Gulf regimes’ normalisation with Israel will not placate the Palestinian struggle

A group of people gather to stage a protest against normalisation deals with Israel in Istanbul, Turkey (Mehmet Eser - Anadolu Agency)

Asa Winstanley

Middle East Monitor   /   September 26, 2020

The signing of the so-called “Abraham Accords” last week was an empty sham.

A “peace deal” between three countries – Israel, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain – that, in fact, have never been at war, is clearly more of a public relations campaign than any genuine move towards peace.

The real war at hand is Israel’s war against the indigenous people of Palestine – and that goes on unabated. Indeed, these accords not only do nothing to end the decades-long confrontation between the oppressor and the oppressed,  but they also in reality reward the oppressor.

The agreement to establish full diplomatic relations between Israel and these two Gulf dictatorships has been executed in aid of the US imperial world order, and in the hope that the Israelis can ingratiate these regimes into the White house.

As Joseph Massad, a leading Palestinian historian of Arab politics and intellectual history, explained in a recent essay, the ties between the UAE and Israel in particular have been growing and ongoing for decades, and especially have their roots in the 2006 controversy over the sale of a British company to an Emirati firm, which administered six major US ports.

With empty insinuations about some of the 9/11 hijackers having travelled “through” the UAE to the US  – most of the hijackers were actually Saudis – the media storm had a distinctly racist whiff about it.

The UAE company in the end diffused the situation by selling its assets to a US company.

But as Massad explained: “This was not an arbitrary campaign, but one that followed the anti-Arab US hysteria after 9/11, which both Israeli and pro-Israel US politicians exploited for the benefit of Israel’s long-time opposition to close ties between the US and Arab countries. Since 2006, the UAE government has cosied up to Israel so that the pro-Israel US lobby would stop blocking its investments and the Israelis would intervene on its behalf with the US Congress.”

The accords are thus just another brick in the wall of US hegemony. Meanwhile, the US empire is in long-term historic decline.

But the roots of these accords go even further back than the “war on terror” era, which began in 2001.

The UAE and Saudi Arabia did have a brief period in the 1970s and 1980s of funding the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO). But as Massad explained in his essay, they did not do this out of principle, but rather as a way to co-opt and defuse the Palestinian revolution.

In the 1950s and 1960s, there was a general wave of revolutionary upheaval across the Arab world. Much of the popular discontent with Arab emirs, kings and sultans stemmed from their failure in 1948 to protect the Palestinians from expulsion, to stop the foundation of the settler colony of Israel in the heart of the Arab world.

Marxist liberation groups in Yemen, Oman and western Sahara took inspiration from the Palestinian revolution. The Palestinian guerrilla groups themselves came close to overthrowing the Jordanian monarchy, before being expelled by King Hussein’s loyalist forces in 1970’s “Black September” war.

It was in this context that the absolutist Gulf dictatorships began to fund the PLO as a way to stave off popular Arab discontent with their rule. But it was all on condition that the PLO would not support the leftist popular movements that threatened assorted monarchies across the region.

Although Marxist-Leninist group the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) dissented from the PLO leadership – as did a faction of Fatah in the 1980s – Yasser Arafat led the group in this direction. This not only shielded the reactionary Gulf monarchies, but ultimately led to the hollowing out of the PLO and the foundation in 1993 of the collaborationist Palestinian Authority (PA).

The only real role for the PA since its foundation has been “security coordination” with Israel – in other words, protecting the Israeli occupation from Palestinian resistance.

Another aspect of the Trump-brokered deal between Israel, Bahrain and the UAE, which is helping Israel to whitewash its crimes against the Palestinian people, is its very title – the “Abraham Accords”.

As Massad pointed out in a second recent essay: “The purpose of the invocation of Abraham is to pretend and to present the European Jewish colonial movement of Zionism, which sought to conquer Palestine and transform it into a Jewish settler colony, as a Jewish religious quest not a European colonial one.”

It is a form of “faith-washing”. By distracting from the concrete reality of Israel’s racism, war crimes and other violence against the Palestinian people, the “Abraham Accords” are an attempt to cast the so-called “conflict” as rooted in petty religious differences.

This is a sham, though. The Palestinian people’s continued struggle for freedom, return and equality will not be so easily placated.

Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist living in London who writes about Palestine and the Middle East