The leaders of the United Arab Emirates ("UAE") and Israel signed an agreement in Washington yesterday, on 15 September 2020, formalising the countries' commitment to normalise diplomatic relations. The Kingdom of Bahrain also signed a separate agreement with Israel at the same ceremony. All four countries, including the USA, signed a common agreement. The suite of agreements are known as the Abraham Accords.

The respective inter-state agreements were signed by UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Bahrain's Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al Zayani and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

An in-depth look at the Abraham Accords

The Declaration

The agreement entitled "The Abraham Accords Declaration" was signed by the UAE, Bahrain, the USA and Israel (the "Declaration").

The Declaration is more brief in its terms than the inter-state agreements, forming part of the Abraham Accords, particularly the UAE-Israel Agreement (which we discuss in more detail below). The Declaration begins by acknowledging each country's commitment to "maintaining and strengthening peace in the Middle East and around the world based on mutual understanding and coexistence, as well as respect for human dignity and freedom, including religious freedom." The Declaration goes on to further address religion and humanity, stating: "We encourage efforts to promote interfaith and intercultural dialogue to advance a culture of peace among the three Abrahamic religions and all humanity".

The Declaration confirms each country's respective belief that the best way to address challenges is through cooperation, dialogue and to develop "friendly relations" among the states to advance lasting peace in the Middle East and around the world.

The Declaration sets out the key goals of the four nations as being:

  1. To seek tolerance and respect for every person in order to make this world a place where all can enjoy a life of dignity and hope, regardless of their race, faith or ethnicity;
  2. To support science, art, medicine and commerce;
  3. To end radicalization and conflict; and
  4. To pursue a vision of peace, security and prosperity in the Middle East and around the world.

The Declaration concludes by encouraging ongoing efforts by the countries to consolidate and expand "friendly relations based on shared interests and a shared commitment to a better future".

The UAE-Israel agreement

The agreement signed by the UAE and Israel (and witnessed by the USA) is entitled "Abraham Accords Peace Agreement: Treaty of Peace, Diplomatic Relations and Full Normalization between the United Arab Emirates and the State of Israel" (the "UAE-Israel Agreement").

The UAE-Israel Agreement begins by setting out the common goals of the two countries, with a focus on ensuring and encouraging peace, stability and prosperity in the Middle East. Further, the agreement confirms that the parties have a desire to establish "full-normalization of ties between" the two states and their people and reaffirms the mutual commitment to promote stability through diplomatic engagement, increased economic cooperation and "other close coordination".

The UAE-Israel Agreement addresses, in detail, cultural and religious cooperation; stating that the two countries recognise that "Arab and Jewish peoples are descendants of a common ancestor, Abraham, and inspired, in that spirit to foster in the Middle East a reality in which Muslims, Jews, Christians and peoples of all faiths, denominations, beliefs and nationalities live....with mutual understanding and mutual respect".

The UAE-Israel Agreement also refers to broader geo-political relationships in the region, with reference to efforts to achieve a "just, comprehensive, realistic and enduring solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict". The agreement also refers to the peace agreements entered into between Egypt and Israel and Jordan and Israel, and the commitment of these states to work together to "realize a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that meets the needs and aspirations of both peoples".

The UAE-Israel Agreement sets out twelve key terms of agreement as follows:

1. Establishment of Peace, Diplomatic Relations and Normalization

The parties agree to establish peace, diplomatic relations and the full normalisation of bilateral ties.

2. General Principles

The agreement confirms that the parties will be guided in their relations by the Charter of the United Nations and principles of international law governing relations between states. It is also agreed that the parties recognise and respect each other's sovereignty and the rights of their peoples to live in peace and security.

3. Establishment of Embassies

The parties shall exchange resident ambassadors as soon as possible. All diplomatic and consular relations shall be conducted in accordance with the applicable rules of international law.

4. Peace and Stability

Peace and stability shall be of "profound importance" to the parties' relationship. They agree to take all steps necessary to prevent any terrorist or hostile activities against each other on or from their respective territories. The parties also agree to deny any support for terrorist or hostile activities abroad or allowing such support on or from their respective territories. This is described in the agreement as a "new era of peace".

5. Cooperation and Agreements in Other Spheres

The parties agree to work to advance the cause of peace, stability and prosperity throughout the Middle East and to unlock the potential of their own countries and the region. The extent of the parties' cooperation is set out in detail under this pillar, and the parties agree to conclude bilateral agreements as soon as possible in relation to the following areas: finance and investment, civil aviation, visa and consular services, innovation, trade and economic relations, healthcare, science, technology and peaceful uses of outer-space, tourism, culture and sport, energy, environment, education, maritime arrangements, telecommunications and post, agriculture and food security, water and legal cooperation ("Areas for Agreement").

Further, any such agreement entered into prior to the signing of the UAE-Israel Agreement shall enter into effect with the entry into force of the UAE-Israel Agreement, unless stipulated otherwise.

The parties also agree principles for cooperation for each of the Areas for Agreement, which is set out in the annexure to the UAE-Israel Agreement. The principles broadly set out a clear road map of priorities between the two countries (these principles are discussed in more detail below).

6. Mutual Understanding and Co-existence

The UAE-Israel Agreement has a strong focus on ensuring mutual respect and acknowledgement of each party's religion and culture. The parties agree to promote this by "cultivating" people to people programs, interfaith dialogue and cultural, academic, youth, scientific and other exchanges between their populations. Importantly, the parties also agree to secure efficient and secure travel between the two countries.

Further, under this pillar, the parties also agree to work together to combat terrorism and radicalisation. In doing so, the parties agree to establish a high-level joint forum for peace and co-existence.

7. Strategic Agenda for the Middle East

Under this head of agreement, the parties agree to work with the USA to develop and launch a "Strategic Agenda for the Middle East". The parties, in this regard, agree to work with the USA to advance peace, stability and prosperity in the Middle East, including by engaging in joint aid and development programs.

8. Other Rights and Obligations

The UAE-Israel Agreement does not affect the rights and obligations of the parties under the Charter of the United Nations. The parties' respective commitments under international law and treaties shall be upheld.

9. Respect for Obligations

It is expressly stated that the terms of the UAE-Israel Agreement are binding on the parties. The parties agree to fulfil, in good faith, their obligations under the UAE-Israel Agreement. They also undertake to not enter into any agreement which conflicts with the terms of the Agreement. The parties further agree to adopt any legislation or other legal procedures necessary to bring into effect the terms of the UAE-Israel Agreement, including repealing or abolishing any existing legislation which is inconsistent with the terms agreed by the parties. The UAE has already taken steps to abolish Federal Law No. 15 of 1972 (the "Israel Boycott Law"), which we consider in more detail below.

10. Ratification and Entry into Force

The UAE-Israel Agreement enters into force following the exchange of instruments of ratification. From the Israeli side this will require the Israeli cabinet and Parliament (Knesset) to ratify the agreement, which is expected to happen in mid-October. We expect the UAE will also issue a decree ratifying the UAE-Israeli Agreement in the coming weeks, if not sooner.

11. Settlement of Disputes

Any disputes arising out of the UAE-Israel Agreement shall be resolved by negotiation. Failing this, the dispute shall be referred to conciliation or arbitration, subject to agreement by the parties.

12. Registration

The UAE-Israel Agreement shall be transmitted to the Secretary General of the United Nations for registration under the Charter of the United Nations.

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