Israel And United Arab Emirates Residents React To Their Countries' Opened Relations

Aug 29, 2020
Originally published on August 29, 2020 1:31 pm
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What could normalized relations look like between Israel and the United Arab Emirates? The U.S. has brokered a deal for those countries, which were not at war, to open formal relations after years of covert ties. The ruler of the UAE issued a decree today formally ending his country's boycott of Israel, and next week, Israeli and American officials will go to the UAE to advance the deal. NPR's Daniel Estrin in Jerusalem brings us the view from Israel and the Emirates, where there is both buzz and some skepticism.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: When the Emirates deal was announced, Israeli TV channels quickly dispatched reporters to the Emirates for the very first time.

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UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: (Speaking Hebrew).

ESTRIN: This reporter shows viewers the world's tallest building, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. Later, he tweets a video of his cappuccino dusted in gold flakes. Most of the Middle East is off-limits to Israelis, but now they're gushing about the luxuries of Dubai that could soon be within reach.

AVI BARSSESSAT: It's new times, and I'm dying to go there.

ESTRIN: Avi Barssessat is one of many Israelis who have been quietly doing business with the Emirates for years. He sells them his company's fancy mattresses.

BARSSESSAT: They are huge. I mean, bigger than king size. You know, they live luxury life in very big houses.

ESTRIN: He ships the beds via Slovakia to hide their Israeli origins. Now, he hopes for direct trade. He phoned his Emirati distributor.

BARSSESSAT: And I said you should pack your suitcase because you're able to come to visit my factory. It will happen very soon, I promise you.

ESTRIN: Emiratis have offered public gestures too.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Speaking Hebrew).

ESTRIN: A young man in traditional white garb speaks in Hebrew in this video clip from the Emirati newspaper Ittihad. The Jewish tune "Hava Nagila" plays in the background. He praises the, quote, "wise leadership" of his country that believes in peace. An Emirati journalist from another outlet, Mahmood Alawadi (ph), spoke to NPR.

MAHMOOD ALAWADI: A lot of my friends and families, they said enough is enough. They say we want economy. We want stability in the region. Enough hatred.

ESTRIN: Hatred never really characterized the Emirates' relations with Israel. They've shared quiet trade, security ties and a common enemy in Iran. So why make their relationship official now? David Makovsky of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy thinks the Emiratis are looking toward the U.S. elections.

DAVID MAKOVSKY: That way they're buying a little bit of political risk insurance in the post-Trump era. That if Trump does not win a second term, that - what if the Democrats go back to reviving the Iranian nuclear deal? Will they feel marginalized as American focus is elsewhere?

ESTRIN: The only ones who don't get what they want from the deal are the Palestinians, who want Arab countries to withhold relations with Israel until they negotiate their own peace deal with the Israelis. The Emiratis want to buy advanced F-35 fighter jets from the U.S. President Trump gets a foreign policy win before the election and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gets to boast of making an Arab ally without having to give up any captured territory, what they call land for peace. Israeli yoga teacher Yoav Shamash questions what this deal will mean.

YOAV SHAMASH: When Netanyahu says it's peace for peace, for me it's just a slogan unless it goes deeper, not just what's going on with who can buy weapons from whom.

ESTRIN: It's harder to gauge opinion in the Emirates, where Human Rights Watch says the country has, quote, "shown no tolerance for any manner of peaceful dissent." A Washington Institute poll earlier this summer found 80% of Emiratis questioned opposed business contacts with Israel. The deal still has to be signed, but the official line from both countries is that this would be a win-win. Daniel Estrin, NPR News, Jerusalem.

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