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August 15, 2020

Muslim world split on Israel-UAE pact: Turkey, Iran furious, Pakistan cautious, all eyes on Saudi Arabia

Top Story

August 15, 2020

Ag AFP

ISLAMABAD: The United Arab Emirates (UAE) decision to maintain full diplomatic relations with Israel has divided the Muslim world into two camps, with some Muslim countries condemning the move and threatening to suspend their diplomatic relations with this Gulf country.

The UAE however offered a muscular defence of its move to establish ties with Israel, saying it was designed to "shake up" the Middle East impasse and serve Emirati interests.

The historic deal, the first for a Gulf state, sees Israel pledge to suspend its planned annexation of Palestinian lands but has been condemned by the Palestinian leadership as a "betrayal" of their cause.

Omar Saif Ghobash, Assistant Minister for Culture and Public Diplomacy, rejected the charge, insisting the agreement had made progress in the absence of any other workable proposal from the Arab world.

"I think we´ve demonstrated that we are able to enter a very staid and tired situation and to shake things up, and we look forward to seeing positive developments coming out of this real engagement," he told AFP in an interview.

The deal, announced by US President Donald Trump on Thursday, is only the third such accord Israel has struck with an Arab country, and raises the prospect of similar deals with other pro-Western Gulf states.

However, regional power Saudi Arabia, whose own efforts to induce Israel to withdraw from occupied territories have been effectively sidelined by the United Arab Emirates move, has remained conspicuously silent.

"We didn´t consult with anybody, we didn´t inform anybody, and as a sovereign state we don´t feel that we have the obligation to do that," Ghobash said, asked if long-time ally Riyadh was consulted in advance.

"We are in the process now of informing our friends and partners and others in the region as to why we took the step" but "it´s to be expected that not everybody will ... applaud or comment".

"We have taken the decision as a sovereign state with our own interests and our own calculations in mind."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Friday thanked the leaders of Egypt, Oman and Bahrain for their "support" of the agreement to normalise ties with the UAE.

In the West Bank city of Nablus, protesters set ablaze posters of the leaders of the three countries.

Netanyahu, for his part, thanked Arab supporters of the normalisation.

"I thank Egyptian President al-Sisi, and the governments of Oman and Bahrain, for their support of the historic peace treaty between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, which is expanding the circle of peace and will be good for the entire region," Netanyahu tweeted.

Israel has two official peace treaties with Arab states -- Egypt, since 1979, and Jordan, signed in 1994.

The European Union welcomed the agreement. “Normalisation will be at the benefit of both. It is important both for them and for the regional stability. Both countries are our partners,” EU foreign policy spokeswoman Nabila Massrali told reporters.

"And, of course, as the EU, you know very well that we are committed to a two state solution. And we are, of course, ready to work on the resumption of the negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians."

Meanwhile, Pakistan in a guarded reaction said it had an abiding commitment to full realization of the legitimate rights of Palestinian people, including the right to self-determination. Peace and stability in Middle East is also Pakistan’s key priority.

"We have noted the Joint Statement announcing agreement of the UAE and Israel to have full normalization of relations. This is a development with far-reaching implications. For a just, comprehensive and lasting peace, Pakistan has consistently supported a two-state solution in accordance with the relevant UN and OIC resolutions as well as international law," said a statement from the Foreign Office.

While Saudi Arabia has yet to give its reaction, both Iran and Turkey have denounced the recognition of Israel by the UAE.

"Pakistan’s approach will be guided by our evaluation of how Palestinians’ rights and aspirations are upheld and how regional peace, security and stability are preserved," adds the Foreign Office.

US President Donald Trump said on Twitter, "HUGE breakthrough today! Historic Peace Agreement between our two GREAT friends, Israel and the United Arab Emirates!" US President Donald Trump said on Twitter.

"Everybody said this would be impossible ... After 49 years Israel and the United Arab Emirates will fully normalise their diplomatic relations," Trump later told reporters.

Democratic White House candidate Joe Biden called the UAE´s move "a welcome, brave, and badly-needed act of statesmanship".

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson welcomed the agreement as "hugely good news".

“The UAE and Israel’s decision to normalise relations is hugely good news,” Johnson said on Twitter.

“It was my profound hope that annexation did not go ahead in the West Bank and today’s agreement to suspend those plans is a welcome step on the road to a more peaceful Middle East.”

The Palestinian leadership voiced its "strong rejection and condemnation" of the deal and announced it would withdraw its envoy from the UAE.

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas called the agreement an "aggression" against the Palestinian people and a "betrayal" of their cause, including their claim to Jerusalem as capital of their future state.

Hazem Qasem, spokesman for Palestinian group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, said the deal "does not serve the Palestinian cause", calling it "a reward for the Israeli occupation and crimes".

Jordan, which borders the West Bank and Israel, said the outcome of the agreement would depend on Israel´s actions, including its stance on a two-state solution with the Palestinians.

Foreign Minister Ayman al-Safadi said: "the impact of the deal on peace efforts is linked to the actions Israel will take".

"I appreciate the efforts of the architects of this agreement for the prosperity and stability of our region," Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi tweeted.

He added he hoped the deal to halt Israel´s annexation of Palestinian land, would help bring "peace" to the Middle East.

Iran condemned the deal, saying the Palestinian people would "never forgive the normalising of relations with the criminal Israeli occupation regime and the complicity in its crimes."

The move was an act of "strategic stupidity from Abu Dhabi and Tel Aviv which will undoubtedly strengthen the resistance axis in the region," the foreign ministry said.

Ankara also condemned the deal as an act of treachery.

"While betraying the Palestinian cause to serve its narrow interests, the UAE is trying to present this as a kind of act of self-sacrifice for Palestine," the foreign ministry said.

"History and the conscience of the people living in the region will not forget and never forgive this hypocritical behaviour."

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday that Turkey could suspend diplomatic relations with the United Arab Emirates after a landmark deal between Israel and the Gulf state.

"I gave an order to the foreign minister. I said we could suspend diplomatic relations with the Abu Dhabi administration or withdraw our ambassador," Erdogan told reporters.

Yemen's Huthi rebels slammed the deal as "a move that provokes the Arab and Islamic nation... and proves that these countries, including the Emirates which is launching an assault against Yemen, serve the Israeli entity," their spokesman Mohammed Abdelsalam said.

France welcomed the deal, stressing the suspension of Israel´s plans to annex swathes of the occupied West Bank.

"The decision taken within this framework by the Israeli authorities to suspend the annexation of Palestinian territories is a positive step, which must become a definitive measure," French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in a statement.

"China is happy to see measures that are helping to ease tensions between countries in the Middle East and promoting regional peace and stability," said foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian.

"We hope relevant parties will take concrete actions to bring the Palestinian issue back to the track of dialogue and negotiation on an equal footing at an early date," Zhao said, reiterating Beijing´s support for an independent Palestinian state.

Germany welcomed the "historic" deal, with Foreign Minister Heiko Maas saying normalisation of ties between the two countries was "an important contribution to peace in the region."

UN chief Antonio Guterres said he hoped the deal would help realise a two-state solution.

"The secretary general (hopes) it will create an opportunity for Israeli and Palestinian leaders to re-engage in meaningful negotiations that will realise a two-state solution in line with relevant UN resolutions, international law and bilateral agreements," his spokesman said.

"India has consistently supported peace, stability and development in West Asia, which is its extended neighbourhood. In that context, we welcome the full normalisation of ties between UAE and Israel. Both nations are key strategic partners of India," said the spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs of India.

''India continues its traditional support for the Palestinian cause. We hope to see early resumption of direct negotiations to find an acceptable two-state solution,'' he added.