Normalising the blockade, Israel-UAE 'peace plane' leaves suffering Gazans behind

Normalising the blockade, Israel-UAE 'peace plane' leaves suffering Gazans behind
Comment: As the Israeli-UAE 'peace' agreement takes centre stage, it deflects from a renewed siege on Gaza and the UN's failure to address Israel's settler colonialism, writes Ramona Wadi.
6 min read
02 Sep, 2020
The first direct commercial flight from Tel Aviv to Abu Dhabi arrived on Tuesday [Getty]
The jubilant mood gripping the international community following the UAE-Israeli normalisation agreement answers many questions about how the Palestinian people have been exploited to promote diplomacy.

The first Israeli flight to the UAE - over Saudi airspace - made headline news on Monday as a grotesque spectacle of "peace", one that glorified Israel's colonial land grab. Meanwhile, Palestinians were treated to a clearer, albeit unfavourable perspective, of how far removed they really are from the politics dictating their lives.

An Israeli-US delegation finalised the normalisation agreement in Abu Dhabi, while the UAE's foreign minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan attempted to reassure Palestinians of his country's support for the two-state compromise – a completely irrelevant scrap of diplomacy given the current political overtures.

Calling peace a "strategic necessity", Bin Zayed stated that normalisation "will not come at the expense of our support for the Palestinian cause and the rights of our fraternal Palestinian people." Hollow words, unlike the agreements signed with Israel which open up avenues in business, science, diplomacy, tourism and culture.

As long as humanitarian aid for Palestinians remains a top rhetorical priority, it seems there is no incentive to alter the status quo. Strengthening relations with Israel while promising the dregs of basic necessities for Palestinians has worked for the international community. Not for the Palestinians, however.

As the UAE-Israeli normalisation agreement took centre-stage, Palestinians in Gaza faced two simultaneous catastrophes. Israeli war planes once again bombed the enclave in response to what Israel said were incendiary balloons launched from Gaza. Within the same period, Gaza entered lockdown as the first cases of coronavirus through community spread were reported.

Strengthening relations with Israel while promising the dregs of basic necessities for Palestinians has worked for the international community

Keeping in mind that the UN thrives on applying the humanitarian paradigm to the Palestinian people and their cause, such a combination of events is expected to impact the international response in relation to Gaza. The international community, after all, prides itself on constructing an alternative reality, divested from politics, in which Palestinian demands are silenced in return for financial aid that alleviates need, temporarily.

However, as Israel launched its attacks, the world was still gaping in awe at the normalisation agreement which allowed the UN a timely escape from upholding international law. Never mind the fact that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not called off annexation - on the contrary, he insisted it has simply been suspended.

The bottom line is that the UN, and international leaders, have been spared the discomfort of how to navigate the tangled web of supporting Israeli colonisation while appearing to uphold international law.

On Monday, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator Jamie McGoldrick issued a statement calling upon Israel to allow goods and fuel into Gaza, "in line with its obligations as an occupying power, to ensure that the basic needs of people are met and to prevent a collapse of basic services."

Decades since the Nakba and the UN has not shifted from its call of basic needs and basic services. Nor is it calling for the lifting of the illegal Israel blockade which has imprisoned Palestinians in Gaza. By now, the blockade has become an integral part of the international humanitarian narrative.

McGoldrick's statement is lethargic in comparison to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres's approval of the UAE-Israeli normalisation deal, which he hopes will "create an opportunity for Israeli and Palestinian leaders to re-engage in meaningful negotiations that will realise a two-state solution in line with relevant UN resolutions, international law and bilateral agreements."

Read more: 
UAE-Israel direct flight 'painful to watch', says Palestinian PM

Normalising Israel prevents the two-state paradigm, although the concept itself promotes normalising Israel. For the UN, whose aim is to prevent Palestinians from shedding the humanitarian identity imposed upon them, differentiation is irrelevant.  

Between the two issues of diplomacy and Gaza's humanitarian predicament, the UN has chosen the latter. This should shed doubt upon the institution's intentions when it comes to the concept of humanitarian aid, which is supposed to be temporary, as opposed to a replacement for the political process that lifts a population out of internationally-supported colonial violence and misery.

However, the UN's vision of Palestine has nothing to do with Palestinian realities faced daily. It does not take into consideration the absence of free movement in a densely populated area, where Israeli targeting of Hamas locations, as is their narrative, means bombing civilian areas.

Nor does it consider the paradox of social distancing in the enclave, which is next to impossible due to lack of space and borders that are only opened sporadically. Add to space restrictions the blocking of necessities, lack of access to water and sanitation, the Palestinian Authority's sanctions which the UN approved of in a bid to wrest political control away from Hamas, and there is no end in sight to the humanitarian predicament in Gaza, unless the international community forces Israel to lift the illegal blockade.

What the UN takes into consideration is the process it set into motion decades ago with the 1947 Partition Plan. Palestine in the international imaginary was, and remains, a land to be exploited. The two-state compromise and humanitarian aid are derivatives of the initial squandering of Palestinian land.  

As the UN prioritises normalisation, it allows Gaza to sink further into circumstances which it once called 'unliveable'

As the UN prioritises normalisation, it allows Gaza to sink further into circumstances which the UN once called "unliveable". Now that 2020 has arrived, the UN prefers terms such as "disastrous consequences", presumably because Palestinians in Gaza are still living, and the area is an unlivable, yet inhabited tract of land, and there is no drastic vocabulary or timeline to make use of at the moment in UN rhetoric.

While Israel and the UAE go ahead with their diplomatic engagement, with full blessings from the international community as they seize the opportunity to align the two-state framework with this new turn of events, let it be remembered that the UN has persisted in making a spectacle out of Palestinians in Gaza, and elsewhere in Palestine, for that matter.

Humanitarian aid has turned out to be a convenient vehicle, given that there will be no shortage of promoting the concept even if the aid itself is negligible, next to decades of Israeli-imposed deprivation. No matter how many resolutions are passed in favour of Palestine, the fact remains that the UN has reserved non-binding jargon for the Palestinian people, to preserve Palestine for Israel's settler-colonial project.

Ramona Wadi is an independent researcher, freelance journalist, book reviewer and blogger specialising in the struggle for memory in Chile and Palestine, colonial violence and the manipulation of international law.

Follow her on Twitter: @walzerscent

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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.