UAE locals hail Israel peace, offer hotel discounts; elsewhere in Gulf, wariness
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UAE locals hail Israel peace, offer hotel discounts; elsewhere in Gulf, wariness

Two days after deal announced, Israeli TV stations interview upbeat Emirati politicians, locals; in the GCC’s other 5 countries, by contrast, there’s unease at idea of public ties

A man reads a copy of UAE-based The National newspaper, with a headline about the UAE-Israel agreement and Israel's suspension of annexation moves, near the Burj Khalifa, the tallest structure and building in the world, in Dubai on August 14, 2020. (Photo by Giuseppe Cacace/AFP)
A man reads a copy of UAE-based The National newspaper, with a headline about the UAE-Israel agreement and Israel's suspension of annexation moves, near the Burj Khalifa, the tallest structure and building in the world, in Dubai on August 14, 2020. (Photo by Giuseppe Cacace/AFP)

Two days after the bombshell announcement that the UAE and Israel have agreed to establish full normalized relations, Israel’s TV news shows Saturday night featured interviews with UAE ministers, locals, Israeli expats, and even a hotel reservations clerk offering 40% discounts to Israeli tourists.

“All of us in the UAE are celebrating this agreement, welcoming it and encouraging other states to establish agreements like it,” an unnamed driver in Dubai enthused in Channel 12’s news broadcast. “We are happy about this decision by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed and we support him for anything with Israel,” said a local, Jabar bin Shanan.

Rival Channel 13, whose correspondent had already made his way to Dubai, interviewed an Israeli-born businessman named Yoni who proclaimed the newly announced establishment of ties to be “absolutely amazing. Yoni’s UAE-born friend Hamdan weighed in, in Hebrew, to say that “I started learning Hebrew a while back.”

Telephoning a Dubai hotel, Channel 12 found a delighted reservations clerk, who said, “Everybody is exited about the peace with Israel.” And “I will be very much looking forward if you come to stay with us. We would be happy to give you a 40% discount from the room rate.”

‘We in the Emirates support this decision’: A resident of the UAE hails relations with Israel, August 15, 2020 (Channel 12 screenshot)

Hebrew TV outlets also screened short clips from several pro-Israel bloggers in the Emirates, one of whom wished the countries “mazaltov” on the new ties.

‘A new method of doing things’

Underlining the radical new openness of what has for years been an under-the-radar relationship between the countries, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash followed an interview Friday with Hebrew website Walla with a second, short appearance on Channel 12.

UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash speaks on Channel 12 news, August 15, 2020 (Channel 12 screenshot)

“Clearly 70 years of not communicating with Israel has led us nowhere,” said Gargash.

“I think we need to shift to a new method of doing things. And that method simply is: We can disagree with you in political issues but we can work with you [on] non-political issues.”

A UAE blogger sends Hebrew mazaltov wishes regarding the UAE-Israel peace deal, August 15, 2020 (Channel 12 screenshot)

After becoming the first Gulf country to establish ties with the Jewish state, the UAE is being portrayed in its local media as the champion of peace in a divided region that needs to join forces against Iran, the AFP news agency reported Saturday.

“I’m planning a trip to Tel Aviv already,” a young Emirati who works in marketing said wryly. “How long will we live in conflict? The world is going through enough already, so let’s have some peace,” he told AFP.

The Tel Aviv Municipality building is lit up in the colors of the United Arab Emirates flag on August 13, 2020. (Jack Guez/AFP)

“I trust the strategy and the wisdom of our leaders. What the UAE did was for the Palestinians in the first place,” he told AFP, in a country where political criticism is rarer than thunderstorms.

‘Dagger in the back’

In the other five countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council — Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman — citizens are not convinced, however, AFP noted.

While diplomatic and business contacts with Israel have been growing in recent years, in the public arena the idea of official ties remains taboo.

On social networks, the hashtag “Normalization is Treason” has been trending across the region in the past few days, AFP said, particularly among young Saudi activists.

Riyadh, the leading Arab power and the custodian of Islam’s holiest sites, has not yet made any comment on the move by the UAE, its close ally. President Donald Trump’s top adviser, Jared Kushner, said Friday, however, that an Israeli-Saudi agreement was now “an inevitability.”

Palestinians in the West Bank city of Ramallah burn pictures of Emirati Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan (top) and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, during a demonstration against the UAE-Israeli agreement to normalize diplomatic ties, August 15, 2020. (Abbas Momani/AFP)

Bahrain was the first Gulf state to welcome Thursday’s agreement, which the United States helped broker, and its prime minister has reportedly spoken to Israel’s Mossad chief in recent days about following the UAE’s lead. Still, AFP reported, several Bahrain opposition parties issued a joint statement rejecting “any normalization with the Zionist entity.”

A man wearing a surgical mask is pictured in the heart of the Bahraini capital Manama on February 26, 2020. (Mazen Mahdi/AFP)

“Unfortunately, I would not be able to do anything but protest on social networks because of the security situation,” one Bahraini man told the news agency, referring to the authorities’ crackdown on critical voices.

“It is a betrayal, a stab in the back of the Palestinian brothers,” he said.

‘Not a real country’

Qatar, which did not respond to Thursday’s announcement, has since 2017 been out in the diplomatic cold with the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt, who accuse it of supporting Islamist movements and conniving with Iran.

Doha, which at the same time remains close to the US, denies the allegations. It has an on-again, off-again relationship with Israel, hosting an Israeli economic interests office from 1996 until 2000.

It is also heavily involved in underwriting calm in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, managing and funding welfare payments to the people of the impoverished coastal territory with Israel’s blessing.

“I don’t believe Israel is a real country,” one angry Qatari student told AFP, adding that meanwhile the Palestinians “are fighting for their land with rocks against tanks.”

In this photo from May 5, 2018, a giant image of the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani adorns a tower in Doha, Qatar. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

Kuwait, another close US ally, has also been silent on the Israel deal. The rich emirate is the only country in the Gulf with a genuine political and parliamentary life, and permits sometimes lively public debate.

“I don’t see any problem with normalization, because it existed in secret anyway and each country has its own political interests. But at the same time it doesn’t feel normal,” said Ibrahim Chihab, a Kuwaiti pensioner.

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