The worrying secret behind Israel-UAE ties

Excerpt from article by David RosenbergHaaretz June 2, 2022

For all the fanfare around the formal signing of the free trade agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday, businesspeople and investors have been moving forward at a far faster pace than diplomats and trade officials.

For Emirati leaders, Israel is not only a desirable business partner but a critical part of its diplomatic strategy of counterbalancing the threat from Iran, and reaching out to the world at a time when globalization has come under pressure.

But how ordinary Emiratis feel about their country’s new friendship with Israel is harder to discern. The UAE doesn’t have an organized political opposition, and the regime doesn’t tolerate overt displays of opinion at variance with government policies, so true public opinion is hard to gauge.

Joshua Krasna, a research fellow at Tel Aviv University’s Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies, believes relations with Israel may not be as popular as is commonly believed. Among other things, he cites the degree to which Israeli actions on the Temple Mount and the al-Aqsa Mosque upset Muslims. The last year has given them no shortage of incidents with which to express concern.

“There is reportedly not much public enthusiasm for the normalization with Israel in UAE, but also little opposition,” Krasna wrote in a report published in May after visiting Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Bahrain. “Emiratis abroad have been critical of the accords, a fact that might reflect trends inside the Emirate.”

A rare peek at Emirati public opinion comes from David Pollock of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, who conducted a poll last November that asked people how they felt about a host of political issues.

Only 37 percent agreed that “those who want to have business or sports relations with Israelis should be allowed to do so” — a share that has held steady compared with previous surveys. Only 23 percent agreed that the Abraham Accords would have a positive effect on the region, down from 44 percent in June 2021.

“This low level of popular expectations from the Abraham Accords, even in the midst of conspicuous public celebrations of its first anniversary, is additional evidence that many respondents are clearly willing to offer private opinions very much at variance with their government’s official position,” Pollock concludes.

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