By: Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh.
Perhaps Netanyahu felt a combination of euphoria and the vanity of victory, when he spent eight hours in the hospitality of Sultan Qaboos bin Said (on the eve of Thursday 25/10/2018 and until the next day). After having private talks and then together with senior aides, the two heads of state were entertained by both classical Arab and European music. This visit was the result of four months’ work by Mossad Director Yossi Cohen, who accompanied Netanyahu on his visit.
Perhaps Netanyahu laughed secretly when he heard the statement that the two sides have “discussed ways to advance the Middle East peace process.” For on the same Friday, when he returned from Oman, his soldiers killed five civilian Palestinians at the Gaza Strip (GS) borders, wounding 250 others. This Strip has been suffering a suffocating siege for more than 11 years, and may be considered the largest prison in the world. Why would he not be satisfied, when Israel has been pursuing for over 25 years since the Oslo Accords, a systematic policy of: killing the peace process, practically making the two state-solution fail, transforming the Palestinian Authority (PA) into an entity that serves Israel, and building new Judaized facts on the ground in Jerusalem and the rest of West Bank (WB), filling them with settlements and Jewish settlers.
In that same Friday, Sports and Culture Minister Miri Regev arrived in Abu Dhabi to join the Israeli judo team participating in the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam 2018 tournament, knowing that Regev served as the Israeli army spokesperson, and is an extreme right wing member, who voted for the bill muffling Muezzins’ call to prayer in the 1948 occupied territories. She fought back tears of joy as the country’s judo team won gold in the tournament and the “national” anthem, “Hatikva,” was played for Israel’s gold win, in the Arab capital Abu Dhabi, on 28/10/2018. None of the celebrators was concerned with the Israeli massacre, executed in the same day, where three Palestinian boys were killed in an Israeli air raid. As for Regev, she was enjoying the Emirati hospitality by visiting Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, while her comrades were and are still storming al-Aqsa Mosque compound and clashing with Palestinian worshippers.
Doha, was not far from that scene, for the Israeli gymnastics team participated in the World Artistic Gymnastics Championships hosted by Qatar, during the period 25/10–3/11/2018, where the Israeli “national” anthem was played.
May be the Gulf leaders, while hosting tournaments that support “sportsmanship” and consider sports a gateway to “tolerance” and “peace,” were not aware that 30 Palestinian sportspersons were killed in the last seven months, since the beginning of the return marches in GS.
The Renewed Old Normalization
This wave of Gulf normalization was not surprising in itself, although it was remarkable in its timing, multiplicity and quality. Israelis say that their relations with Oman started in 1979, and since then, according to the strategic affairs correspondent for Maariv newspaper Yossi Melman, all Mossad chiefs have visited the Sultanate. The Israeli-Omani relations went public in 1994 (after the Oslo Accords), and the two agreed on the reciprocal opening of trade representative offices. However, Oman froze its relations with Israel following al-Aqsa Intifadah in 2000.
Israeli officials have visited the UAE under various covers. In March 2018, according to The Washington Post newspaper and the Associated Press news agency, the UAE and Bahrain ambassadors had a “friendly” meeting with Netanyahu at the Cafe Milano restaurant in Washington. On 4/5/2018, teams from UAE and Bahrain took part in the international Giro d’Italia cycling race in Israel, while Israel was celebrating its 70th anniversary and the opening of the new US Embassy in Jerusalem, at the same time the Palestinians were marking the 70th anniversary of the Nakbah. Shortly after the return of Minister Regev from Abu Dhabi, Israeli Communications Minister Ayoob Kara visited Dubai and delivered a speech, on 29/10/2018, at the International Telecommunication Union Plenipotentiary Conference in Dubai.
Bahrain followed the path of normalization, when on 9/12/2017, a Bahraini 24-member delegation visited Israel. Israel’s Communications Minister Ayoob Kara announced that he met with Bahraini Prince Mubarak Al Khalifa in Tel Aviv. He confirmed that KSA, Bahrain and UAE are publicly pushing forward relations with Israel and that there are repeated visits by their officials.
Observers have recorded about 15 normalization meetings between Saudi officials—or those close to the Saudi leadership—and Israeli officials during the past four years, mainly involving Saudi former Intelligence Chief Prince Turki bin Faisal and former Saudi General Anwar Eshki.
Israeli media reported that senior Saudi figures visited Tel Aviv and conducted meetings there. In an interview with The Atlantic magazine, on 2/4/2018, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said, “I believe the Palestinians and the Israelis have the right to have their own land,” adding, “of course there are a lot of interests we share with Israel…” Also, over the past few months, Saudi media have sought to prepare the public opinion for a possible official political relationship with Israel. This may explain Netanyahu’s uneasiness and his fear of the failure of normalization, for Israel—when there was a firestorm over Khashoggi’s death—“has told the Trump administration that Saudi Arabia is an important strategic partner,” as The Washington Post reported.
Indeed, since 1996, Doha has hosted an Israeli trade representation office, which was closed after al-Aqsa Intifadah, however, communication did not stop, even if it was in an intermittent form and to varying degrees.
A Leap in the Air
We are not monitoring all the incidents and normalization news, but we would like to stop at a number of important points:
First: We are facing a new wave of normalization, which was preceded by many others; most notably the Camp David Accords, normalization of Egyptian-Israeli relations since 1978, the Oslo Accords and their entitlements with the PLO leadership since 1993, and the Wadi Araba Agreement with Jordan since 1994. In addition, there was a wave of Arab openness to Israel in 1996–2000, which included a number of Arab countries such as Morocco, Mauritania, Qatar, Oman and Tunisia. However, with the rise of the Palestinian resistance, the escalation of Israeli aggression, and the wide spreading of popular Arab and Islamic interaction with the question of Palestine, normalization would retreat. Then, another wave would come, whenever a state of Palestinian or Arab vulnerability or fragmentation appears… This took place in the first Intifadah (1987), second Intifadah (2000), GS wars (2007–2008, 2012 and 2014), and during the “Arab Spring” period (2011–2013).
And now, and according to the “Boycott Campaign – Palestine,” there are around 15 Arab regimes that have—in one way or another—relations with Israel.
Second: All the waves of normalization took the official form and failed to be popular, for the peoples of the region still adhere to their principles, would not relinquish Jerusalem and Palestine and still support the resistance. Every time these people expressed their free opinion, they would bring back the conflict to square one. I do not think that any Arab regime that has a relationship with Israel would dare to conduct a free referendum on normalization.
Third: The normalization reflects the structural problem in the official Arab system. Not only it reflects the inability of regimes to express the aspirations of their nation and masses; but also the problem of linking their interests and their stability to external forces (specifically the US), and their susceptibility to pressure, hence dealing positively, but to varying degrees, with American and Western demands. It also reflects their inability to carry out its real duty towards Palestine and its people, or at least to face the Israeli expansion in the region.
Fourth: Normalization reflects the problem of the Arab system in losing the compass, and the problem of determining priorities, risks and entitlements. For after the “Counter Arab Spring” wave since 2013, the region has been preoccupied with internal conflicts, while the ethnic and sectarian tensions have escalated. The Arab regimes kept looking for a way to maintain their “dictatorship,” “totalitarian” or “hereditary” regimes, away from any “democratic” change or changes that reflect the will of the masses. They would prefer to cooperate with foreign powers, rather than reach agreements with their peoples. Some regimes now find Israel a desirable “partner” (or a partner that would satisfy the US) in facing internal-change forces, or the so-called “terrorism,” or in facing Iran.
In this political atmosphere, the Deal of the Century emerged, whose one of its most important leaks is the integration of Israel into the region, and the formation of a security-political-economic axis with it. Also, plans to establish an “Arab NATO” were pushed forward.
Fifth: Consequently, the Palestine issue has become a secondary issue in the accounts of these regimes, and a burden that must be either ended or bypassed. As for the Israeli side, it is a historic opportunity to circumvent the Palestinian side, make it lose the Arab backing, and impose Israeli vision in settling the “Palestinian dossier.” This is what Israel is doing with the Trump administration in the Deal of the Century, whose signs began to show in the US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the transfer of the US embassy to it, and in the current ongoing pressure to close UNRWA and the Palestinian refugees case.
Six: Based on that, and instead of confronting US measures and the Israeli attack on Jerusalem, holy sites, Palestinian land and man, the Arab countries opened their capitals and lines to Israel.
Seventh: This normalization wave will not stay for long, it will soon or in the near future recede. The normalizing regimes will find out that they “leaped in the air,” Israel did not and will not change its skin, instead it used them for its own interests, and that thinking that their survival rope is in the hands of the US and Israel is wrong. For the core of the Zionist project and the guarantee for its sustainability are primarily based on the Arab-Islamic environment being weak, fragmented and underdeveloped, because a real revival in the nation that struggles for unity, freedom and liberating the occupied lands is a real threat to Israel.
At the end, the Palestine issue has three characteristics: It is the unifying cause of the nation, a leverage for those who promote and sponsor it, and a scandalous case for those who fail it or give up on it.
Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations, 12/11/2018