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The Gulf: between normalisation and dismemberment

Maids being abused in Gulf countries - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]
Maids being abused in Gulf countries - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

From Khartoum, where the Arab summit in late August 1967 announced its Three No’s: no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, and no negotiations with it, a leader of Sudan’s National Congress, the ruling party, confirmed the validity of the news reported by Israeli radio regarding Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan to visit Khartoum. This is a very dramatic irony that reflects how far the Arabs have gone since the aforementioned summit 50 years ago. This is not only because peace, recognition, and negotiations have already occurred, but also because matters have progressed even further than this, reaching the level of meetings, visits, and recently, investments.

The Sudanese leader, Abdel-Sakhi Abbas, commented by saying Netanyahu cannot visit Sudan, his country’s position towards relations with Israel is clear, and that Sudan is committed to the Palestinian cause. Such remarks have almost become extinct in the official arena regardless of how sincere the remarks are.

These remarks were made at a time when the Israeli economic minister, Eli Cohen, received an official invite to visit Bahrain in mid-April to participate in an international ministerial conference, according to an Israeli source. Israel’s Israel Hayom newspaper quoted an anonymous official saying that Israel is working on establishing diplomatic relations with Bahrain and Manama did not issue a statement denying this.

READ: Israel’s open secrets

The latest development in the normalisation of relations between Israel and Arab and Muslim countries was the visit of Chadian President Idriss Deby to Israel a few days ago. While the African countries and others have gone forth with normalisation after decades of following the Arab countries in their boycott of Israel on almost every level, this wouldn’t have been possible, at least with such boldness, if it wasn’t for the various steps taken by Arab countries in this direction, especially the Gulf States.

I will not address Egypt and Jordan, as they each have had peace treaties and diplomatic relations with Israel for years. The current primary problem is in the Gulf. Its countries, especially Saudi Arabia, have provided the strongest financial support to the PLO as well as political support in international arenas and forums, alongside other major Arab countries. However, this financial and political support has declined rapidly in the past few years, now causing a major weak point in the Arab position and a fatal weakness for the Palestinians, alongside their absurd division.

Following the Oslo agreement between Israel and the PLO in 1993, some Gulf and Arab states, including Qatar, Oman, Tunisia and Morocco, began to build bridges with Israel to encourage further steps in the settlement process. Accordingly, several meetings were held with Israeli officials, and Israeli officials visited Arab capitals, such as Shimon Peres’ visit to Doha. Furthermore, Israeli commercial offices were opened in Muscat, Doha and Tunis. The whole process quickly subsided after the outbreak of the Al-Aqsa Intifada in 2000 and the besiegement of President Yasser Arafat and his dramatic departure in 2004. However, the process is being revived once again with Netanyahu’s recent sudden visit to Muscat and his allegedly upcoming visit to Manama, according to reports from Israeli sources.

READ: Does ‘creeping normalisation’ save Netanyahu from his problems?

However, the links were not completely broken. There have been international sporting events held in Qatar, the UAE and Bahrain, and they were an opportunity for Israeli delegations to attend, play their national anthem, and raise their flag. This was something unimaginable in the past, even though these countries claimed that the rules for such occasions do not allow them to exclude a particular country. While we may be able to excuse this logic, albeit hypothetically, the Gulf countries’ involvement in matters beyond this has pushed Gulf normalisation with Israel into a different qualitative phase that is much more dangerous.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) on an official diplomatic visit to Oman where he met with Sultan Qaboos bin Said on 25 October 2018 [PM of Israel/Twitter]

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) on an official diplomatic visit to Oman where he met with Sultan Qaboos bin Said on 25 October 2018 [PM of Israel/Twitter]

Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain have recently gone down a path that is difficult to underestimate and overlook, even though the Palestinian leadership has remained silent in the face of this. Matters have gone beyond an Israeli Minister merely visiting the Sheikh Zayed Mosque or that serious speech by Prince Mohammed bin Salman about the Palestinian cause to various delegations that met with him. It has reached the level of almost wholly engaging with the other camp to liquidate the Palestinian cause alongside the American President and the deal of the century that he is promoting, n coordination with the Egyptian leadership that is going along with him in this matter.

This is happening at a time when the human rights situation in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi continues to deteriorate after the wave of arrests of every individual with an opinion different to that of the leaders and after the horrific dismemberment crime against Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in his country’s consulate in Istanbul. There are two genuinely new and painful matters in the normalisation process: First, the emergence of completely “Zionised” individuals in the Saudi and Emirati communities that openly state on social media their embrace of this normalisation and curses all those linked to the “Kadiya” (cause), mocking the Palestinian accent and cause. Second is the UAE’s investment with Israel after it recently funded a gas line linking Israel to Europe. This is occurring at a time when the human rights defence movements across the world, as well as the international BDS movement against Israel, are growing in the US and Europe. What a disgrace!

This article first appeared in Arabic in Al-Quds AL-Arabi on 28 November 2018

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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