“Public, Hybrid” Panel on the Middle East

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As our first public hybrid-format event of the semester, Webster’s International Relations Department and the emerging Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Center for Peace and Development collaborated for an event that brought together a panel of experts to discuss the recent establishment of formal diplomatic relations between the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Israel agreement. The panelists shed light on the historical background of the agreement, its implications for the Middle East region and its ramifications for global politics.

As the university’s first public event since the pandemic, the panel was hosted by Webster Geneva Campus’s Deputy Director of the IR Department, Dr. Jubin Goodarzi. “The UAE-Israel Agreement: A Game Changer in the Middle East and Beyond?” welcomed guest panelists and audience members in a hybrid format, where half of the panelists as well as half the audience were present In the conference hall, while the others joined remotely through a live feed on Zoom.

The four guest panelists discussed various aspects of contemporary Middle East diplomacy that set the stage for this important political development:

Dr. Warner, an independent scholar and expert on US politics, shared insights about the U.S. perspective, first through the lens of the Trump campaign, adding that the timing of this announcement would clearly be leveraged as a ‘win’ for re-election by the self-proclaimed dealmaker, who has yet to resolve other issues notably North Korea and the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan — both of which were campaign promises in his first election run. Yet given that Trump will mostly talk “Law and Order” and focus on domestic issues, foreign policy will not likely be a major issue in most voters’ minds.

Professor Schayegh who is with the Graduate Institute and a specialist on Israel, stated that since there is a clear “lack of a hegemon in the Middle East today,” one should not assume that the U.S. maneuvered and brokered this agreement through its power and influence. Rather, several of the Arab states in the Persian Gulf region, most notably the UAE and Saudi Arabia, have been cultivating ties and establishing avenues of cooperation with Israel for a number of years now, especially in the realm of security and intelligence matters. The perceived threat emanating from Iran, and instability and conflicts in the region (Yemen, Syria, Iraq) provided major impetus for the two sides to reach this agreement. The accord with the UAE boosts Netanyahu’s position. However, Schayegh sees Netanyahu in a struggle for his political survival, given the pending criminal trial against him and ongoing pandemic challenges. This does not change his prevailing long-term stance that a Palestinian state has never been on the cards.

Dr. Shakerian of the International Committee of the Red Cross introduced parallels from history in which small states managed to gain power through economic influence such as the Portuguese and the Dutch in the 16th and 17th centuries for example. “The UAE used its energy wealth to secure its power; now it seeks to use that power to try and secure its wealth.” He provided examples of how the UAE has kept politically distant from the Palestinian issue and instead focused on establishing a sphere of influence in the Gulf of Aden, the Horn of Africa, the Sudan and even Libya in order to secure its commercial and security interests in the region.

Dr. Jean-Marc Rickli, an expert on the UAE and other Gulf Arab states from the Geneva Center for Security Policy, asserted that with numerous exchanges and growing cooperation between Israel and the UAE since the beginning of the 21st century, the establishment of formal bilateral relations was not a surprise development to those watching closely. “It is likely that we’ll see more economic development between the parties”, he explained. “They had previously set a security deal already, to share issues related to the Qatar crisis, and the coronavirus brought a sense of urgency and timeliness to advance their collaboration both on security and economic fronts.”

This event was made possible through collaboration with the organizing partners of the MENA Center for Peace and Development, most notably Dr. Maryvelma O’Neil, Mr. Rene Schegg, Dr. Francis Piccand and Dr. Vicken Cheterian. The MENA Center seeks to broaden the intellectual and academic horizons at Webster Geneva Campus by hosting events in partnership with key constituents of the International Relations Department and the broader campus community.

Webster thanks our guest speakers and participants for an engaging and illuminating evening. In 2019-2020 Academic Year, Webster Geneva Campus hosted over 50 public events, and we will continue to refine our model, given the coronavirus restrictions, to ensure that we continue the tradition of bringing together members of the broader international community and our own professors, students and alumni, on topics that are the driving issues of our time. Stay tuned to the events section of geneva.webster.edu for further announcements.