Toenadering is an Afrikaans term which was used as derisively by the far-right to describe the implied closeness between the former Apartheid government of the National Party and the leaders of the African National Congress (ANC). The aim was to discredit the party’s secret meetings with the ANC during South Africa’s Apartheid era.
In the bad old days of Apartheid in our country, the slogans warned the Afrikaner volk that, “Swart deelname meen swart oorname” (black participation will result in a black takeover). Such rhetoric reflected a period in South Africa’s troubled history during which the battle for the heart and soul of Afrikanerdom was a priority.
Ultimately, the forces of reason prevailed, and finally saw the emergence of a democratic dispensation. Notwithstanding the scare tactics unleashed by a host of reactionary forces, South Africa remains on a trajectory to fulfil the just aspirations of all of its people.
Today, we could well say that Saudi Arabia is “toenadering” with Israel and ask if it is a matter solely for the House of Saud or if it has wider ramifications for Palestinians and Muslims around the world. The context of Saudi’s “toenadering” with the Zionist State is entirely different to the South African example, and so it is essential to demonstrate this.
For example, Palestinians who are aggrieved by Riyadh’s meetings with Israelis are opposed to them naturally by dint of Israel’s ongoing military occupation of their land; they cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be categorised as right-wingers. In fact the opposite is true. Furthermore, Saudi Arabia is governed by an unelected despotic regime while Israel is the embodiment of neo-apartheid. Both share credentials as repressive, autocratic, belligerent and military powers; both have a strong ally in the United States, which in turn invests heavily in equipping them with weapons of mass destruction.
In addition to advancing the interests of the West’s military-industrial conglomerates, both regimes are used as proxies to destabilise the Middle East under the cover of the “War on Terror”. No surprise then that legitimate opposition to them is outlawed.
In the case of Israel, resistance movements such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad are criminalised as “terrorists”. So too in the case of Saudi Arabia, where internal dissent is crushed and groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood are also declared to be terrorists. Such deceptive policies are justified expediently as fulfilling the West’s desire to rid the world of terrorists and terrorism.
The other major difference is that “toenadering” with the ANC resulted in the end of apartheid, whereas Saudi overtures are meant to fortify apartheid in Israel while also preventing the kingdom from falling into the hands of progressive, democratic forces.
Ganging up against the “Arab Spring” — as both Tel Aviv and Riyadh did — is especially evident in Egypt. Not only did the Saudis and Israelis conspire to undermine a democratically-elected government headed by President Mohamed Morsi, but they also participated actively in facilitating the military coup led by Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi. This was a huge setback for democracy in the Arab world, for following the Libyan invasion and murder of Muammar Gaddafi, it effectively curtailed any hope that democratic processes would be allowed to survive.
Does this sound bizarre? Indeed it is, especially for those who are caught up in the perception that the House of Saud has to be antagonistic towards the Israeli occupiers of Al-Aqsa Mosque; and more so for Muslims who believe foolishly that the Saudi monarchy will try to liberate the Noble Sanctuary.
Now that this vain hope has been dashed amidst signs that the “toenadering” is actually worse than it appears, a gradual, almost reluctant, whisper is being heard and it is getting louder and more articulate. The House of Saud stands accused of nothing less than betrayal of the Palestinian cause and global Muslim aspirations to free Al-Aqsa from Israeli occupation.
When the colonial-settler regime was imposed on the land of Palestine followed by the occupation of Jerusalem — wherein stands Al-Aqsa — Muslims around the world shared a common loss. The liberation of Al-Aqsa has thus become synonymous with Palestine’s struggle for freedom.
As Saudi Arabia edges closer to normalisation with Israel, Riyadh hopes that its policy of buying support in Muslim communities from Johannesburg to Jakarta and from London to Lisbon, will immunise it from criticism and a backlash. Being default gatekeepers of the Holy Ka’aba in Makkah and the Mosque of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in Madinah, allows the Saudi kingdom some degree of leverage over the Muslim Ummah. Holding the power to decide who and how many Muslims are permitted entry to these sacred sites is a deeply flawed tool wielded by the Saudis to keep the faithful in check and in awe of the ruling elite.
Palestinians on the other hand, while disappointed with Saudi impotence, will be neither entirely surprised nor shocked. Their experience with Arab dictators, whether in Egypt or Saudi Arabia, informs them not to expect much from traitors.
Moreover, as a collective body, the Arab League has an unenvious proven record of complacency and utter lack of backbone in the face of Israeli belligerence. It would thus be naive to believe that the umbrella body will convene anytime soon to condemn and censure Saudi for its “toenadering”; it is known that many of its members have also capitulated, shamelessly, to Israeli hegemony in the region.
These constraints fortunately do not apply to Palestinian activists, writers and scholars and their highly politicised civil society. Nor does it apply to Muslims across the world. They are able to confront Saudi Arabia’s betrayal in solidarity with Palestine’s quest for freedom and justice. Many will do so even at the risk of being barred from performing the pilgrimage to Makkah, Madinah and Jerusalem. They will see it as a price worth paying if it results in the liberation of Palestine – and Al-Aqsa Mosque — being one step closer.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.