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Examining The Diplomatic Deal Between Israel, United Arab Emirates


Newly established diplomatic ties between Israel and the United Arab Emirates are having an effect. The UAE is welcoming thousands of Israelis. President Trump's administration promoted these diplomatic ties as a historic breakthrough, which was true. Israel had been isolated from many Arab nations for decades. Israel's leader says the agreement proves that peace does not have to come at a cost. NPR's Daniel Estrin traveled to Dubai in the UAE to ask just what kind of peace is being promoted.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: It's not hard to spot Israeli tourists in Dubai's busy gold market.

LIHE ZE'EV: We Israelis are very noisy, and they understand us. Here, I feel good.

ESTRIN: Tour guide Lihe Ze'ev (ph) is wearing a sequined shirt and a blue scarf around her strawberry-red hair. She poses for pictures with elaborate gold wedding garments in the window displays. Later, she'll ski at Dubai's famous indoor ski slope.

ZE'EV: In Jordan, I don't know if I will feel like this, not in Egypt. We make fun here, and next month, I come again.

ESTRIN: Egypt and Jordan share a cold peace with Israel, and most other Arab countries refuse relations with Israel as long as Palestinians don't have independence. But the UAE gave Israelis what they have long sought - a sense of acceptance in the region.

ELANIT ZEGELBOEM: We are wanted. In our country, I don't feel wanted by the Arabs. And here, they want me here.

ESTRIN: Elanit Zegelboem (ph) wanders Dubai's spice market with six friends, all elementary schoolteachers. Emirates in the market are reluctant to speak on tape about their country's embrace of Israel, which is still controversial in the region. I asked the Israeli schoolteacher, is this peace?

ZEGELBOEM: I don't know if it's a real peace or not. I think that both countries have interests in this peace because we need them. They need us.

ESTRIN: The Israelis gain business opportunities. One Israeli I met signed a deal to grow lettuce using pipes in the Emirati desert. And the Emirates get Israel's blessing to buy American-made F-35 fighter jets. Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco also normalize ties with Israel. And it was the U.S. offering the incentives without concessions by Israel.


PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: (Non-English language spoken).

ESTRIN: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promoted the UAE deal as peace for peace instead of the old paradigm land for peace. He says it sets a precedent. Israel doesn't need to give up land to the Palestinians to win friends in the Arab world. But Emiratis still want Palestinians on their side. UAE ambassador to the U.S. Yousef Al Otaiba

YOUSEF AL OTAIBA: We still want to see a two-state solution. We still want to see a negotiation between the two parties. But perhaps, just perhaps, we might be able to have more influence and more leverage when we do have a relationship with Israel.

ESTRIN: Emirati commentators say the love fest Israelis feel is just the honeymoon. Tough love will come later. But Israelis are seeing it more Netanyahu's way.

RONEN: (Non-English language spoken).

ESTRIN: Ronen (ph), a tourist who gave just his first name to discuss his political views, says the Emiratis' embrace proves Israel doesn't need to make sacrifices. Rather, it's the Palestinians who will feel pressured to follow their Arab brothers and make a deal with Israel. Even a prominent Israeli peace advocate returned from a trip to Dubai saying...

CHEMI PERES: I think that the Palestinians need to rethink the way they treat Israel.

ESTRIN: Chemi Peres, the son of the late Israeli President Shimon Peres, runs the Peres Center for Peace that reaches out to Palestinians. He wants to promote business with the Emirates, an approach he wants Palestinians to adopt.

PERES: I think their point of view has been, let's first solve the political issues and then we can start normalizing things and move forward. I think those days have gone. I believe that the only way for us to really, really achieve peace, comprehensive peace and save the region from backwardness is to focus on moving together forward.

ESTRIN: I put that to Nabil Shaath, adviser to the Palestinian president. He says Palestinians can't just move forward and ignore their day-to-day realities.

NABIL SHAATH: Israel occupies our land. Israel continues to create settlements in our villages, destroying our houses. And yet it is legal have to treat Israel better. Who is it that should be doing what to whom? The occupied to the occupier?

ESTRIN: Palestinians and many countries say real peace requires Israel to compromise land for peace. Shaath says the UAE deal removes the incentive for Israel to do that, even if the Emiratis say they'll keep pushing for it.

SHAATH: The Israelis are the problem, not us. And the Emiratis are looking for excuses for what they have done.


ESTRIN: Sisters Misa (ph) and Loubna Zubidat (ph) sandboard down a desert dune. They're Palestinian-Arab citizens of Israel, not from the occupied territories, and they're thrilled to finally visit a part of the Arab world that had been off limits to them as Israeli passport holders.

LOUBNA ZUBIDAT: (Non-English language spoken).

ESTRIN: Loubna hoped Jewish travelers to Dubai would see Arabs in a more positive light. Could it lead to less discrimination against her community at home, or would it all just be forgotten on the flight back?


ESTRIN: Commotion on the runway in Dubai. Lihe Ze'ev, the Jewish tour guide you heard at the beginning of the story, happens to be sitting across from me and does not want the flight attendant to crowd the empty row in front of her with an Arab couple and their baby, also tourists from Israel. A second Arab couple accuses her of racism.

ZE'EV: (Non-English language spoken).

ESTRIN: Ze'ev says, are you psycho?

UNIDENTIFIED FLIGHT ATTENDANT: (Non-English language spoken).

ESTRIN: An Israeli flight attendant gets on the loudspeaker - respect each other. A young Arab dad stands up and addresses the plane.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Non-English language spoken).

ESTRIN: "You all were just in an Arab country, not in Las Vegas. Look at what's happening here - disgusting." A Jewish man shouts back, don't generalize. The quarrelling passengers don't make amends or apologies. They spend the flight back to Israel in a kind of cold peace. Daniel Estrin, NPR News, Dubai.


Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.
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