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Muhammad Shehada

UAE feigns opposition to Israeli annexation to push normalisation

UAE's Anwar Gargash called for 'open lines of communication' between the UAE and Israel [Getty]

Date of publication: 19 June, 2020

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Comment: Setting the bar even lower, UAE and Saudi Arabia are touting normalisation with Israel in exchange for no annexation, writes Muhammad Shehada.
While Palestinians see a formidable threat to their self-determination and statehood in Israel's looming annexation, some Gulf regimes seem to have found a strategic opportunity to push for normalisation with Israel in the midst of this chaos.

The desperate hastening for open relations with Israel reached a milestone last Friday, when UAE ambassador to the US, Yousef Al-Otaiba appealed directly to the Israeli people in a video - without mentioning Palestinians a single time - and wrote an op-ed in Hebrew in Israel's largest newspaper, Yediot Ahronot.

In both, Al-Otaiba warned that annexation would "undermine" - rather than end - the increasingly warming relations between Israel and some Arab countries.

Courting the Israeli public in broad daylight, albeit unprecedented, came as no surprise since al-Otaiba was one of three Gulf representatives that attended the unveiling of Trump's widely-condemned "Deal of the Century" at the White House last January.

What's interesting, however, about al-Otaiba's desperate appeasement to Israel, is how it conditions advancing normalisation on Israel halting annexation, rather than ending occupation.

In other words, Al-Otaiba's message is that if Israel does absolutely nothing, business continues as usual, and there would be no limit or prerequisite to normalisation.

Similar to Al-Otaiba's stunt, a former Saudi Arabian government advisor, Nawaf Obaid, wrote an article in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz last Tuesday, entitled "Led by Saudi Arabia, We Arabs Are Talking Peace. But Israelis Aren't Listening". In the article, Obaid argues that "a potent Saudi-led Arab camp has been offering Israel security and regional cooperation," then goes on to make the same point that "Annexation will slam that door shut."

These Gulf regimes are pretending to use normalisation as leverage to save the Palestinian dream of freedom

On the face of it, these Gulf regimes are pretending to use normalisation as leverage to save the Palestinian dream of freedom, while in essence they're exploiting the Palestinian cause and annexation as a catalyst to justify normalisation with Israel.

The goal of such adulation is to reshape the Arab consensus, and use annexation as a pretext for setting the bar even lower. Convincing Israel not to annex is now meagre compensation, taking the real goal of ending occupation and establishing a Palestinian state entirely off the table.

Echoing this endeavour, Anwar Gargash, Emirati Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, tweeted an article from Israeli daily the Jerusalem Post that described Al-Otaiba's message as "tempered as well, without threats," and sounding more like "a warning from a colleague than from an adversary."

Moreover, Gargash exposed the UAE's annexation warning to be toothless, if not a mere lip-service, when he spoke at a major pro-Israeli lobby's conference last Tuesday and argued for "decoupling the political from the non-political".

Gragash went on to praise Israel as a necessary ally in the fields of technology and medicine, despite annexation or other "disagreements," and urged for greater cooperation. The same American Jewish committee (AJC) conference that aimed to highlight "Israel's quest for peace and security," featured Saudi Arabia's ex-Justice Minister, Muhammad Al-Issa.

Coronawashing normalisation

In addition to using opposition to  annexation as a pretext to advancing normalisation, the UAE government has been using the coronavirus to bring warming ties with Israel to light, to the detriment of Palestinians.

In Gargash's AJC speech, he cited Emiratri medical aid to Palestinians as a pretext that necessitates cooperation and coordination with Israel, in reference to two planes that landed unprecedentedly at Israel's Ben Gurion airport in late May and early June carrying Covid-19 related aid to Palestinians.

The news about the two flights was celebrated by Israeli officials as a "historic milestone" to showcase warming ties between the two countries, while it was widely condemned and frowned upon among Palestinians who saw the move as exploiting their needs to bridge a path towards Israel.

In both instances, the PA rejected the aid, citing that the move was entirely uncoordinated and that they learned about the Emirati planes from the media rather than through proper diplomatic channels.

The PA's principled rejection was then used by prominent Emirati commentators close to UAE's de facto ruler, Mohammed Bin Zayed, to attack Palestinians while retweeting praise for Israel's democracy and coexistence. All this is just further evidence of gestures that have been an ambush from the start, rather than a genuine attempt to aid Palestinians.

These gestures have been an ambush from the start, rather than a genuine attempt to aid Palestinians

Coronawashing normalisation and using annexation to justify closer ties with Israel demonstrates that Saudi Arabia and the UAE will unfortunately spare no opportunity to exploit Palestinian suffering, and throw Palestinians under the bus while they're at it.

These Arab regimes' efforts to appease Israel in pursuit of securing their thrones and interests will only aggravate their increasingly impoverished populations. People across the Middle East can see no fruit of these normalisation theatrics, other than equipping their oppressive rulers with Israeli spy technology to perpetuate their tyranny.

Even Netanyahu has repeatedly admitted that while Israel has no problem with Arab leaders, the Arab people remain the largest obstacle. This inherently destabilising apparatus of aiding Arab dictators in return for selling out Palestinians is destined to collapse the more it is fueled with repression and tyranny.


Muhammad Shehada is a writer and civil society activist from the Gaza Strip and a student of Development Studies at Lund University, Sweden. He was the PR officer for the Gaza office of the Euro-Med Monitor for Human Rights.

Follow him on Twitter: @muhammadshehad2

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab.

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