Al-Jazeera / August 14, 2020
Why is Abu Dhabi rushing to appease the Netanyahu government ?
After years of informal normalisation, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has finally reached a formal “peace agreement” with Israel that paves the way for a strategic relationship between the two countries under the auspices of the Trump Administration.
The agreement rewards US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for their protracted assault on the Palestinians over the past four years. Once signed, and implemented, it is likely to embolden Netanyahu’s coalition, deepen Israel’s occupation and strengthen Israel’s alliance with Arab autocrats.
But, Western media outlets welcomed the “peace agreement” as a “historic” breakthrough.
And UAE leaders have justified their rapprochement with Israel under the pretext of halting Israeli annexation of Arab territories, helping the Palestinians achieve their goals of independence, and promoting peace in the Middle East.
Killing with kindness
The UAE may hope to take credit for “stopping further annexation of Palestinian territories”, but Netanyahu’s plans to illegally annex a third of the occupied West Bank was derailed long before the de facto leader of the UAE, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, stepped into the fray.
Overwhelming Arab and international opposition has discouraged the Trump administration from giving Netanyahu the greenlight to annex, when even Netanyahu’s own coalition partner, Benny Gantz, is opposed to it.
In fact, the Emiratis have merely provided Trump and Netanyahu with a ladder to climb down their reckless proposal.
Moreover, annexation, which is halted only temporarily, is merely a byproduct of the real problem; Israel’s occupation and illegal settlements, which are likely to worsen thanks to the UAE’s appeasement.
Still, the UAE insists that it is driven by solidarity with the Palestinian people and that it will continue to “forcefully advocate for … their dignity, their rights and their own sovereign state”
This is “chutzpah”, Emirati style.
The Emiratis have long kept the Palestinians in the dark about their covert security cooperation with Israel. They have not consulted or coordinated with the Palestinian leadership when normalising their relations with Israel, or announcing their intent to sign a peace agreement. In fact, they’ve long turned their backs on the Palestinian plight, and continue to undermine Palestinian unity by hosting and supporting a renegade “Palestinian leader”, Mohammad Dahlan.
In short, Palestine is not much of a serious consideration for the UAE. If anything the timing of the announcement was meant to help Trump and Netanyahu, who are struggling politically and legally.
So it is no surprise that the Palestinians of all walks of society and polity have unequivocally denounced the Emirati move, calling it “betrayal”, “aggression”, and a sell-out of the Palestinian struggle for freedom.
After all, how on earth could appeasement of a regime that occupies and oppresses Palestine be good for the Palestinians?
If anything, Israel will exploit the UAE and potentially other Arab attempts at rapprochement in order to expand its annexation and pressure the Palestinian people into submission.
Despite its denials, the UAE has violated the Arab “land for peace” consensus, which commits Arab states to pursue peace and normalisation of relations but only after Israel withdraws from occupied Palestinian and Arab lands.
It sacrificed one of the very few consensual issues between Arab leaders and their people who overwhelmingly oppose normalisation of relations with Israel before Palestinian rights are fully restored.
The Emiratis try to justify their move on precedence; if Egypt and Jordan can have normal relations with Israel, why not the UAE?
The comparison is preposterous.
Egypt fought four major wars against Israel, and signed to a peace deal only after Israel agreed to withdraw from all Egyptian lands. Jordan has also fought three wars against Israel, and signed its peace agreement only after the Palestinians signed theirs.
But since then Israel has walked away from its commitments to the Palestinians and deepened its occupation of Palestine.
The UAE, on the other hand, does not share borders with, and has never fought a war against, Israel. It has not been threatened or occupied by Israeli forces either. So why is Abu Dhabi rushing to appease Israel at a time when Netanyahu is tightening his grip on Palestine and rejecting the “Two States” solution?
UAE leaders claim the Arabs could achieve more through diplomacy and peace than posturing and war.
But this is a false dichotomy.
Needless to say, peace is preferable to war. But false peace that’s based on cynical strategic calculus and ignores justice and human rights is destined to lead to more not less conflict.
Throughout its history, Israel consistently used diplomatic openings from Arab states to deepen its occupation, and made concessions only under pressure. Not only has the UAE received nothing in return for its “historic rapprochement”, Israel will gain unfettered access to one of the richest Arab markets.
Towards another regional war
The Emirati regime is the most pro-war in the region, rivalled only by Israel. Its destructive war in Yemen, its proxy war in Libya, its destabilising policies towards Tunisia, Turkey and Qatar, and its support for regional dictators like Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and Egypt’s Abdel Fattah el-Sisi all testify to Abu Dhabi’s disregard for peace and drive for war.
To say Abu Dhabi punches above its weight when it comes to stoking the flames of conflict in the Middle East is an understatement. The divisive, destabilising and anti-democratic policies it pursues in conjunction with Saudi Arabia are paralysing the region and bankrupting its states.
The UAE and Saudi Arabia’s opposition to the Arab Spring and to any form of democracy in the region, and their deep hostility towards all popular, progressive, liberal or Islamist movements, put them at the helm of counter revolutionary forces throughout the Middle East and North Africa. They may not be winning anywhere, but they are also ensuring that everybody else loses in the process.
In sum, the UAE is “bandwagoning” with Israel and the United States, in the hope of establishing a trilateral US-Israeli-Arab strategic alliance to contain Turkey’s influence and tame or destroy the Iranian regime.
In other words, the UAE is seeking a cynical alliance, not benevolent peace, with Israel.
If Trump is re-elected President, this is sure to produce, not regional peace and prosperity, but more instability and conflict throughout the region.
Those celebrating the “historical peace agreement” may soon discover it is nothing more than a drive towards another regional conflict or worse, war.
Real peace will come only after Israel agrees to withdraw from all Arab lands, gives up its hegemonic ambitions and its nuclear weapons, and allows for full Palestinian freedom and self-determination in the Palestinian homeland, paving the way for normalisation of relations with much if not all of the Arab and Muslim world.
Now that’s what you call a historic breakthrough worth celebrating.
Marwan Bishara is the senior political analyst at Al-Jazeera