Adnan Abu Amer
Middle East Monitor / September 2, 2020
The Arab League refused to hold an urgent meeting at the request of the Palestinian Authority to discuss the UAE-Israel normalisation agreement. This was disrespectful towards the Palestinians, and suggests that the Arab world is more or less satisfied with the deal. The PA can rightly claim that it has lost Arab support and is now standing alone.
It is clear from the Arab reactions, especially the official versions, that we are at a historic stage in the Israeli conflict with the Palestinians, and a strategic turn in Israel’s relations with the Arab world.
Despite the evils and disasters caused by Israel’s agreements with Egypt (1979), Jordan (1994) and the Palestinians (1993), its recent deal with the UAE is even more dangerous. Israel established cold relations in the first three cases, but in the deal with the Emirates it is taking a big step towards one of its long-term strategic goals: integration into the region.
This is the first time that Israel has normalised relations with a state which isn’t an immediate neighbour, reflecting the importance that elements within the “pragmatic camp” attach to relations with Israel. More importantly, the agreement damages the possibility of pressure being put on Israel to return to the nominal 1967 borders.
One aspect of the agreement is that the UAE avoids any commitment towards the Palestinian cause, even if this frustrates the Palestinians. Abu Dhabi is not shy about this, as Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed apparently made clear in his talks with the Israelis about the mutual gains from the new relationship.
The Israeli prediction is that the UAE agreement will lead to other Arab countries to follow Abu Dhabi’s lead within the current Trump term of office. Saudi Arabia’s permission for the first Israel to UAE flight this week to use Saudi airspace is partial normalisation in any case. The Palestinians may now have lost one of their main sources of leverage to prevent open normalisation between Israel and the Arab states.
The Israelis claim that the agreement with the UAE has affected the usual Palestinian right to veto changes in Arab positions without the PA’s consent, despite some remaining support in US Democratic Party circles and the EU, as well as the anti-Israel camp in Iran, Turkey and Qatar. It is a fact that the pragmatic Arab camp no longer depends on the Palestinians in terms of its vital interests and so their cause is low on the list of priorities.
Moreover, the Arabs who support the UAE will try to benefit from normalisation with Israel to obtain advanced weapons from the US, as they expect that Israel will not be overly determined to prevent this, despite its known opposition to arms sales that may endanger its qualitative military superiority. They may also benefit from Israeli intelligence and military technology to suppress domestic opposition.
The main arena issue for these Arab states is, of course, Iran. They want to curb its regional influence and prevent it from getting nuclear weapons. They expect Israel to convince the US to confront Iran, especially if Joe Biden becomes president.
Such official Arab positions on the UAE-Israel deal have prompted the Palestinian leadership to find an appropriate response to the agreement. However, the options are limited given that the Arab League and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation are staying silent about it.
The prevailing impression in Palestinian circles is that the shameful Arab silence about the UAE-Israel agreement indicates that they are facing a major threat and their frustration can spark an angry response, with conspiracy theories abounding within the community. Conspiracies aside, the fact is that the Palestinians can see a dangerous shift in their situation.
Indeed, this Arab silence demonstrates that the once enthusiastic statements in support of the Palestinians were never intended to be translated into meaningful assistance in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and refugee communities. This now puts the Palestinian national movement at a crossroads.
It is true that the Arab world in general still cares about the Palestinians, despite this latest “peace deal”. However, the Palestinian issue has been transformed from a pan-Arab cause to a tragedy that only affects the people of occupied Palestine. Their cause may have lost its influence over Arab decision making, because the wealthy Gulf States have become an international trade centre that does not treat the West as an oppressive enemy, but as an investment opportunity and source of stability.
Furthermore, the regional threats to the Arab regimes, both domestic and external, may have prompted the official positions to veer away from the Palestinian issue. The Israelis interpret this as meaning that the Palestinians will wait a long time to end the conflict, not least because, since the Oslo Accords, Israel knows that the longer the wait is, the more that it will gain.
It is worth noting that the “peace for peace” slogan on which the UAE-Israel agreement is based is not accurate, as they did not have a conflict on the ground. The truth behind this agreement is that the UAE, along with the countries supporting it, have cast the Palestinian cause aside, and Israel can now benefit from its relations with “moderate” Arab counties, or even without them. Palestine is no longer a priority for the UAE and other Arab states.
Adnan Abu Amer is a Palestinian academic