Is the normalisation deal actually a win for Israel? | Center East
The signing of the agreement to normalize relations between Israel, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates caused a sensation in the Middle East. It seems that Israel is increasingly gaining political ground in the region, expanding trade and financial ties, and cementing an Arab-Israeli axis against Iran. All of this happens against the will of the Palestinian people and without any concessions from the Israelis.
These developments have raised a number of important questions in the Middle East political scene. Does this diplomatic success mean for Israel that the Palestinian question has been completely ignored in Arab politics? Have the Palestinians lost their “veto power” in normalizing relations between Arab states and Israel? Will the UAE be able to bypass the Palestinians, the original owners of the matter, and find a “solution” to the Palestinian problem?
The Palestinian Loss of “Veto Power”
For decades there has been a consensus among Arab states that any dealings with Israel must be made conditional on a “land for peace” agreement that includes withdrawal from the territories occupied during the 1967 war. That is, the Israelis would have to give up occupied territory in order to create an independent Palestinian state in order to normalize relations with Arab countries.
This consensus gave the Palestinians an unspoken “veto” over normalization, making solving the Palestinian question the only way to accept Israel in the Arab world.
What the agreement between the Emirates, Bahrain and Israel has done is this earlier Arab consensus on how to deal with the Palestinian issue and make public what has been going on informally for years – the normalization of relations between Tel Aviv and Abu Dhabi.
It shows that Emirati and Bahrain disregard the long-term Arab position of the “land for peace”. Abu Dhabi and Manama have effectively given the Israelis what they want – open political relations, trade and support for their anti-Iran confrontation efforts – with no real concessions on the Palestinian issue.
For the Palestinians, this is a clear attempt to maintain the status quo and allow the Israelis to continue stealing Palestinian land, demolishing Palestinian houses, imprisoning and killing Palestinians, and consolidating their apartheid rule as a whole. Contrary to what the emiratis claim, this agreement did not stop the annexation of Palestinian territories locally.
The Israelis do not hide their optimism that establishing full diplomatic relations with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain will open the door to full relations with other countries such as Oman, Saudi Arabia, Morocco and perhaps Sudan. If these normalization agreements are continued, it would mean that the Palestinians have lost their “veto power” in normalization with Israel and their cause has lost its political value to the Arab regimes.
While the deal is indeed bad news for the Palestinians, it is important not to overstate its importance. Abu Dhabi, Tel Aviv and Washington have touted it as a “peace for peace” initiative (as opposed to “land for peace”) and tried to equate it with the peace agreements that Egypt and Jordan made with Israel in the past. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the architect of the deal, knows, like most Israelis, very well that such a comparison is unrealistic.
After all, neither Bahrain nor the UAE have actually waged war against Israel, and neither do they share borders, unlike Jordan and Egypt, which waged deadly wars against the Israelis. The peace agreements the two countries signed with Israel not only put an end to hostilities, but also forced Israel to withdraw from the territories it occupied.
The “peace agreement” signed by Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Israel last month contained nothing of such political significance.
The UAE, a peacemaker?
Bad as this deal is for the Palestinians, it does not make the Palestinian question go away. Despite all the noise and PR, the Israelis know very well that normalizing relations with the Gulf States will not “get rid of” millions of Palestinians. It cannot erase them from history or reality.
Some moderate Israelis seem to be hoping that the UAE, the region’s new self-proclaimed “peacemaker”, could use the deal as a stepping stone and leverage to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In a recent article, former Israeli diplomat Nadav Tamir wrote about the possibility of Abu Dhabi launching new negotiations between the Palestinian Authority and Tel Aviv to reach an agreement that would include a separate Palestinian state.
However, the success of such an initiative is highly unlikely as the relationship between Ramallah and Abu Dhabi is lower than ever. The Palestinian Authority has made it clear that it regards the Emirati deal with Israel as “treason” and has issued sharply worded condemnations.
If the UAE does not play a useful role in reaching an agreement with the Palestinians, Tamir fears that the deal with the UAE could turn from a tactical gain to strategic damage.
In the short term, normalization with Israel only helps isolate the PA and could benefit Hamas – something that is not in Israel’s interest, something that the Ramallah authorities have long used to indirectly depoliticize and control the Palestinian population. In the long run, the Arab normalization with Israel without concessions on the Palestinian question will take away the greatest influence of the Arabs on the implementation of a two-state solution that could backfire.
A severely weakened PA is likely to collapse, leaving the administration of Palestinian towns and villages in the West Bank to its occupier – Israel. Such a development would only bring the apartheid practices of the Israeli state further into the foreground, grant Israeli Jews full rights and at the same time oppress and discriminate against the native Palestinian population.
This would likely provide even more fuel for the transnational grassroots opposition to the Israeli occupation and apartheid, which is already putting significant pressure on Israel to grant the Palestinians their rights.
In this sense, the ongoing denial of statehood towards the Palestinians by the right-wing Israeli ruling elite and the crumbling support for Israel among younger generations of Americans and Western Europeans puts the country even more on the path to a one-state solution. where Israelis and Palestinians would enjoy equal rights. This would effectively mark the end of the Zionist dream of a Jewish state throughout historical Palestine.
The current political leadership in Israel is too short-sighted to see these possible developments. Netanyahu enjoys the image boost the normalization treaty has given him and is likely to hope that it would secure his re-election once the ruling coalition collapses and allows him to continue avoiding prison for the corruption crimes for which he is being charged. His tenure could go down in history as the story that laid the foundation for the end of the exclusive Jewish state in Palestine.
What may seem like a great loss to the Palestinian cause may turn out to be more damaging to the Zionist project. Sooner or later the Israelis will have to face the consequences of the denial of Palestinian statehood.
The views expressed in this article are from the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of Al Jazeera.