Gargash: UAE-Israel relationship will help Palestinians, but they must engage

Anwar Gargash. (AP)
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Updated 17 September 2020

Gargash: UAE-Israel relationship will help Palestinians, but they must engage

  • Emirati foreign minister promises a strong economic and political connection between the two states.
  • Warns that West Bank annexation could resume if Palestinians do not return to table.

DUBAI: The UAE’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs has promised that his country’s relationship with Israel will be comprehensive and deep, and will ultimately help the Palestinian cause.

In an online briefing attended by Arab News on Wednesday, Anwar Gargash discussed his country’s commitment to wide-ranging diplomatic, economic and cultural exchanges with Israel, made possible by the Abraham Accords signed on Tuesday.

The Abraham Accords will normalize the relationship between the UAE and Israel, and have been widely hailed as a “historic moment” in the story of the modern Middle East.

On the future relationship, Gargash said: “This will be a very, very warm peace. There will be normal diplomatic relations — our diplomats throughout the world have already been inundated with requests to meet with Israeli diplomats. We have authorized many of these meetings.”

This extensive diplomatic opening, he said, “will be done within days, rather than months.”

In a wide-ranging discussion hosted by the UK’s Emirates Society, Gargash also said that the UAE “is determined that this will be an across-the-board relationship,” incorporating “tourism, banking, trade, investment, health and technology,” into a wide-ranging bilateral relationship.

He said this will “break the taboo of a Gulf state having relations with Israel.”

Gargash also rallied against tribal differences that obstruct regional peace and prosperity.

Fundamental in overcoming this, he said, is the importance of “shattering the psychological barrier” of Muslim and Jewish coexistence.

Once this barrier has been broken, “other tasks will not be easy, but they will be more manageable.”

He said the Palestinian question is one such issue.

The UAE remains committed to a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, but Gargash said it is “difficult to have leverage over somebody without communication.

“From our perspective … in the medium-term (the Palestinians) will find out that the UAE, through its new links forged in this relationship, will be able to help them more.”

However, Gargash made clear that it is “extremely important that the Palestinians engage.”

He said their “empty chair approach” has not been helpful thus far, and will not be in the future, and warned that Israeli annexation of up to 30 percent of the West Bank — an initiative suspended as a result of the Abraham accords — could resume within five years if the Palestinians do not re-engage diplomatically.

While the Palestinians are chiefly responsible in this regard, Gargash also pointed to key players in the international community that can assist in the pursuit of this goal.

In particular, British and US recognition of a Palestinian state “would be both admirable and important,” he said.

“Fundamentally, it is the Israelis and Palestinians that must solve this issue,” he added.

This cooperation, he hopes, will lead to the peaceful coexistence of both an Israeli and a Palestinian state.

“I think we are all better off with a two-state solution, and I think we should all work towards that,” Gargash said.

Iranians awaiting US election results with bated breath

Updated 10 min 44 sec ago

Iranians awaiting US election results with bated breath

  • Khamenei himself hasn’t commented on the election, even as public interest has soared

DUBAI: Top officials in Iran say the upcoming US election doesn’t matter, but nearly everyone else there seems to be holding their breath.
The race for the White House could mean another four years of President Donald Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign. Or it could bring Joe Biden, who has raised the possibility of the US returning to Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
In the upper levels of Iran’s Islamic republic, overseen by 81-year-old Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, anti-Americanism is as deeply entrenched as at any time since the 1979 Islamic revolution, with presidents from both parties seen as equally repugnant.
“America has a deep-rooted enmity against the Iranian nation and whether Trump is elected or Biden, it will not have any impact on the US main policy to strike the Iranian nation,” parliament speaker Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf said in September, according to the semiofficial Fars news agency.
But noticeably, Khamenei himself hasn’t commented on the election, even as public interest has soared. State-run radio rebroadcast a BBC Farsi-language service simulcast of the presidential debates live — even as Iran continues to target journalists for the British broadcaster.
That interest allegedly includes Iran’s security apparatus as well. US officials accuse the Islamic republic of sending emails to voters seeking to intimidate them into voting for Trump. It may have been an attempt to link the president to apparent election interference in order to sow chaos, like Russia’s interference in America’s 2016 election. Tehran denies being involved.
The Iranian public is paying attention. The state-owned polling center ISPA said this month that 55 percent of people believe the outcome of the election will affect Iran “a lot.” Over half expected Trump would win, while a fifth said Biden. ISPA said it surveyed over 1,600 people by telephone, and did not provide a margin of error.
Trump’s reelection would mean the extension of his pressure campaign, including sanctions on Khamenei and other senior officials. Some of the sanctions are largely symbolic — Khamenei has only once traveled to America and does not hold any US bank accounts — but others have devastated the economy and sent the local currency into freefall. As a hedge, Iranians have poured money into foreign currency, real estate, precious metals and the stock market — which hit a record high in August.
Trump on the campaign trail has hit on that and his decision to launch a drone strike that killed a top Iranian general in January — a move that led Tehran to launch a retaliatory ballistic missile strike, wounding dozens of American troops.
To cheers, Trump has described the general, Qassem Soleimani, as “the world’s No. 1 terrorist,” likely due to him being blamed for the improvised explosive devices that maimed US troops in Iraq and for supporting Syria’s Bashar Assad. Many Iranians revered Solemani for fighting against Daesh and in the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, and millions flooded the streets for his funeral processions.
“The first call I get when we win will be from the head of Iran, let’s make a deal. Their economy is crashing,” Trump told a campaign rally in Allentown, Pennsylvania, on Monday. “They will call and I want them to do well, but they cannot have a nuclear weapon.”
Biden has left open the possibility of returning to the nuclear deal, in which Tehran agreed to limit its uranium enrichment in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. The other signatories — Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China — have remained committed to the agreement and allowed a UN arms embargo to expire as part of the deal, despite a White House push to keep it in place.
After Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018 and restored crippling sanctions, Iran began publicly abandoning the agreement’s limits on enrichment. It now has at least 2.32 tons of low-enriched uranium, according to a September report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Experts typically say 1.15 tons of low-enriched uranium is enough material to be re-enriched for one nuclear weapon.
Iran insists its nuclear program is peaceful and still allows IAEA inspectors to monitor its atomic sites. But experts say the “breakout time” needed for Iran to build one nuclear weapon if it chooses to do so has dropped from one year under the deal to as little as three months.
Iran in the past also has threatened to abandon a nuclear nonproliferation treaty or expel international inspectors. It recently began construction at an underground nuclear site, likely building a new centrifuge assembly plant after a reported sabotage attack there earlier this year.
“’America First’ has made America alone,” Biden said at a televised ABC town hall this month, playing on a longtime Trump slogan. “You have Iran closer to having enough nuclear material to build a bomb.”
What a return to the deal means, however, is in question. Biden’s campaign website says he would use “hard-nosed diplomacy and support from our allies to strengthen and extend it.” One criticism of the accord was its narrow focus on the nuclear program, despite concerns by the US, Israel and its Gulf Arab allies over Iran’s ballistic missile program and its presence in Iraq, Lebanon and Syria.
Iran maintains that its ballistic missile program is vital for deterring potential attacks and non-negotiable. It is also unlikely to cease its military activities in Syria and Iraq, where it spent considerable blood and treasure in the war against Daesh.
But ensuring the survival of the Islamic republic, particularly amid the coronavirus pandemic, may require the same flexibility that saw Iran agree to negotiations with the US in the first place. Iran will hold a presidential election in June, but any decision to re-engage with Washington would have to be made by the supreme leader.
“Khamenei’s revolutionary path actually leads to America — that is, by seeking a stable, safe, and meticulously measured relationship with the United States, he believes he can guarantee the survival of both the regime and its revolutionary content and orientation,” wrote Mehdi Khalaji, a Qom-trained Shiite theologian who is an analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
“Tehran’s objective is therefore a scandalous paradox: Deal with America to remain anti-American.”