Only something which is not normal needs to be “normalised”; taboos becoming permissible, for example. This encapsulates the relationship between Arab states and Israel ever since the 1948 Nakba (Catastrophe) when the Zionist occupation began. It is a controversial and paradoxical issue. In the wake of the justifications put forward for the normalisation of relations between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain, therefore, it is worth looking at the realities of such deals.
What, for example, has normalisation actually achieved in the 42 years since its first manifestation with the 1978 Camp David treaty between Israel and Egypt? On the 20 January this year, a brief report in the Economist — “Israelis whom Egyptians love to hate” — highlighted the Israeli character as portrayed negatively by Egyptian TV and cinema. In this celluloid worldview, “Their women are sluttish schemers. Their men scowling thugs, prone to blood-spilling and to strange guttural barking.” Despite decades of diplomatic relations, the Egyptians still have an “unwelcoming” attitude towards their alien “friends” across the Sinai Peninsula.
In 2016 another study was published by the Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies which said that “Egyptians are least interested in any sort of normalisation with Israel.” The study mentioned that such a relationship is only at the level of security agencies and a few desks in the foreign ministry. It is a cold peace, it added.
Alzaytouna’s study centre conducted an opinion poll in 2019 about the popularity of relations with Israel within some Muslim countries. The poll concluded that only three per cent of Egyptians, four per cent of Pakistanis, six per cent of Turks and 15 per cent of Indonesians might welcome some sort of relations with Israel. Many conditioned such relations being established following a just solution for the Palestinians.
The evidence suggests that the normalisation process has nothing to do with any fair demands made by the Arab nations. Nor has it brought any benefit for peace or any economic interests for the nations where the politicians tried to market the move.
A former Chief of Staff of the Israel Defence Forces, Gadi Eizenkot, told Israel Hayom that, “In the Middle East your new friends may turn out to be your enemy. Hence, Israel’s military superiority [over the Arabs] is essential.” He made his comment after Israel protested about the proposed sale of F-35 fighters by the US to the UAE, despite the normalisation deal. Such Israeli scepticism about “peace” with Arabs prevents any real normalisation taking place in practical terms.
If we agree to be pragmatic on this issue, we should expect to see an economic boost for the UAE and Israel. Indeed, according to Israeli Minister of Intelligence Eli Cohen, “In three to five years the balance of trade between the Emirates and [Israel] may reach $4 billion.”
I wonder why it was left to the Minister of Intelligence to announce such economic news. In any case, let us compare this balance of trade with the figures between the UAE and neighbouring Iran, for example. It is in excess of $13.5 billion. Clearly there is something other than money which is doing the talking.
According to a number of analysts, normalisation is essential if the current leaders in Israel and the US are to be re-elected. In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been indicted on fraud and corruption charges. Protesters have taken to the streets across Israel against Netanyahu’s handling of the economy and Covid-19 pandemic, so much so that the country could face yet another General Election. Trump, meanwhile, is presiding over one fiasco after another: his administration’s disastrous handling of the pandemic; open racism and racist violence on the streets; and mass demonstrations against police brutality. Normalisation has just one purpose as far as Netanyahu and Trump are concerned: to boost their chances of electoral success.
Other analysts see the “peace” deals as being intended to threaten the security and stability of the Middle East. Countries like the UAE and Bahrain, say, commentators, have “no geopolitical importance” but are neighbours of Iran. This, they argue, could lead to greater tension in the region.
Finally, how does normalisation benefit the Palestinians? Are they supposed to wait for the fruits of peace out of these deals? Regardless of their political affiliations, all Palestinians have rejected and denounced normalisation, even those who have stuck to the “peace process” since Oslo, including Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah, describing it as a “betrayal”.
Other Palestinian factions, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, called the latest normalisation deals a “reward for the Israeli criminals and their crimes.”
A just solution to the Palestinian issue cannot be achieved through the shortcut of normalisation between Arab states and Israel. The people of occupied Palestine alone are able to decide their own destiny, nobody else.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.