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UAE diplomacy guides response to Syrian, Palestinian crises  

UAE steps up on Syria in wake of earthquake; Netanyahu settlement threat is déjà vu for Abu Dhabi. 
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (2nd R) chats with United Arab Emirates' Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan (R) in Sde Boker, Israel on March 28, 2022.

UAE steps up on Syria 

On Tuesday UAE President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan (MBZ) announced $100 million in aid to Turkey and Syria, setting the bar for international assistance. 

Abu Dhabi’s response to the earthquake, which has claimed more than 45,000 lives, including over 6,000 in Syria, is fueled by a characteristically Emirati blend of compassion, consensus and realism, in the tradition of the country’s founder, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.

UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan (ABZ) was in Washington last week following his trip to Syria, where he met with President Bashar al-Assad. The Biden administration, which has no relations with Assad and numerous sanctions on Syria, welcomed the Emirati initiatives to assist those affected by the quake.

Until the earthquake, Syria — and Syria policy — has been adrift, on the Biden administration’s and the world’s back-burner. The country remains divided and occupied, millions face displacement and hardships, sanctions pummel the people and not Assad (despite claims to the contrary), Iranian proxy forces throughout the country are regularly bombed by Israel.

There is, of course, no such thing as the status quo or the back-burner in the Middle East. The earthquake reminds us that this pivotal and vital country of 17 million, with over 4 million in dire need of assistance, can’t be committed to the fate of a chronically failing or collapsed state, dependent solely on Iran and Russia.

The Arab world has come around to this realization, and the UAE is characteristically out front. Assad’s visit to Dubai last year turned heads, but it’s the new reality: Assad is staying, Syria is suffering, and there needs to be an Arab approach to counter Russian and Iranian influence.

Critics fret that all this will accelerate the process of normalization with Assad. This is not an easy call for any Arab leader. There is no genuine warmth for the Syrian dictator; they all know him, and his record of cruelty. The prospect of normalization is not desirable, but neither is isolation, sanctions and ceding ground to Iran and Russia, without a sense of hope for millions of Syrians. And with Iran and Russia distracted and bogged down elsewhere, there is in the region a logic to opening a door in Syria, even as the US opposes normalization.

Syrians have already suffered too much for outsiders to keep fighting the last war, especially after the earthquake, at their expense. In the meantime, the UAE initiative has likely saved thousands of Syrian lives, and may, in the end, have forced the United States and the West to put Syria on the front-burner.  

Netanyahu settlement threat is some déjà vu for UAE 

The bill for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s alignment with the most radical right coalition in the nation’s history is coming due.

In addition to the massive protests against legislation which would undercut Israel’s independent judiciary, Netanyahu last week announced plans to expand West Bank settlements in response to Palestinian violence. 

“The US stance opposing such annexation is well known and shared by Israel's strategic partners in the Middle East,” writes Ben Caspit.  “Netanyahu is playing with fire, and he knows it.” 

The latest escalation provides another diplomatic star turn opportunity for Abu Dhabi, which holds the "Arab seat" on the UN Security Council, and therefore has the lead in drafting a resolution opposing Israeli settlement activity as undermining the two state solution. 

The resolution is under negotiation and will likely be offered Monday. 

The impetus for the Abraham Accords, signed in 2020, was to prevent an earlier Netanyahu government from annexing parts of the West Bank. So there is a bit of a déjà vu to the latest round, and it’s only fitting that the charge falls to the UAE.

The UAE is staking ground as a leader in diplomatic efforts to deescalate conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. It is a trusted broker by all parties — the United States, Israel and the Arab states — and is rebuilding its ties with the Palestinian Authority around UN diplomacy. In conversations with Emirati officials, there is a sense of urgency of the need to de-escalate the conflict, prevent any threat to the Holy Places and Jordan’s role, and keep a two-state solution alive.

As with Syria, Abu Dhabi’s leadership here is not about winning a popularity contest. The UAE took a hit among the Palestinians and others after the Abraham Accords. Some critics in the United States initially took a wary view of the accords, as they were concluded on Donald Trump’s watch. The Biden administration has since embraced the agreement as instrumental in its approach to economic integration and security in the region. And the region is gravitating to the UAE’s realism, underscored by some deft diplomacy.

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