UAE-Israel normalization is not a breakthrough in peace making
By Ghassan Michel Rubeiz
Addressing the normalization of diplomatic relations between the United Arab Emirate and Israel on August 13 as a “Mideast peace breakthrough” is a stark exaggeration. For Palestinians, Western media’s perspective is false and provocative; it feels like the world community denies that Palestinian lives matter.
In a tweet the charismatic Palestinian voice of Hanan Ahrawi reads like a quote from the Old Testament: May you never experience the agony of having your country stolen; may you never feel the pain of living in captivity under occupation; may you never witness the demolition of your home or murder of your loved ones. May you never be sold out by your “friends.”
Ashrawi points the finger at her “friends” in the Arab Gulf who are selling out Palestine for doing business with Trump and Netanyahu. These two leaders are on a high for the moment, not knowing what lies ahead.
Let us be clear. To thrive, Israel must integrate creatively in its regional environment: Israel’s partnership with the Arab world could be a game-changing event for the region and the entire world. However, for Jews and Arabs to live in harmony, the integration must occur authentically in order to cement lasting human relations across borders and cultures. It must first occur where it is needed most, where eight million Jews and eight million Palestinians share the space between the River and the Sea.
This recent diplomatic breakthrough was announced as a land-for-peace deal. It is not. In fact, it is a no-land-for-no-peace deal: Israel would temporarily suspend land grabbing; for this zero-concession, Israel will gain legitimacy (on the occupation) and get a new “certificate” of normalization from a third Arab state- after Egypt’s (in 1979) and Jordan’s (in 1994).
President Sadat was assassinated for forging peace with Israel without preparing the ground with his people and with the Israelis. King Hussein also established peace on his own, deceived by the unfulfilled promises of the Oslo agreement. As a result, the Jordanian people, like their Egyptian neighbors, have remained isolated from Israeli society, despite the exchange of embassies. This isolation is partly due to lack of trust, on both sides, and a sense of Arab solidarity with Palestinians- whose land has been taken with force and their freedom has been restricted for decades.
Assuming that the plans for normalization between a new lead-Arab country and Israel becomes a reality in the coming weeks, it would be simplistic to assume that the Emiratis will show the same level of hesitation to normalize relations.
The business and political sectors of the Arab Gulf have informally opened up to Israel over the past years. Iran has driven the Arab Gulf people to seek refuge in Tel-Aviv and Washington. Moreover, the Arab Gulf nations have become used to dependence on expatriate labor, foreign governments and external agencies of security; in fact the Arab Gulf is largely “run” by expatriates.
It is this massive demographic dominance of foreign labor which makes nation-building in the Arab Gulf precarious. Unlike the case of Egypt and Jordan, and much of the rest of the Arab world, the state in the Arab Gulf is very weak. State immunity to local uprisings is limited. For peculiar demographic and cultural reasons, history will show that it is risky for any single Gulf state to break highly sensitive political norms.
Shibley Telhamy , as well as James Zoghby have been gathering reliable data on Arab public opinion for decades. These two scholars never fail an opportunity to remind Israelis and the West that Palestine remains a central issue in the lives of the people of the Arab world. For a good reason Arabs are “fixated” on Palestine, despite the changing sentiments of their autocratic leaders. Click here.
It is delusional for Washington to assume that Bahrain and Oman, then Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and finally Qatar, will easily follow suit in recognizing Israel without real and solid progress on the Issue of Palestine. No single state, and especially a small one like the UAE, can reverse a regional trend with an agreement forged by an elite political class.
Commenting on the stunning UAE-Israel deal, Tamara Cofman Wittes (in a Brookings Brief on August 13) identified an important shift in the dynamics of the peace process:
When the Arab Peace Initiative was launched in 2002, amidst the violence of the second intifada and Israel’s reoccupation of Palestinian cities in the West Bank, the assembled Arab governments in Beirut put the power of the Arab states’ normalization offer at the service of the beleaguered Palestinians, led by Yassir Arafat. Today’s announcement cements a reversal of the dynamic. Now the Emiratis can claim that they have saved Palestine from annexation, when what they’ve really done is used a suspension of annexation (which was probably suspended anyway) as cover for their pursuit of their own national interests in ties with Israel. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas may not be able to do much about this betrayal of Palestinian interests — but Palestinians will remember.
In the same Breefing Salam Fayyad captures the madness in this deal: Israel got itself a huge prize for merely temporarily refraining from committing another egregious violation of international law. Click here.
Social justice over the Palestine question keeps going south; there seems to be no bottom. Israelis and all Arabs must realize that lasting peace starts in the Israel-Palestine zone.