In this exclusive, hard hitting article for The Middle East Online, Mona Al Ghussein looks at the structure of the recent “normalisation” deal between the UAE, Bahrain and Israel and asks cui bono, who benefits? The ramifications of such a deal are enormous. Clearly there are going to be losers and winners, as Israel continues to annex Palestinian lands and an increasing number of commercial deals are struck between the participating states. However, in reaching such an accord, certain lines have been crossed which may, ultimately, put us all in jeopardy.
I am puzzled at how the so-called agreement of normalisation between Israel, the UAE and Bahrain, is being heralded as ‘historic’. What exactly has this so-called deal achieved? What is to be celebrated in “normalisation” between states that have never been at war; an accord between countries that have never been in conflict over land usurped by one party or another?
Unlike the historic Camp David accords between Egypt and Israel, which ended the conflict and returned the occupied Sinai to its rightful owners, or the Washington Declaration, signed by Jordan and Israel after the Oslo agreement, this latest headline grabbing farce is nothing more than a commercial deal offering rich economic opportunities to selected global players.
It will totally change the landscape of the area, creating further chasms between Israel, the UAE et al on one side, and Iran on the other, and will undoubtedly heighten the already existing tension of religious Shia/Sunni schisms.
While much noise has been devoted to the Palestinian issue, the deal goes far beyond the rights of the Palestinians. Its implications and long term consequences go beyond any particular conflict, for it screams loudly and with unashamed pride by the UAE and Bahrain, that ‘international law and norms’ no longer need to be abided by. The deal has put Arab states on a footing with Israel, in its disregard for international consensus and law, thus creating a dangerous potential for further imbalance and disregard for human suffering.
The agreement between the parties was neither surprising nor unexpected. The signs were all there, including the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohamed Bin Salman’s statements on Jewish rights to a homeland, in 2018; the widely and wildly promoted Jared Kushner ‘deal of the century’ that took place in Bahrain; the various UAE- Israeli training missions and the increasingly high level Israeli ministerial visits to the Emirates. Next, we must expect the Saudis and, eventually, other Arab countries to join the alliance, encouraged either by the economic carrot or the stick of political exclusion.
Palestine offers nothing tangible to the international community or security of the area. It has no oil or easily identified commercial elements, it has no military technology, no large pharmaceuticals industries, no influence, no powerful allies or friends. Its people and history are easily disposable.
The alliance of the UAE and Israel is a natural marriage of two like-minded states with much in common, including a hatred of Iran, and a keen policy of exclusivity and discrimination where Emiratis and Jews have vastly superior rights and privileges to all others living in their country. Little regard is given by either state to human rights, international law or the rule of law, be it political dissent in the Emirates where opponents are thrown into jail, or Palestinians arbitrarily arrested in Israel. Both use religious tools to dampen criticism of their policies and to silence opposition, be it the spurious tools of anti-Semitism or radicle Islam. With so much in common, the only surprise is that it took so long to officially celebrate their nuptials.
In reality what this normalisation does for the Palestinians is make transparent what has been steadily going on behind the scenes for years. The arrangement is commercial, pragmatic, serves all parties and cuts through the myth of Arab support for the Palestinian cause. Any support that may have existed in the early years of the inception of the Arab League, when emotions where high and Arabs under the influence of Egypt’s late President Nasser dreamt of a greater Arab unity, are long gone. The world has moved forward and the international landscape is vastly different to that of the 20th century. Palestinians in their decades long struggle had all the cards stacked against them, from their dependency on Arab states for goodwill and funding, to the hundreds of thousands of Palestinian souls contained in refugee camps scattered across Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, a huge diaspora denied the right of return. The belief that justice would somehow win through, does seem somewhat optimistic, if not downright naive.
The Palestinian leadership has also consistently failed its people to either come up with any cohesive or innovative plans, and internally is in disarray.
Palestine offers nothing tangible to the international community or security to the area. It has no oil or easily identified commercial elements, it has no military technology, no large pharmaceuticals industries, no influence, no powerful allies or friends. Its people and history are easily disposable. Palestinians simply have no card to play as they were never dealt a hand to start with.
Any emotive attachment by the leaders of the Arab world to their plight is minimal. It simply has gone on for too long and the issue has become tiresome, repetitive and boring. For Israel their long term strategy of a larger Israel encompassing Judea and Samaria is coming ever closer. Palestinians are a nuisance that have been impeding Israel’s territorial expansions and commercial markets in the Gulf. Now that this pretence has been torn down, investment and the expansion of financial and security interests can begin with earnest.
History and events have not been kind to the Palestinian people or their rights. Competing narratives and myths emerged, sides were taken and any prospect of equity, rights, and international laws were slowly eroded, but those legal rights of Palestinians still remained. Faint, feeble, barely heard, maybe, but it was still a common consensus in the international community that Palestinians had rights. That what remained of original Palestine was occupied.
This normalisation agreement has completely dispelled that. Its confirmed Israel’s right to continued occupation and annexation with no consequences. In effect this normalisation agreement is merely a continuation of the infamous Balfour declaration of 1917. Palestinian land was arbitrarily partitioned to create the state of Israel denying the indigenous population its right to have a sovereign state in its entirety. It negated Palestinian rights to their homeland, dividing it to appease Zionist demands of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. It ignored not simply those inherent rights to exist as a free entity in control of their destiny, that we demand in democracies, but placed them in the category of pawns, reliant on both western and Arab agendas. A process that was the start of denying the legitimacy of the Palestinians. Nothing in the normalisation agreement suggests any protection of Palestinian rights or preservation. The UAE accepts the status quo of occupation, legitimises by its disregard to it. The question is, perhaps why should the UAE or Bahrain even lend a voice or support to the Palestinians cause?
The Palestinian leadership, meanwhile, predictably had been doing what it does best. At first reacting emotionally and screaming ‘betrayal’ in the mistaken belief that it actually has a voice that might carry any weight with other Arab states. This was rapidly and subsequently toned down after a strong, I suspect, series of dire threats by the oil rich nations. The Arab League meekly followed suit in their statement not to condemn the normalisation.
Arguments initially put forward by the UAE that this deal would restrict Israel’s expansionist plans, were swiftly discarded. Even before the ink was dry on the deal, Netanyahu made clear that annexation plans were going full speed ahead. Tucked in among the many paragraphs of text was the insertion of a clause that would permit a change in the status quo of Haram Al Sharif being exclusive to Muslim prayers, thus taking away one more card from the pretence of Islamic unity in the Gulf. Time will reveal just how his agreement is very much front loaded to Israel’s advantage, much like the Oslo accords before it.
The Palestinian struggle has been hampered by insurmountable obstacles, including frequently fighting for a homeland from distant shores, totally dependent on the goodwill of the host nations and effective international lobbying. Palestinians have been demonised, stripped of their ancestral homes, their culture hi-jacked, their voice silenced
Clearly the stagnant situation could not continue. Israel, with its policies of annexation, and apartheid, had no intention of coming to the table to discuss a peace agreement with the Palestinians, unless it was one of further subjugation. But the Palestinian leadership has also consistently failed its people to either come up with any cohesive or innovative plans, internally it is in disarray.
For decades it has used the same arguments, legitimate though they are, to promote their rights, not grasping that the changing political landscape and their failure to make allies or to offer up something that might make them an intrinsic part of the regional fabric, has doomed their cause.
In equal measure the Palestinian struggle has been hampered by insurmountable obstacles, including frequently fighting for a homeland from distant shores, totally dependent on the goodwill of the host nations and effective international lobbying. Palestinians have been demonised, stripped of their ancestral homes, their culture hi-jacked, their voices silenced.
The interests and needs of those involved may be on par now but for how long? The consequences of this poorly drafted agreement will, mark my words, have severe repercussions beyond the Palestinian issue.
That the struggle has survived so long is testimony to the Palestinian will. Harsh though it is, justice, or furthering the cause of legal or human rights, have little sway in the international public arena when powerful states have little or no incentive to change the status quo. While the oil rich nations were claiming public support for the cause, there was still a sliver of hope that peace could be negotiated. That sliver has disappeared. This agreement, whichever political line you may follow, marks the beginning of a changing Middle East and specifically Gulf area that will be divisive, exclusive, and herald exactly what the UAE fears, a stronger Iran and increased subjugation to Israel, that will not hesitate to drive its interests in the area. Such interests and needs may be on par now but for how long? The consequences of this poorly drafted agreement will, mark my words, have severe repercussions beyond the Palestinian issue.
Certainly, the UAE and Bahrain have no legal obligation towards the Palestinians and any pretence that this deal may be an opportunity to change the dynamics for the betterment of the Palestinians, entirely disingenuous. There is nothing that protects their rights. Not even a teeny little bit. Gaza continues to be bombed. Homes continue to be demolished. Alliances shift and sovereign states have the right to dictate and formulate their own foreign policy to suit their own interest. It is a harsh fact that these interests will always be the driving force in any political argument. Any ethical or moral question is moot. However, the ramification of this agreement is beyond that of parties merely looking to move forward in a viable constructive way for their own goals. This agreement is insidious for Palestinian rights and raises many pertinent global questions of who now will protect the weak? Who will protect international law?
Is it now permissible for occupiers to extend their territories at will? Irrespective of the political, legal, ethical or moral rights of this deal, what this normalisation achieves is to demonstrate total disregard for international law and proves just how easily states can pursue their goals without fear of repercussions, if they have the backing of those in power
We are on a very slippery slope.