Mondoweiss / July 22, 2022
Mainstream voices say the Trump-Biden policy of normalizing relations between Israel and Arab monarchies so as to crush Palestinian hopes is working. At what price?
The Democratic Party is not anti-Trump when it comes to power politics in the Middle East. Joe Biden’s ambassador to Israel gives Trump “enormous credit” for his policy of normalizing relations between Israel and Arab countries. And President Biden sought to advance Trump’s policy last week by visiting Israel and Saudi Arabia and doing all he could to marginalize Palestinian aspirations.
Several mainstream voices say the policy of crushing Palestinian hopes is working. Yesterday at the Aspen Security Forum, Abdullah Al Khalifa, the son of the Bahraini king, gushed about Bahrain’s warm relations with Israel, and Jeffrey Goldberg gushed back.
“We have found nothing in Israel but openness, enthusiasm, and support,” Al Khalifa said. “We truly believe that is the path forward…Imagine what would happen in the next five years and what would be achieved in the next decade.”
Al Khalifa pushed the Palestinians to get on board.
“Israel is part of the region and will remain… We do believe that establishing relations with Israel does not mean abandoning the Palestinians. In fact on the contrary, we believe this would enhance all the efforts in reaching that goal. This has been the longest standing item agenda at the UN for 70 plus years. What has been achieved?”
Ehud Yaari, an Israeli broadcast journalist and advocate for Israel at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, also praised the normalization efforts in commenting on Biden’s trip to the Israel Policy Forum. Yaari praised Benjamin Netanyahu for dreaming up the outside-in process: marginalizing the Palestinians by normalizing with Arab states. “Whether one likes Bibi or not, what one is seeing now is the implementation of a vision that was there at least six or seven years ago.”
Yaari pointed out some political insults delivered to the Palestinians on Biden’s trip.
Biden’s gestures to the Palestinians were chicken-feed. The Palestinians saw that an American president “would come, would throw at them 200 300 million dollars, would express his empathy, would stress the need for dignity for Palestinians, but will say also that it is not the time to discuss a permanent agreement,” Yaari said.
When Biden met with President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem a week ago, Abbas said that peace with Israel would be based on the Arab Peace Initiative, framed by the Saudis in 2002, along the ’67 lines. But:
“The next day there is a joint communique in Jeddah with Biden and [Saudi Crown] Prince bin Salman and there is no reference whatsoever to the Arab Peace Initiative. That was dramatic. In my opinion, it was telling.”
Yaari said that Abbas “wanted badly” to visit Saudi Arabia before or during Biden’s visit, but the “Saudis gave him a firm, no nonsense negative answer.”
He said the pressure from Arab countries is transforming Palestinian politics among the elites.
“I believe the realization that the Arabs are no longer willing to live with and accept a Palestinian veto over their relations with Israel is going– I can’t tell you when– is going to force any Palestinian leadership to rethink its strategy. They realize already now, and I hear it a lot in private conversations with people in Ramallah, they realize that it doesn’t work anymore. They cannot stick to the old slogans… If they want to regain Arab support, they have to come with a more sober, more sensible procedure for how to proceed with Israel…
When Yaari speaks of a “more sober, more sensible policy” by the Palestinians, one has to interject that the leadership is already on its knees. Yaari goes on:
If you talk to the UAE leaders or Saudi Arabia leaders or even Egyptian leaders, they don’t want to hear now about the Palestinian issue, they don’t want to stick their fingers into this mess. Let Israel deal with it.”
Four other countries are walking around the Israel swimming pool and would jump in with the right signal from the chief of Saudi general intelligence, Yaari said. And though the Saudis say there will be no normalization with Israel till the Palestinian issue is resolved, they just allowed Israeli flights over their territory, and “there is much more in the pipeline of gradual moves with Saudi Arabia than is being currently reported in the press. Already agreed in principle are very important projects. I don’t think the Saudis are going to stop it.”
Benny Gantz, the Israeli Defense Minister, also spoke to Jeffrey Goldberg at the Aspen Forum yesterday and praised Arab countries for using “the bridge” of Israel’s relations with the United States to better themselves.
Goldberg brought in the Palestinian objection to the accords as an afterthought, and Gantz said, “I’m very happy that the Palestinian issue was not a blocking threshold that blocked those very positive developments as we see in the Middle East, so I’m very happy on that fact.
“From a Zionistic perspective, from a Jewish, democratic and Zionistic perspective, I’d like to see a better future between us and the Palestinians,” Gantz went on, but for now Palestinians should be happy with investments in infrastructure. And “hopefully we can down the road be able to create what I call a bridging situation” toward a “two entities situation.”
Not even a two-state solution. Just, “ways to politically separate ourselves from the Palestinians.”
Palestinians are not the only ones disappointed by Biden’s visit. Liberal Zionists had asked for concrete steps toward their dream of a two-state solution. Americans for Peace Now said that Biden should give a speech in Israel saying, that after 55 years, “The occupation must end.” Biden didn’t take their advice. Nor did he take J Street’s advice, “The time is now to push back on illegal settlements.”
That’s the great flaw in the normalization process, even from a “Zionistic perspective” — as Gantz puts it. Israel can’t separate itself from Palestinians, they are half the population. Every monarchy on earth could normalize with Israel and that process only advances the reality of apartheid; and global supporters of human rights and democracy will continue to be drawn by the drama of the Palestinian struggle for rights in the face of power politics. BDS is really the mirror of the normalization process, an effort to stand up for human dignity, and it’s not going away.
Philip Weiss is senior editor of Mondoweiss.net and founded the site in 2005-2006