How the Saudi-UAE axis helped Israel defeat Palestinians and encourage normalisation at the Arab League

How the Saudi-UAE axis helped Israel defeat Palestinians and encourage normalisation at the Arab League

Comment: The Saudi-Emirati alliance is at the heart of attempts to delegitimise the Palestinian cause and normalise Arab ties with Israel, including at the Arab League, writes Muhammad Shehada.
6 min read
14 Sep, 2020
The Palestinian Authority has described normalisation with Israel as a 'stab in the back' [Getty]
Since its creation in 1945, the Arab League has always been a house divided between different camps, alliances and loyalties. The Palestinian cause, however, was perhaps the most unifying topic for all its members. The – at least rhetorical – unwavering support for the Palestinian people was always been reiterated at the outset of every summit until it became almost a routinely protocol for the League's members. But perhaps not anymore.

Ever since the regime of the United Arab Emirates (then Bahrain) unrequitedly announced a US-sponsored normalisation deal with Israel at a moment where Palestinians face unparalleled threats to their very existence, there has been a concerted effort by the Saudi-UAE axis to undermine the centrality of the Palestinian cause and defame the Palestinian people to justify this dangerous sellout.

This effort became officially explicit last Wednesday when the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and Bahrain blocked a moderate Palestinian proposal at the Arab League that aimed to prevent other states from following the UAE's lead and normalise relations with Israel without extracting meaningful concessions from it towards ending the occupation and suffering of Palestinians.

The Palestinian resolution that was turned down at the Arab League has already been softened up dramatically

What happened

The Palestinian resolution that was turned down at the Arab League has already been softened up dramatically to ensure flaring no tensions with fellow Arab countries. It merely contained an assertion of abiding by the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative and a condemnation of premature normalisation that violates the API and weakens the Palestinian struggle, without naming the UAE or any other Arab countries.

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The UAE-Saudi axis drafted a counter resolution that preposterously pays lip service to the Palestinian cause while leaving the door wide open for other countries to follow the UAE's lead and throw the Palestinians under the bus. The UAE's counter resolution also failed to pass amidst Palestinian objections, and the ministerial meeting's final communique made no mention of the UAE-Israel accord.

Nonetheless, the UAE's State Minister for Foreign Affairs, Anwar Gargash, was keen to falsely claim that the deal, which in essence normalises Israel's occupation, will not violate Palestinian rights. Gargash further asserted that the UAE "exercised its sovereign right when it signed the deal".

But if each Arab country with an interest that diverges from or violates core Arab consensus was to claim the primacy of its national sovereignty over Arab unity, then the Arab League's existence would become merely a burden and a false pretense of pan-Arabism.

The implications of the UAE-Saudi undermining of the Palestinian cause at the Arab League couldn't be more severe for Palestinians and Arab nations alike at this critical juncture.

Since the UAE-Saudi axis blocked the Palestinian resolution at the League last Wednesday, the pro-Israel camp has been rejoicing and celebrating

Helping Israel defeat Palestinians

Since the US Trump administration started assaulting and liquidating Palestinian rights, the Palestinian Authority has sought to withstand the storm by relying on maintaining unifying Arab consensus towards the conflict and getting all Arab states at the League to condemn and reject Trump's so-called "Deal of the Century" in order to undermine the American promotion of this plan. Most recently, in January 2020, the PA managed to get the Arab League to condemn the Trump's plan to kill it in the bud.

But since the UAE-Saudi axis blocked the Palestinian resolution at the League last Wednesday, the pro-Israel camp has been rejoicing and celebrating the Arab League's failure to stand with the Palestinians as a sign of growing Palestinian defeat and isolation.

The pro-Israel camp has been marketing this outcome as a proof of how the American-Israeli efforts to besiege Palestinians politically and economically – including by their own Arab brethren – have succeeded and that now Palestinians are entirely on their own. Israel's former Mossad Chief, Shabtai Shavit, went as far as claiming that this event shows how the "Arab World is sick of the Palestinians".

This abandonment of the Palestinians will now boost Israel's sense of impunity and threaten to accelerate its brutalities on the ground unconstrained.

Giving away the Arabs' most powerful weapon

The UAE-Saudi axis' betrayal of the Palestinians is also akin to giving away the Arabs' strongest card of leverage against Israel, namely using the promise of normalisation as a reward or incentive in return for major Israeli compromises, or as a deterrent to Israel from going too far in order not to undermine future prospects of normalisation. 

The UAE-Saudi axis' betrayal of the Palestinians is akin to giving away the Arabs' strongest card of leverage against Israel

The sellout at the Arab League will show the Arabs to be in desperate need for Israel's approval rather than Israel needing Arab acceptance to be integrated into the region.

This new normalisation pattern is closest to a diplomatic conquest, in which Netanyahu can show Israelis how Arab regimes – desperate to appease Washington and acquire Israeli technology to suppress their own populations – are groveling to him and how he's conquering one Arab capital after the other with no costs or resistance.

The Arab regimes' empowerment of Israel and Netanyahu will eventually be at their own expense. The more Arab regimes grovel to Israel and the US to seek external legitimacy the weaker they would appear to their populations. Their reframing of Arab positions from a strong unified front to divided camps desperate to be on Israel's good side to consolidate their power would only contribute to accumulating a greater sense of rage amongst their respective publics, which will lead to an inevitable explosion.

The Palestinians' last card

Exhausted and despaired, the Palestinian Foreign Minister Reyad al-Malki gave a 30-minute mild speech at the virtual Arab League meeting, in which he hoped that elaborating the harrowing suffering Palestinians go through every day and the accelerated Israeli de facto annexation of the West Bank would perhaps evoke some sympathy and solidarity from his fellow Arab FMs.

But the problem with Arab regimes in Saudi-UAE axis isn't lack of awareness on the unspeakable tribulations Palestinians have to endure, rather it's a lack of conscience, an absent moral compass and a prioritising of narrow interests to consolidate their thrones.

No emotional or strong-worded speech can sway those regimes to back down from selling the Palestinian cause cheap. Only drastic actions that put a price on this sellout, such as threatening to withdraw from the Arab League, may deter or even slow down the race for normalising relations with Israel. However, the PA has backed down from making such threat, which only gives the Saudi-UAE axis more space to gradually water down the entire Palestinian cause and undermine Arab solidarity with it.

If the Arab league can't stand united between their historically most central issue of Jerusalem, nothing else can maintain its relevant and unity. A Palestinian withdrawal from the Arab League would expose its hollow essence and prevent Arab regimes from exploiting Palestine to justify their sellouts.

Muhammad Shehada is a writer and civil society activist from the Gaza Strip and a student of Development Studies at Lund University, Sweden. He was the PR officer for the Gaza office of the Euro-Med Monitor for Human Rights.

Follow him on Twitter: @muhammadshehad2

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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab.