Two months ago, Yousef Al Otaiba, the UAE's ambassador to Washington, laid out for Israelis a vision for a more peaceful Middle East. "Greater security. Direct links. Expanded markets. Growing acceptance," he wrote in an opinion piece for a daily newspaper in Tel Aviv. "This is what normal could be."
It is a very different path from the one Israel had been heading down since its March election, in which the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to mount an illegal annexation of occupied Palestinian territory.
Annexation, as Mr Al Otaiba pointed out, would be the opposite of normal; it would be a provocation for large sections of the Arab world that yearn for a more stable and prosperous future. Israel’s response to these aspirations “would be an unmistakable signal of whether it sees it the same way”.
This evening, Israel made its decision. In a landmark agreement between the UAE, Israel and the US, the Netanyahu government agreed to halt its annexation plans in exchange for the establishment of bilateral ties with the Emirates.
Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, confirmed that “the UAE and Israel also agreed to co-operation and setting a roadmap towards establishing a bilateral relationship”.
Provided the Israeli government upholds the agreement, the end result will be the establishment of a multitude of ties, including diplomatic outposts, trade and co-operation in technology sectors. The two nations will also work together in addressing food security and climate change – areas that will have far-reaching consequences for quality of life throughout the region.
The deal is an historic moment in decades of diplomatic efforts to preserve the contours of a future Palestinian state through a negotiated, two-state solution. It is also a moment of which the Emirates, which has long sought to ensure the dignity of Palestinians, can be exceptionally proud. The spectre of annexation, which remains illegal under international law, was not only an affront to that dignity in the present moment; it was a negation of all that a Palestinian state could be. The suffering Palestinians have endured over the past seven decades is immeasurable, but equally limitless is the potential that Palestinians have to build for themselves a country that could be the envy of the Middle East. A deal that seeks to protect their resources and territorial integrity is a crucial starting point from which that future can begin.
“Fundamentally, our initiative is not to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict," UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Dr Anwar Gargash said of the announcement. "This is left to the Palestinian and Israelis – rather it is to contribute to defusing a time bomb that was threatening the two-state solution”.
With good faith from the Israeli side, it could also be a starting point for a new chapter in history. The Middle East is a region with too many fractures in too many places. With this agreement, one of its deepest may soon begin to heal.