Is the UAE about to invest in Israeli settlements?

Israeli settler leader Yossi Dagan meets with business people in the United Arab Emirates. (Photo via Facebook)

The United Arab Emirates marketed its “peace” deal with Israel as a way to stop further Israeli annexation of occupied Palestinian land.

Instead, it has all but explicitly encouraged it.

Last week, an Israeli settler delegation visited Dubai and Sharjah and met with Emirati business people.

The delegation was led by Yossi Dagan, head of the Samaria Regional Council, a settler body in the occupied West Bank.

They met around 20 individuals and corporations to explore deals on agriculture, pest control, plastics and water desalination.

“The UAE is an advanced country at the forefront of development and investment,” Dagan told the Associated Press.

“It is our honor to forge trade and industry ties with them.”

In a Facebook post during the visit, Dagan called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to “apply full sovereignty to Judea and Samaria” – in other words, to proceed with formal annexation of the occupied West Bank.

He said he was “happy to announce” that the United Arab Emirates will soon begin importing settlement products.

The settler leader asserted that there is “no contradiction” between strengthening the settlement economy and working towards annexation.

“A strong and well-established economy equals a strong and well-established settlement,” he wrote on Facebook.

Dagan also thanked the UAE, Netanyahu and the United States for the normalization agreement, which “proves that peace without withdrawal” and without removing settlers from occupied Palestinian land is possible.

Dagan seems only now to have realized that the so-called Abraham Accords are no hindrance to Israeli colonization.

He was not as pleased when the Israel-UAE deal was struck a few months ago.

He called Netanyahu’s purported agreement to halt annexation in exchange for normalization “a stab in the back.”

Dagan said he was “disappointed, hurt and angry” to see Netanyahu walk back on promises to formally rubber stamp what Israel has been doing for decades: stealing land, forcibly displacing Palestinians and building colonies in flagrant breach of international law.

But shortly after the UAE-Israel deal was announced on 13 August, Netanyahu reaffirmed his commitment to annexation.

Earlier this year, Israel was charging towards formal annexation of large parts of the occupied West Bank, but the US put those plans on hold.

The UAE tried to spin the US-imposed freeze as an achievement for Palestinians resulting from its deal with Israel.

It was clear from day one that this was nothing more than public relations messaging to allow the UAE to claim that its move helped Palestinians, when the opposite is the case.

Now, the UAE is going above and beyond normalization of ties with the apartheid state to openly embracing its colonization of the West Bank.

The UAE’s deals with Israeli weapons manufacturers, Israeli banks that finance the theft of Palestinian land and now the warm welcome for Israel’s most hardline settlers, shows that the Gulf state is not an opponent of settlements by any measure, but actively supports them.


The UAE is already accruing American rewards.

The Trump administration last week approved the sale of 50 F-35 fighter jets to the UAE as part of a $23 billion weapons deal.

“This is in recognition of our deepening relationship and the UAE’s need for advanced defense capabilities to deter and defend itself against heightened threats from Iran,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced on 10 November.

Pompeo cited the Abraham Accords as part of the context for the arms sale without explicitly stating that it was a direct result of the deal.

The UAE-Israel agreement and the arms sale are part of the US effort to build an anti-Iran alliance between Israel and Gulf states under American oversight.

Israel’s initial refusal to give its blessing to the US sale of F-35s to the UAE had been a hiccup.

But in October, Israel relented and gave the Americans a green light to sell the advanced warplanes to Abu Dhabi.

The F-35 is made by US arms giant Lockheed Martin, one of the biggest beneficiaries of US military aid to Israel and a primary focus of the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.

Theft never stopped

Meanwhile, Israel is accelerating its theft of Palestinian land in the Trump administration’s waning days.

On Sunday, the Israeli government issued tenders to build hundreds of housing units in the Givat Hamatos settlement south of Jerusalem.

Israel set the tender deadline as 18 January 2021, two days before Joe Biden is inaugurated as president.

Israeli settlement watchdog Peace Now said this was “part of an attempt to establish as many facts on the ground as possible” before the new administration is sworn in.

In 2014, expansion of Givat Hamatos was put on hold due to opposition from the Obama administration.

If implemented, it would isolate the Palestinian neighborhood of Beit Safafa and prevent territorial contiguity between East Jerusalem and Bethlehem, further eroding the possibility of a contiguous Palestinian state.

Toothless protests

Nickolay Mladenov, the UN Middle East envoy, said on Monday that he was “very concerned” over the planned expansion in Givat Hamatos and called on “authorities to reverse this step.”

European diplomats offered similarly passive statements:

Only one European diplomat called for Israel to bear consequences for its actions.

“Illegal new settlements in the West Bank should not be ignored by the international community,” Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney tweeted. “We should consider what options are available to deter such actions.”

One option would be for Ireland to pass the Occupied Territories Bill, which would ban trade in goods from Israeli settlements.

Despite broad political support for it in Ireland, Coveney himself has been the key obstacle to introducing such a ban.

On Monday, Sven Kühn von Burgsdorff, the EU envoy to the occupied West Bank and Gaza, led a dozen European diplomats to the Givat Hamatos area to protest Israel’s planned expansion.

Members of the extreme anti-Palestinian group Im Tirzu chased von Burgsdorff and other diplomats off the site, telling them to “go back to Europe” and accusing them of anti-Semitism.

The delegation reportedly returned to their cars and moved to a different area before addressing protesters.

“What we’re seeing right now here is a de facto annexation attempt. And that cannot go on,” von Burgsdorff said.

In order to silence supporters of Palestinian rights, the EU aggressively promotes the so-called IHRA definition of anti-Semitism, which conflates criticism of Israel’s anti-Palestinian policies with bigotry against Jews.

So Im Tirzu’s attack on the European diplomats, calling them anti-Semites for protesting a war crime, was merely an example of the EU’s own tactics being turned on itself.

“I personally didn’t feel threatened,” von Burgsdorff later told The Times of Israel.

“It was unfortunate that we could not have a reasonable dialogue with these people, which is a pity, because I would have liked to engage with them.”

That captured the EU’s limitless indulgence for Israel no matter what it does.


Tamara Nassar

Tamara Nassar is an assistant editor at The Electronic Intifada.