The impact of the Accord in the short term is therefore likely to be that Iran will become both more politically isolated, but will increase its standing amongst those Muslims who are looking for a strong leader to stand up for Islam (as they see it). In the short to medium term it is likely to bring much needed investment into the UAE and to deepen its relationship with America. Furthermore, it will probably encourage other Gulf states to sign similar Accords.
Anon (2020a) ‘Iran’s Khamenei: UAE “treason” against Palestinians and Islam will not last long.’ www.timesofisrael.com 3rd September
Anon (2020b) ‘After UAE-Israel deal, Kushner pushes other Arab states for more.’ www.aljazeera.com 2nd September
Cook, Steven (2020) ‘What’s behind the new Israel-UAE peace deal?’ www.cfr.org 17th August
Durie, Mark (2010) The Third Choice: Islam, Dhimmitude and Freedom. Melbourne: Deror Books
Gardner, Frank (2020) ‘With UAE deal, Israel opens tentative new chapter with Gulf Arabs’ www.bbc.co.uk 17th August.
Oliver-Dee, Sean (2012) Muslim Minorities and Citizenship: Authority, Communities and Islamic Law. London: IB Tauris.
All Qur’anic quotations from Sahih International on www.corpus.quran.com