Last month the United Arab Emirates celebrated the historic launch of its first space mission to Mars, the optimistically-named “Hope Probe”, and a mere three weeks later the Gulf state landed in Tel Aviv. The landing was reciprocal; Israel’s national carrier El Al took its first direct flight from Tel Aviv to Abu Dhabi on Monday, carrying a joint US-Israeli delegation that included Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law.These missions broke barriers in speed and purpose, but amid the fanfare and brouhaha let’s not forget that the triumphant peace-loving and space-exploring UAE has a dark side too. Its foreign adventures illustrate this, including the misguided missions in Yemen and Libya, ending in a catastrophic mess for the people of both countries. Bankrolling the 2013 coup in Egypt betrayed those Egyptians who braved a bloody revolution only to come full circle and get military rule and Mubarak Mk 2 courtesy of the UAE.
The peace accord with Israel takes the Gulf state’s foreign policy theatre to a new level. Announcing the historic end of wars that the two countries have never fought, the UAE claimed a win for the Palestinians by “saving” the occupied West Bank from annexation by Israel. Only hours later, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a mockery of his peace partner by reaffirming his annexation plans, which were merely postponed, not cancelled.
Annexation of land acquired in war is illegal under international law and cannot be presented as a bargaining chip. Similarly, bringing years of veiled collaboration out of the closet isn’t the same thing as a peace accord. That would require changing the treatment and the status of UAE ruler Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed’s Palestinian Arab brethren, the people whose territory Israel occupies and whose lives it controls down to the smallest aspects.
Bin Zayed’s new-found friends offered no such reprieve. Instead Israel’s daily bombing of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip remains ongoing, and there has been an escalation of the Israeli-imposed siege and shutting down of the territory’s lone power plant after the occupation state blocked its fuel supply. The misery soon shifted to catastrophe, with a recent surge in Covid-19 cases in the densely populated Strip. Elsewhere in the occupied Palestinian territories, house demolitions, land confiscations and oppression continue as they have for over 50 years and more.
And Netanyahu wasn’t done with his annexation announcement. He rattled Abu Dhabi this week by opposing the deal with Washington to receive F-35 jet fighters, revealing Israel’s clout with the Trump administration and showing who is boss in the new relationship. Once again, Israel’s demands are turning what is supposed to be a warm peace with an Arab country into a cold relationship.
“It is not the business of other nations to make American foreign policy,” former US President Ronald Reagan once claimed in response to Israel’s objection to the sale of American AWACS surveillance planes to Saudi Arabia in the 1980s. Reagan’s administration went ahead with the sale anyway, as the technology-for-oil mantra won the day. Trump has chosen a very different path.
Toeing the government line is part of life in the Gulf monarchies, but the majority of their citizens loathe the UAE accord with Israel. The most arrogant, oppressive and racist Israeli government yet has been given an unqualified opening to trade and normalisation, and thus is able to vindicate itself even while it continues to oppress the Palestinians in order to steal and colonise ever more of their land. Gulf citizens, I am sure, would rather that their monarchs and governments make peace with them before doing so with the Israelis.
However, neither the wellbeing of the Palestinians nor the wishes of their citizens are of the slightest interest to the rulers of the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Oman or Bahrain. They are eager to clink glasses with Trump and Netanyahu, the protectors of their thrones from democratic trends, from their own people and, of course, from Iran.It is a little-acknowledged fact that the countries now competing for Israel’s love only became viable states because of oil wealth and Palestinian know-how. The engineers who built their roads; the doctors who established their hospitals; and the teachers who developed their curricula were predominantly Palestinians displaced from their homes when Israel was created in historic Palestine.
Moreover, both Zionist Israel and the Gulf sheikhdoms are antiquated constructs of colonial times. It is thus natural that they club together for survival.
These realities are daunting for the Palestinians, and bring three truths to the surface. For a start, the Palestinian struggle today must be global, appealing to the good conscience of the silent Arab majority to resist normalisation with Israel while understanding that Gulf Arabs are often blinded by wealth and their political freedom is “occupied” even more than that of the Palestinians. Building coalitions with broader movements which prioritise civil rights and equality is a must.
Furthermore, the terms of the struggle have never been clearer: freedom from occupation; the legitimate right of return; and equality in all of historic Palestine. The struggle for these human rights and resisting oppression is a legitimate endeavour, and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement aimed at Israel is the platform.
Finally, the moribund and ineffective Palestinian Authority must be replaced with a representative body for all Palestinians, including those of us in the diaspora. The Palestinians must swallow their pride and end the failed state-building project. This is no reflection on them, for having helped build the Dubais, Kuwaits and Dohas of this world, they can surely do it all over again when they are free and equal citizens in their own land.
The UAE will be celebrating 50 years of existence next February, when it expects the “Hope Probe” to land on Mars. It need not have travelled so far; it could easily have found true hope for its own people at home, had its government tried to do so honestly and sincerely.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.