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Israel’s diplomatic expansion in the face of Arab retraction

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (L) hold a joint press conference following their meeting in Jerusalem on 5 July 2017 [Haim Zach/GPO / Handout /Anadolu Agency]
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (L) hold a joint press conference following their meeting in Jerusalem on 5 July 2017 [Haim Zach/GPO / Handout /Anadolu Agency]

One of the manifestations of the fragmentation of the Arab nation is the decline of the Palestinian cause on the list of regional government priorities. Palestine was the focus of the Arab unity project from the start of the occupation nearly seventy years ago, but no more.

There are many reasons for this decline, including US hegemony in the Middle East and the evil alliance against the Arab people and their aspirations. This has pushed many Arab countries not only to abandon the Palestinian cause, but also to seek normalisation with Israel and its occupation. It has gone so far as to change the terminology used; Israel is no longer the “enemy” and communication with the state is no longer considered a crime. We can say that the Arab diplomacy of the past, which had Palestine at its centre, has completely abandoned this cause, replacing it with close cooperation with the occupation forces, especially on a security level. This reality has weakened the Arabs in the eyes of others and led to the crumbling of their ranks.

Earlier this month, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Israel in a historic break in India’s honourable positions on Palestine. During the visit, he signed numerous economic and political agreements that will pave the way for Israel to penetrate the Indian subcontinent, providing a route towards Asia. India is regarded as an Arab ally due to its position towards Israel, for historical reasons. One of these was India’s leadership, along with Egypt, of the non-aligned movement in the 1950s, and the latter’s stance on Israel. History has recorded the close ties between Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, Egypt’s President Gamal Abdel Nasser, Yugoslav President Joseph Tito, Indonesia’s President Sukarno and many African leaders such as Ahmed Sikutori. It can be said that the national liberation phase in Africa and Latin America was one of the best periods for the liberation of Palestine, with cohesion between progressive forces. It is this cohesion that led to the UN’s adoption of a law that equated Zionism with racism.

Read: Modi’s historic visit reveals policy shift towards Israel

Modi’s visit to Israel closed that chapter. There is no doubt that this is due to the unprecedented decline of the Arab position along with US dominance over the area since the Anglo-American coalition’s 1991 war against Iraq after its invasion of neighbouring Kuwait the previous year. Given the disintegration of the Soviet Union around that time — it was considered to be a strong supporter of Arab causes, despite being one of the first to recognise Israel in 1948 — the American age reached its peak.

At that time, the official Arab system was on track to retreat before the Israeli occupation. After Gaza was targeted in 2008/9, the Arab countries’ positions were divided. The so-called axis of moderation was established, and included Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Jordan and Egypt. These countries sought normalisation with Israel. The axis fell with the fall of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, but US President Donald Trump is trying to revive it. The Arab situation encouraged others to recognise Israel and have contact with it.

We can say that the expansion of Israel’s influence in Asia and its penetration of India is not the only manifestation of the decline of Arab diplomacy, as the Zionist state’s expansion in Africa also poses a real threat to the Palestinian cause. The relationships between Israel and Africa are no longer limited to one African country, but have expanded and become public. The first African-Israeli summit is due to be held in October in Lomè, the capital of Togo.

Read: PA ambassador warns of Israeli penetration in Africa

This expansion has attracted the attention of some Arabs. The Arab parliament convened in Cairo last week and in its closing statement called for the heads of parliaments and councils in Arab-African countries to speak to their African counterparts who are planning to attend the African-Israeli summit. The statement noted that the governments of these countries should be reminded that the rights of the Palestinian people are inalienable, especially their right to establish an independent state with East Jerusalem as its capital, in accordance with various UN resolutions, especially Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338. This position is not consistent with the policies of countries such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt, which continue to rearrange their relationships with Israel. Egypt has had diplomatic relations ever since Anwar Sadat visited Jerusalem in 1978 and signed a peace treaty; there is nothing that disturbs this relationship other than the Egyptian people’s adherence to their position rejecting normalisation with the Israeli occupation. As for Saudi Arabia, it has developed its relations with Israel in recent years.

Retired Saudi General Anwar Eshki is said to be one of the architects of this relationship; he has visited Tel Aviv several times. There are great efforts being made to prepare the Saudi public to accept this; Eshki predicts that “things will progress towards a solution and everyone will agree.” He has also stated that he has sensed a change in Saudi public opinion: “Now, if we look at the tweets and comments posted by Saudis, we find that they are saying Israel has not recorded a single aggression against the Kingdom.” There is no doubt that the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran is an important factor in the development of relations between Riyadh and Tel Aviv. Prince Turki Al-Faisal, the former director of Saudi intelligence, is a promoter of Saudi-Israel relations. He has engaged in numerous debates with Israeli officials and has contributed to the development of security and intelligence links between the two countries, especially after the Arab Spring and regarding Iran.

Bahrain’s links with Israel have developed considerably. Following the visit of Israel’s Environment Minister Yossi Beilin to Manama in 2005 for a conference, the Bahraini Foreign Ministry sent an envoy to Ben Gurion Airport under the pretext of “receiving two Bahraini nationals who were allegedly detained by Israelis.” The policy of normalisation contributed to creating conditions for the expansion of Israeli influence, not in the circles that traditionally support Israel, but in the progressive circles that supported the Palestinian struggle and were in solidarity with the Arab positions. As these positions declined, some of these parties became less attached to the struggle.

At a time when the policies of the Arab countries towards Palestine have turned away, whether through normalisation with the Israelis or by targeting the Palestinian resistance forces, some Arab friends are still hold their positions against the occupation enthusiastically. On 9 July, Israel’s Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper revealed that the state’s Ambassador Carmel Shama-Hacohen had reached an agreement with an Arab state representative at UNESCO to vote against the Palestinian proposal to recognise Hebron as a Palestinian archaeological site, including the Ibrahimi Mosque; that is what happened when the time came to vote. Nevertheless, UNESCO declared the Palestinian Old City of Hebron to be a “protected area” and a “world heritage” site, following a secret vote that sparked a new Israeli-Palestinian debate at the UN. The representative of Cuba to UNESCO, Dulce Maria Buergo, took an honourable stand when she called on those present to stand in mourning for the martyrs of Palestine and objected to the position of the Israeli ambassador, who called for the rejection of the proposal.


There is no doubt that the collapse of the Arab positions towards the Palestinian cause has created a vacuum filled by Israeli diplomacy, expanding through the areas of Arab influence in Africa, Latin America and Asia. The decline of the Arab political system continues to weaken the axis of rejection and has destroyed the axis of steadfastness and confrontation. After the Oslo Accords, Israeli diplomatic activity has expanded, making Israel an accepted state, even amongst progressive circles which had placed Palestine on their list of priorities. There is an important point that lies within the abandonment of Palestine; it has become a constant policy of the axis of Arab moderation countries, which continue their policy of normalisation with Israel, targeting resistance groups and fabricating imaginary issues to keep the Arab world distracted.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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