UAE-Israel deals likely to continue quietly

The United Arab Emirates has offered to mediate between Israel and Palestine, and behind the scenes are billions of dollars in potential business deals between the UAE and Israel.

As people in Gaza begin the monumental task of rebuilding after 11 days of bombardment by the Israeli military killed at least 254 Palestinians and damaged or destroyed 80,000 people’s homes, another diplomatic clean-up seems to be underway.

Israel’s ambassador to the United Arab Emirates attended the opening of the Arabian Peninsula’s first permanent exhibition dedicated to victims of the Holocaust in Dubai on Wednesday, saying: “What we see here is the exact opposite of what we see in Gaza … What we see here in the whole normalization process is a departure from the past.”

The UAE’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, stepped forward and offered to mediate talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians in a call with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the state-owned Emirates News Agency reported on Sunday.

At stake is a week-long ceasefire that halted the latest escalation of violence. After signing the United States-brokered Abraham Accords last year, the UAE became the biggest Arab economy to normalise relations with Israel.

Under the agreements, Israel agreed not to annex parts of the occupied West Bank, but no resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict was required before economic and diplomatic cooperation between the parties could begin.

Hamas called the accords a “treacherous stab to the Palestinian cause” at the time and the Fatah movement criticised the UAE for “flouting its national, religious and humanitarian duties” towards the Palestinian people.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas used his address before the United Nations General Assembly in September to slam the accords and warn “the only path to lasting, comprehensive and just peace” was to end the Israeli occupation and create an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Now, scenes of Palestinians grieving their dead, standing among the rubble of destroyed apartment buildings in Gaza, and fighting forced evictions from their East Jerusalem homes have left Abu Dhabi’s crown prince, known as MBZ, to strike an even more delicate diplomatic balancing act.

While the UAE is under pressure from other Arab nations to show support for Palestinian rights, it seems unlikely to cancel any deals with Israel to do so, Jim Krane, a research fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute and the author of Dubai: The Story of the World’s Fastest City, told Al Jazeera.

Project announcements between firms in the two countries followed in the energy, banking, mobile payment, and sports sectors, with Israel’s Eilat Ashkelon Pipeline Company signing a memorandum of understanding to bring Emirati oil to Europe and a UAE royal buying a 50 percent stake in the Beitar Jerusalem Football Club.

Still, the total value of capital investment so far remains modest, with projects from the UAE to Israel standing at about $80m between the end of September and the end of March, and projects from Israel to the UAE amounting to less than $25m, said Karen Young, director of the Economics and Energy Program at the Middle East Institute.

Young predicts a “quiet period” when it comes to new business deals, but said the conflict could also give the UAE an opportunity to become “more activist in their investment commitments”, such as by earmarking a certain percentage of investments for job opportunities or firms in predominantly Arab areas of Israel, “something that was not on the table at all in the previous negotiations”.

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