Israeli delegation: led by Jared Kushner

Middle East

Despite the Israel-UAE rapprochement there can be no ‘normalisation’ in the Middle East, explains Yassamine Mather

In the early hours of August 30 Israeli tanks hit Hamas targets after four weeks of air raids. According to Palestinian sources, an Israeli artillery shell was fired towards Khan Yunis, while another fell east of Deir al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip.

Such raids have targeted the underground infrastructure and military posts belonging to Hamas since early August, after Israel accused Hamas of failing to stop incendiary balloons being launched across the border. In the absence of almost any coverage of the events by the western media, perhaps we should assume that false allegations of anti-Semitism against anyone who criticises the state of Israel have succeeded in silencing everyone (including ‘socialists’ in the UK and elsewhere).

Mediation by Qatar, a sponsor of financial aid to Gaza, resulted in a tentative agreement to end cross-border attacks in return for an easing of Israel’s blockade of the territory. There have been numerous other outbreaks of peace before … and all have ended in full scale conflict: 2008, 2012, 2014. This time though the outbreak of peace between Hamas and Israel coincided with the United Arab Emirates recognition of Israel and the arrival of an El Al passenger aircraft labelled ‘Salam, Peace, Shalom’. The El Al plane took off from Tel Aviv carrying a delegation headed by Jared Kushner, senior advisor to US president Donald Trump, and Meir Ben-Shabbat, chief of the Israeli National Security Council. The Israeli delegation also included representatives from the finance sector, civil aviation, tourism and culture - all travelling to the UAE to discuss ways of promoting cooperation.

On August 13, when Trump made an announcement in the Oval office about the ‘historic’ UAE/Israeli deal, it was heralded by sections of the media as a historic event. UAE leaders claim that the deal was in Palestinian interests, because Israel had been persuaded to abandon its plan to formally annex large parts of the West Bank. Nothing was further from the truth. In the initial press conferences in Washington and Tel Aviv, it became clear that the rightwing government in Israel had merely suspended plans for annexation.

Anyone who has followed Middle Eastern politics in the last few months will be aware that the Netanyahu-Trump-Kushner annexation plan has been rejected by almost everyone, from Kuwait and Jordan in the region, to the European Union, Russia, China … Even Boris Johnson intervened calling on the Israeli state to abandon such plans. Johnson, writing in the Israeli popular daily paper, Yedioth Ahronoth, described himself as a “passionate defender of Israel”, but added that any annexation would be a “violation of international law” and the UK would “not recognise any changes to the pre-1967 borders in the West Bank that were not agreed by both Israelis and Palestinians”. So annexation plans were suspended in July and are unlikely to be implemented this year, with or without the Israel-UAE deal.

Avi Shlaim, writing in Middle East Eye clarifies other reasons why the UAE claim of defending Palestinian interests is a lie:

First of all, the Emiratis did not consult the Palestinians; they went behind their backs to talk to the enemy and then used them as a fig leaf. Second, the creeping annexation of the West Bank has been going on for the last 53 years and the accord can do nothing to stop it. Third, Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s recent plan to formally annex roughly a third of the West Bank, including the settlement blocs and the Jordan Valley, would be a unilateral and illegal land grab; he deserves no reward for putting it on hold.1

According to Marwan Bishara, writing on the Al Jazeera website,

Indeed, the UAE and Israel began their secret contacts in Washington in the chaotic years following the 2003 invasion of Iraq and elevated them to strategic coordination during the turbulent years of the Obama administration.2

In late August news came that the Saudi crown prince, Mohammad bin Salman, had cancelled a visit to the United States, where he had been due to stage a public meeting with the Israeli prime minister. Apparently fears that details of the trip had been leaked forced bin Salman to pull out. He thought that, with the information leaked, his presence in the US capital would become a “nightmare”. The Saudis feared that the prince’s opponents in the US Congress would have time to prepare statements, and supporters of the murdered Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, and lawyers acting for the former interior minister, Saad al-Jabri, would also be able to prepare legal action.

No-one expected an Israeli-Saudi deal at this stage, but Trump and his son-in-law, Kushner, hoped to get a photo opportunity of a handshake between Netanyahu and bin Salman, to be published after the event. This would have been part of efforts prior to the presidential election to present Trump as a ‘world leader’ who has achieved ‘historic’ steps in taking forward the Middle East peace process, while bin Salman would now be a ‘peacemaker’ helping to promote the deal between the UAE and Israel.

Negative response

Contrary to various predictions by the Trump administration, the UAE’s announcement of recognition did not get backing from other Arab states. Instead there has been a growing backlash across the region, including in Bahrain and Sudan, which had initially welcomed the deal - or at least this is what Palestinian Authority leaders seem to believe.

Palestinian foreign minister Riyad al-Maliki praised Sudan for rejecting US attempts at “blackmailing Sudan to trade normalisation with the lifting of Sudan’s name from countries that support terrorism”,3 while Saeb Erakat, the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s executive committee secretary, used his Twitter account to praise the leader of Bahrain: “We highly appreciate the position of HM King Hamad Bin Isa Al Khalifa of Bahrain. We hope that Mr Pompeo will use his hearing skills. End the occupation, then normalisation.”4

In Jordan, prince Ali bin Hussein caused controversy on social media last week after sharing an article stating that the Palestinians had not been consulted about the proposed “normalisation deal”,5 while inside the UAE, Emiratis, Jordanians and Palestinians opposed to the deal were arrested by security forces, according to the website Emirates Leaks.

The Washington Institute for Near East Policy has conducted a poll inside UAE, which reported that 80% of Emiratis oppose the establishment of ‘normalised’ relations with Israel, and in Kuwait more than half the members of parliament have signed a statement saying there should be no normalisation of relations with Israel without a resolution of the Palestinian problem. Meanwhile, in Oman - a country that was supposed to follow in the UAE’s footsteps - the grand mufti, Ahmed bin Hamad al-Khalili, declared the liberation of occupied land “a sacred duty”.6

However, in Egypt, general Abdel Fattah el-Sisi was amongst the first politicians expressing support for the UAE-Israeli deal: “I followed with great interest and appreciation the tripartite joint statement by the United States, the UAE and Israel regarding the agreement to suspend annexation of Palestinian territories and to take steps that would bring peace to the Middle East.”7

But Egyptian academics and politicians were quick to refute Sisi’s optimism. Hassan Nafaa, professor of political science at Cairo University, dismissed the deal as a “betrayal” of the Palestinian cause, and Mustapha Kamel el-Sayed, another academic, speaking to Al Monitor, said: “The Israeli leadership has pledged to halt or suspend its annexation plan, which does not mean it has completely abandoned the plan; rather, it has only postponed it for some time.”8

Turkey has threatened to suspend its ties with the UAE and recall its envoy over the Emirates’ deal with Israel (of course, this is rich, coming from a country that has diplomatic relations with Israel). And reactions from Iran were predictable: the Islamic Republic’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, denounced the deal as a “strategic stupidity”. It was “a dagger unjustly struck by the UAE in the backs of the Palestinian people and all Muslims”.9

All these statements by politicians and religious leaders show that, contrary to claims made by the Trump administration that the Gulf states are tired of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict dragging on, the overall reaction demonstrates the opposite. No doubt Arab leaders will continue to betray the Palestinian cause, but pressure from below will still prevent actions such as attempts to ‘normalise’ relations with Israel.

For all the systematic efforts to stop any criticism of the state of Israel, especially in the US and the UK, for all the efforts to present settler occupation as ‘progress in a war-torn region’, the Palestinian cause is not going away.

  1. middleeasteye.net/opinion/uae-israel-deal-breakthrough-or-betrayal.↩︎

  2. aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/uae-israel-dangerous-liaison-200831085906964.html.↩︎

  3. amad.ps/ar/post/365073.↩︎

  4. al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2020/08/palestinian-opposition-uae-israel-deal-arab-states-pompeo.html#ixzz6Ws69JEOq.↩︎

  5. middleeasteye.net/opinion/uae-israel-deal-breakthrough-or-betrayal.↩︎

  6. twitter.com/AhmedHAlKhalili/status/1294550820881674240.↩︎

  7. twitter.com/AlsisiOfficial/status/1293935489569914882.↩︎

  8. Read more at al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2020/08/egypt-react-uae-israel-peace-deal-palestinians-arabs.html#ixzz6WsZ0cxIJ.↩︎

  9. cufi.org.uk/news/turkey-calls-uae-israel-peace-unforgivable-iran-slams-it-as-shameful-and-dangerous.↩︎