Palestine Update 398
Feeling betrayed by UAE, Palestinians seek to redefine struggle
People tear a picture depicting Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed during a Palestinian protest against the United Arab Emirates in front of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem’s Old City, Aug. 14, 2020
Betrayal, tragedy, a stab in the back – Palestinians have used many anguished phrases over the past week to describe the brewing normalization deal between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, but one clearly defines where they find themselves: a crossroads. For Palestinians, the UAE-Israel agreement looms as more than just a blow to Arab unity and their quest for statehood, but as a reckoning for their leadership and a final nail in the coffin of the Oslo peace process.
Feeling alienated by Arab allies, the United States, and the international community, Palestinians are seeking to redefine their struggle with a renewed sense of urgency. What is percolating up from the grassroots also is a desire for a dramatic move away from conventional demands and diplomacy and a reliance on their political leadership. Instead of “peace,” or even “statehood,” the rising buzzwords among Palestinians on the street and among activists are “rights” and “resistance.”
The UAE-Israel deal upended decades of Arab consensus that Arab states would withhold normalization with Israel – and its associated economic and diplomatic benefits – until after a comprehensive peace deal for an independent Palestinian state that included Israel’s withdrawal from lands it captured in 1967.
The consensus, formalized by Saudi Arabia in the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, was used by Arabs and Palestinians as an incentive for Israel and the international community to stick to the peace process and the two-state solution. With the UAE, a regional heavyweight and one of the wealthiest Arab states, now violating that consensus, observers and officials say the Palestinian leadership and the Palestinians are diplomatically and politically isolated. Further, the deal is evidence that the Palestinians’ tactic of “shaming” Arab players who attempt normalization – previously successful in constraining Israel’s peace with Jordan and Egypt and pushing Israel-Gulf cooperation behind closed doors – no longer works.
Predictably, the announcement last week ignited protests in Gaza, Jerusalem, and Ramallah, with protesters accusing the UAE of “treason” and burning photos of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed. On the streets and on social media, slogans echoed one call: “normalization is betrayal.” It is also seen as a mortal wound to the Palestinian Authority, which is faulted for its costly pursuit of a now moribund peace process and which, after being snubbed by the Trump administration, had clung to Arab support as its strongest remaining card.
“Simply, the peace process is a failed framework. The PA under [President] Mahmoud Abbas has solely focused on negotiations and more negotiations when it was clear he should have changed strategy a long time ago,” says activist Diana Buttu, a former PLO spokeswoman. “Negotiations were simply a tactic, never a true strategy, and now they do not even have the Arabs with them. They have nothing.”
Why Arab Nations are seeking normalization with Israel unlike Iran and Turkey
The significance of the economic and political aspects of the Abraham Accord could hardly be overestimated, says Israeli publicist Avigdor Eskin, highlighting the role of Mossad and foreseeing new peace deals between the Jewish state and Gulf kingdoms while the Palestinian issue is seemingly losing its initial relevance.
On August 13, US President Trump announced that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Israel had struck a peace agreement dubbed “the Abraham Accord”. The UAE has become the third Arab country and the first Gulf nation to formally normalize diplomatic ties with the Jewish state. “Everybody said this would be impossible. After 49 years, Israel and the United Arab Emirates will fully normalize their diplomatic relations”, Trump told journalists, expressing hope that “now that the ice has been broken” more Arab and Muslim countries “will follow the United Arab Emirates”.
“The economic and the political aspects of this peace treaty are tremendous. This is a historical move”, admits Avigdor Eskin, Israeli publicist and political commentator. For those who are closely monitoring Middle Eastern affairs, the historic deal has not come as a bolt from the blue: according to the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), a US influential think tank, the two countries “have been inching toward normalization in recent years”.
Thus, in 2015, Israel opened a diplomatic office in Abu Dhabi, while Israeli officials, businessmen and athletes have taken part in UAE events for some time. The timing of the agreement coincided with Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decision not to kick off the process of incorporation of Judea and Samaria – a Biblical name for the West Bank – on 1 July, contrary to initial plans. Earlier, on 12 June, UAE Ambassador to Washington Yousef Al Otaiba warned the Jewish state against taking over the region, which is seen by Arab states as “illegally occupied” Palestinian territories.
“Recently, Israeli leaders have promoted excited talk about normalisation of relations with the United Arab Emirates and other Arab states. But Israeli plans for annexation and talk of normalisation are a contradiction”, the ambassador wrote in his op-ed for Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth. According to Emirati officials, the new normalization deal brought the incorporation to a full stop; however, Netanyahu made it clear that the extension of Israel’s sovereignty to Judea and Samaria is still on the table, though temporarily suspended.
Palestinian Issue is ‘Losing Relevance’
The UAE-Israeli deal would not stop the formal accession of the West Bank to the Jewish state, quite the contrary, Eskin believes.“The issue of declaring Israeli sovereignty over some parts of Judea and Samaria (formally, the West Bank in the Kingdom of Jordan) is becoming more natural than ever”, he says. “The peace treaty between Israel and the UAE manifests the recognition in the Arab world of the passing value of the quest for the Palestinian state.” The publicist suggests that “this is not a change in the basic Arab perception, but the renewed realistic look at the reality”.
“Once we used to hear that the Palestinian issue is the core of the whole problems of the Middle East”, Eskin recollects. “But as we see, the Iran-Iraq War, the war in Syria, in Libya, in Yemen – all these bloody events had nothing to do with Israel and with the Palestinian problem. Therefore, the further Arab recognition of this simple reality will make it easy for Israel to act there legally.” While the major Palestinian political and militant organisations unanimously denounced the UAE-Israeli deal, it appears that “the Emiratis do not want to subordinate their national interests to an ineffectual and corrupt Palestinian leadership”, as CFR presumed.
Furthermore, the Abraham Accord was publicly praised by Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, and Oman. It is expected that Bahrain and Oman may follow the UAE’s lead.“We are likely to see more Gulf States signing peace treaties with Israel”, Eskin says, adding that Morocco could consider the same. These covert diplomatic processes are underway, with Mossad, the national intelligence agency of Israel, playing a significant role in establishing foreign ties, according to the publicist. “One of the tasks of the Mossad is to promote peace with the Arab leaders and to keep secret negotiations instead of the cocktail parties of foreign ministries”, Eskin highlights. “This was since the time of David Ben-Gurion, the first head of the state of Israel.”
Saudis Remain Silent
Meanwhile, the question of whether the Saudis will strike a peace agreement with the Jewish state still remains open, according to the Israeli publicist. “There is quiet cooperation going on, but the official peace deal? People can only guess”, he remarks.
Though Riyadh has remained silent about the UAE-Israeli accords, “the kingdom has already cultivated covert ties with Israel in recent years”, notes The Times of Israel, admitting that the initiative was spearheaded by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. According to the media outlet, Saudi Arabia’s bold Vision 2030 plan requires Israel’s expertise in various areas ranging from manufacturing and biotechnology to cybersecurity. Still, being home to Mecca and Medina, Islam’s holiest sites, Saudi Arabia is likely to tread carefully before formally normalising relations with the Jewish state.
Iran, Qatar & Turkey Up in Arms about the Deal
Meanwhile, Iran, Qatar and Turkey openly lashed out at the Emiratis for the Abraham Accord, calling the deal a “betrayal” of Palestinians and all Muslims and a “stab in the back”. However, according to Eskin, it is Turkey and Iran who have prompted the UAE and some other Arab states to seek normalization with Israel. “The concern about Iranian expansion was one of the catalysts for this peace deal”, the Israeli publicist suggests. “Turkey is also a matter of serious concern. The idea to revive the Ottoman Empire is not acceptable for the Arab world.”
Previously, there was an understanding that it was the US who carried out the task of “deterrence and stabilization” in the region, Eskin recalls. However, Washington is slowly but steadily losing interest in the Arab world for the simple reason of having developed American oil resources to the extent that it is now the number one oil producer in the world, according to the publicist.
Israel is geographically “closer” to the Arab world than the US; besides this, the Jewish state’s military and technological capabilities are significant, the commentator underscores, presuming that owing to this, the Arab countries are seeking to boost ties with Israel, unlike Iran and Turkey.