The article analyzes one of the most crucial developments in the international security world – Israel’s rapprochement with UAE – from a global, democratic lens. The stated goal of UAE-Israel normalization is to induce a degree of justice for Palestinian statehood, and limit Israel’s prospective annexation. Turkey’s counter-imperatives to UAE-Israel ties (vis-à-vis Palestine), illustrate the move’s polarizing effects in the Gulf world – with wide ranging implications.
Normalization of relations between the United Arab Emirates and Israel was always on the cards. In March last year, UAE’s Foreign Minister Anwar Gargash urged the Arab world to open communication lines with Jerusalem, and effect a “strategic shift” in promoting Palestine’s quest for peace. Years of sustained intelligence cooperation and a stated position to win international support for an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement pushed Abu Dhabi to formally recognize Israel in a meeting on Capitol Hill this month. The recognition is set against the guarantee that Jerusalem would suspend its immediate annexation of occupied West Bank territories. This puts the brakes on one of the most hotly contested territorial disputes within the Gulf security landscape.
It is against this backdrop that Ankara’s continued hostilities towards Israeli-Emirati normalization miss the mark. “The step will be a fresh blow to efforts to defend the Palestinian cause and will further embolden Israel to continue its illegal practices towards Palestine,” stated the Turkish Foreign Ministry in the lead-up to the Capitol Hill ceremony. What the Turkish narrative continues to overlook are two major consistencies in Abu Dhabi’s position on Israeli annexation: the immediacy of change and the level of ownership.
Turkey’s endorsement of the 2002 Arab League-led Peace Initiative came with a commitment to gaining support “at all levels.” The language, aimed at deterring Israel’s immediate support for the 1967 occupation, resurfaced again in 2005 and became a central feature of UAE’s annexation posture in the aftermath of the U.S. Middle East Peace Plan. Even when President Trump unveiled his Deal of the Century in January, Abu Dhabi expressed its appreciation with sovereign interests intact: a return to broad-based negotiations and greater international ownership.
The Emirates succeeds in extending that consistency to the Abraham Accords as well, accomplishing what Ankara simply couldn’t: greater space for Palestine-Israel peace talks and a broadening of the Israeli-US relationship binary into an international exercise. Moreover, its commitment to regional peace is bolstered in recent weeks by implicit support from the 22-member strong Arab League coalition and top Western powers. Thus, full UAE-Israel normalization categorically debunks Turkey’s allegation that the UAE betrayed the cause of the Palestinians by transforming its stance on Israeli-Palestinian peace.
In stark contrast, Ankara has nothing tangible to offer on Palestine-Israeli peace efforts. It has leveraged stock reactionary campaigning to repeatedly condemn Israel’s plan to annex the occupied West Bank, terming it as unacceptable to any member of the international community with a “sense of justice and responsibility.” However, it is Ankara – not Abu Dhabi – that has struggled to pursue powerful supplements to the U.S.-backed “deal of the century,” and failed to champion communication lines between Palestine, Jerusalem and allies.
A range of demographic and economic exigencies have also swept Gulf states in recent months – all denied due importance under Erdogan’s watch. Employment frustrations and revenue concerns have forced states to focus solidarities inwards – away from Palestine and with the masses – and the UAE’s normalization push offers a vital chance to reshape that transition. “We’ve been talking about this, we have developed and realised that [having] no communication channel with Israel has not yielded any results,” stated Dr. Gargash in an online session with the Asia Society in September. On the other hand, Ankara’s resolve to rule out any semblance of talks between Palestine and Israel raises serious questions about its role as a catalyst for Gulf cohesion.
Moreover, Turkey’s posture of inducing “compliance by coercion” has also hit a wall in the Gulf. Last month, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan made threats to call back the country’s Ambassador from the Emirates, and close down its embassy.
Almost six weeks on, nothing has yet materialized.
In truth, Erdogan’s strong-man posturing was intended to confirm Turkish solidarities with Palestine, but recent history suggests that line of attack almost always fails. For instance, the cancellation of Turkish Defense Minister’s recent visit to Iraq failed to alter Ankara’s widely contested Kurdish militant offensives. Similarly, Ankara’s futile attempts at threatening US Ambassadors over the century-old Armenian genocide revealed the same message: coercion yields no strategic shift.
Interestingly, Abu Dhabi’s rapprochement with Israel brings chief Gulf allies such as Saudi Arabia at the forefront of advocating for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “The initiative provides the basis for a comprehensive and just solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict that ensures the fraternal Palestinian people obtain their legitimate rights,” asserted the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman this week. This position exemplifies how to diplomatically promote Palestine’s interests within a nation’s sovereign sphere – an approach to statecraft that lacks both precedent and credibility under Erdogan’s leadership. Ultimately, these dynamics deal a deathblow to Ankara’s view that Palestinian statehood is a non-existent consideration within UAE-Israel rapprochement. To the contrary, its autonomy is the founding basis in Abu Dhabi’s normalization push, and will remain central to the pursuits of major Gulf allies on the dispute.