Israel and the UAE capitalise as Trump era ends

As Trump era ends, Israel and the UAE seek eleventh hour advantages
6 min read
23 December, 2020
Analysis: Fearing a reversal of policies under the Biden administration, Israel and the UAE are exploiting the last days of Trump's presidency to shore up a new geopolitical reality.
Israel has made 2020 a record-breaking year in the number of Palestinian homes demolished. [Getty]
The past four years have been nothing short of a dream come true for the embattled Israeli prime minister and his coalition of expansionist politicians that advocate the "Greater Israel" agenda. 

Indeed, Benjamin Netanyahu has seized the opportunity to implement policies and actions that were politically unthinkable before the Trump administration came into office.

With Washington now engulfed in Trump-drama and Covid-19 woes, Israel and its new best friends in the gulf, namely the United Arab Emirates (UAE), are again seizing the moment to run amok, amass 'benefits', and engineer a new geopolitical reality in the region that normalises annexation, colonisation, and confrontation with Iran. 

Fearing that a Biden administration could reverse some of Trump's policies, including on Iran, arms sales, human rights, and the so-called peace plan, these new allies are intent on offsetting the reversals by exploiting the remaining eleventh hour in Trump's tumultuous exit from the White House. 

While Israel focuses on making more territorial gains by way of land grabs and political wins through normalisation deals pushed and paid for by the outgoing administration, the UAE is bending over backwards to normalise illegal Israeli policies, including colonisation and structural racism to lock in support for its arms appetite and perceived need for military protection. The result is a surreal set of actions and policies that would have been inconceivable pre-Trump's anti-global establishment rein.  

Netanyahu has seized the opportunity to implement policies and actions that were politically unthinkable before the Trump administration came into office

An Emirati Sheikh, for example, bought half of Beitar Jerusalem, Israel's notoriously racist football team, despite a deluge of profane anti-Arab and anti-Muslim protest by the team's fan base. The Sheikh, who had no hesitation in talking about Israel's 'capital' in reference to Jerusalem, seemed unfazed by the fact that he had invested money in a team that has a long history of racism, including opposing hiring Palestinian-Israeli or Muslim players.  

Meanwhile, a Dubai distribution company signs a deal to import Israeli settlement products, to the outrage of international law and human rights advocates. And if signing a deal with Israeli settlements was not insulting enough, the fact that the deal included importing olive oil pushed all the right outrage buttons in Palestine. 

Read more: Israel normalisation deals reflect the rupture
between repressive regimes and Arab societies

Explaining the rationale, the Head of Dubai's Chamber of Commerce resorted to familiar Israeli spin, saying - with a straight face - that it would boost the Palestinian economy by employing local workers in Israeli settlement factories. A month before this deal, Israeli produce, including dates, was on display in Emirati markets.

International airspace, meanwhile, is just as crowded with normalisation fever. Along with El Al, the UAE's low-cost carrier Fly Dubai is operating regular flights to Tel Aviv, with reports indicating that 50,000 Israelis visited the Gulf state in the first two weeks of December alone.

The Emirati authorities, it seems, are unbothered by a 29-page travel advisory issued in Israel cautioning Israelis against discussing issues of democracy, local politics, culture, or the royal family because the UAE is not a democratic country. 

Meanwhile, UAE government-linked social media influencers have conducted carefully choreographed tours of Tel Aviv and shower Israel with praise and talk of peace and coexistence in the company of Israeli communication officials. 

Geopolitically, seismic shifts and alliances are being redrawn. While Israel expresses openness to missile defense cooperation with Gulf States, the US imposes sanctions on Turkey, its long-time NATO ally, while the latter scurries to mend relations with Israel and protect its interests. Meanwhile, the UAE gears up to confront pushback on its arms deals with the US because of its human rights record and military interventions in the region.

Israel has made 2020 a record-breaking year in the number of homes demolished, Palestinians displaced, and land grabs to the benefit of Israel's settlement regime

For Palestinians, UAE rhetoric about stopping annexation and improving conditions only adds insult to injury. This, while Netanyahu exploits the US election sideshow to squeeze whatever additional 'successes' he can. This was made glaringly obvious with Israel´s demolition of an entire Palestinian community in the Jordan Valley and pocketing a normalisation deal with Morocco in exchange for American recognition of the latter's annexation of Western Sahara.

Israel has made 2020 a record-breaking year in the number of Palestinian homes demolished, Palestinians displaced, and land grabs to the benefit of Israel's settlement regime. Over 5,000 Palestinians have been affected by Israeli demolitions of Palestinian homes and property, and the United Nations estimates that up to 800 more are under threat of displacement in Jerusalem alone. 

The Israeli government is approving large-scale settlement construction in strategic areas, especially in and around Jerusalem, through a myriad of measures, legislation, and projects. This includes the approval of massive construction in the illegal settlement of Givat Hamatos, which was long considered an international red line. 

Read more: Don't look to Washington for peace in Israel-Palestine

Israel is also approving the construction of successive batches of thousands of settlement units in and around Jerusalem and rushing legislation to retroactively legitimise isolated settlement outposts and provide them with government funding. Concurrently, Israel is pushing through with settlement infrastructure projects designed to astronomically increase land grabs in the West Bank, in what is described as "de facto annexation on steroids." 

Additionally, ideologically-driven endeavours cloaked as so-called tourism projects are going ahead after years of delay. Specifically, the cable car project and "biblical gardens" in Jerusalem have taken off, with Israeli authorities fast-tracking the confiscation of Palestinian land and razing Palestinian tombs in Jerusalem to make way for the controversial plan. 

Much has been said about Biden's plans to reverse Trump's policies. The destructive new facts created, however, will be mostly normalised

Many of these settlement construction announcements and actions draw widespread international rhetorical condemnation, including from the European Union which seems to be chronically "worried" by developments, yet persistently impotent to take action. Israel continues to ignore these toothless statements of international concern, while taking full advantage of the chaotic transition underway in the United States. 

Likewise, the UAE has been exempted from even rhetorical Palestinian condemnation for its frenzied normalisation of Israel's annexation and colonisation after the Palestinian leadership abruptly decided to stay mute on such developments while it attempts to normalise relations with key Arab states and steer clear of Saudi wrath. 

Read more: How US blackmail pushed Sudan to normalise
ties with Israel

Some Palestinian leaders have spun this controversial policy upset as an advanced signal of good will to the incoming Biden administration. However, it is only emboldening the UAE and others to persist on a path even the European Union, Israel's biggest trading partner, rejects as contravening international and EU laws.  

The Palestinian leadership attempts to reposition itself as an amenable Biden partner by shedding its logical opposition to normalising annexation, while placing itself at the mercy of key and unfriendly Arab states as well as the incoming administration. In return, it is only getting more conditions from the incoming Biden team, which are not expected to rein in Israeli expansionism. 

Much has been said about Biden's plans to reverse Trump's policies. This inclination however is unlikely to reach the Middle East. The destructive new facts created, including during the transition, will be mostly normalised. 

Without a new and imaginative Palestinian approach, the "no daylight with Israel" doctrine between Washington and Tel Aviv will mean more losses for Palestine and the entrenchment of Israel as the region's crowned and normalised overlord.

Nour Odeh is a political analyst and public diplomacy consultant. A former award-winning journalist, Odeh was also Palestine's first female government spokesperson

Follow her on Twitter: @nour_odeh