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How will the White House agreement reflect on the Maghreb?

September 17, 2020 at 8:00 am

Moroccans march during a demonstration against the US Middle East peace plan in the capital Rabat on 9 February 2020. [FADEL SENNA/AFP via Getty Images]

The Israelis are looking to the future, following the first stage with Abu Dhabi and Manama, to Mecca and Rabat. Although the Saudis did not sign a peace agreement with them on Tuesday at the White House, as the Emiratis and Bahrainis did, they are quite sure that they will do so at a later date. They are also confident that at least one Maghreb country will join them, but to what extent will this be achieved for Israel?

There is no doubt that they are now investing in what appears to be a frantic race against the clock to place the largest possible number of Arab countries on the normalisation list before the US elections take place. They are also involved in the indirect pressure exerted by regional and international parties for the same purpose. However, will they succeed in achieving a dramatic transformation that destroys the rule of Arab conflict with them? Will yesterday’s party have a domino effect?

For years, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) was “the Godfather” in the region, despite the long-standing infiltration of all the Maghreb countries, and the ability to weave a strong network of relationships within them. But what will the recent Arab push towards normalisation bring? Will the Israelis blow the final whistle for the role that Abu Dhabi has been playing on their behalf in the capitals of the Maghreb, and will they take over themselves? Such a choice would make a significant difference, and they would have to consider the profit and loss calculations that they would gain from leaning towards any of the hypotheses.

It is certain that Abu Dhabi, due to circumstantial and perhaps practical considerations, will continue in the short-term, and perhaps in the medium-term, to play the role that its ally had previously entrusted to it – namely, representing Tel Aviv in the region and marketing its plans and projects there. Testing the waters in the Maghreb remains a legitimate option, as it has been in the past, and breaking down doors remains a tempting and attractive game for the Israelis. For this reason, it is not absurd nor accidental that some Israeli media outlets have re-reported what they announced last Saturday about “the imminent launch of direct flights between Israel and Morocco” despite the categorical denial of a high-ranking Moroccan diplomatic source of this news, according to Hespress news.

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The idea has been in the minds of the Israelis for a long time for several reasons, and in their view, this is a perfect beginning to what will bring even larger-scale alliances with Morocco and the rest of the Maghreb. It is clear that their feeling of victory did not reach its climax yesterday at the White House, with all of the symbolism that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sitting with the Emirati and Bahraini foreign ministers represented for them, and the signing of the agreements which they described as “historic”. This is because their ceiling of ambitions has become higher. Just as they continue to aspire to seize more Palestinian land, they are also ambitioning to acquire more Arab countries on the UAE-Bahrain convoy.

People attend the opening of a memorial park in Le Kram town, north of Tunisian capital Tunis on 15 December 2019. [Yassine Gaidi - Anadolu Agency]

People attend the opening of a memorial park in Le Kram town, north of Tunisian capital Tunis on 15 December 2019. [Yassine Gaidi – Anadolu Agency]

However, there is another side to the story. The different circumstances make the diversity of methods and means that may lead them to achieve their goal inevitable. In the countries of the Maghreb, for example, they face a major obstacle that they may not encounter in the Gulf countries that are rushing towards them – which is the strong influence of public opinion on the official positions regarding the idea of normalisation with Israel. Despite all that is said about the relative weakness of the popular enthusiasm for the Palestinian cause in these countries, and the ability of the authorities to limit and contain it, they know well that risking this with any step towards normalisation with any Maghreb country may backfire, causing the opposite effect. It may even fuel uncontrollable unrest and protests. The Maghreb capitals, without exception, are very aware of this. Therefore, the UAE appears to the Israelis to be the least harmful and costly option, and perhaps the most effective and feasible, at the same time.

What is the need now for the Israeli flag to fly in Rabat, Tunis, Algiers or Nouakchott, as long as the Emirati presence in those capitals is sufficient to quietly serve and care for the Israeli interests? Doesn’t the harmony between the Israeli and Emirati sides make them two sides of the same coin? In other words, why doesn’t the UAE continue to cover up Israel and represent it in the Maghreb countries until the idea of Maghreb normalisation with Israel matures, as no one believes normalisation will occur any time soon? Perhaps what Israeli journalist Carmel Lutzati said upon his return from the UAE will ring true, even if implicitly and indirectly. He noted in his report broadcast on Israel’s Channel 12, that after a week of visiting the UAE, he has no doubt that it is one of the countries most similar to Israel. He also indicated that Israelis who visit Dubai would be surprised, as this is an Arab world they do not know, noting that the population stands at nine million, eight million of whom are foreigners and migrant workers, and is a country open to Israel. What does this similarity mean? Is this a compliment and praise for the UAE, who opened the door to others to openly normalise with Israel, with no shame, or is it a dangerous and indirect admission of the role played by Abu Dhabi in the Zionist project?

Meshaal: Normalization intended to control Arabs

The irony is that the Maghreb people, with all their enthusiasm for the Palestinian cause, were afflicted, like the rest of the Arabs, after the US announcement last month of the Emirati normalisation. Perhaps what confirms this, is the unprecedented rejection of the recent Palestinian draft resolution in the Arab League. It seems unlikely that the reason for this was Emirati pressure alone, as there is no doubt that Western and Israeli interests were involved. However, why wouldn’t they cut off even just the tip of the snake if they are truly unable to cut off its head? Why don’t they announce in this case their denunciations of the UAE, knowing full well its suspicious role in their region? Why don’t they then approve an immediate exit from the Arab League? Perhaps it will not be easy for their governments to do this, for they are well aware that they may expose themselves in this case to a kind of isolation or siege. But their people remain the most capable of decisive action, for they alone can drop all projects of normalisation with the occupation, and boycott those who legitimise and extend their hand to it.

Translated from Al Quds Al Arabi, 15 September 2020

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