The Arab world's silent majorities see the UAE-Bahrain move to normalise relations with the Israel as a betrayal to the Palestinian cause.
First, it was Egypt. Then, Jordan. Now, the UAE and Bahrain are waving white flags up to Israel as their respective representatives will sign peace agreements with the Zionist state in the US capital, Washington today.
Analysts, however, think that the so-called Arab street, which has defiantly refused to accept the Israeli occupation of holy sites and Palestine, is still in no mood to concede to Zionism’s “Iron Wall” strategy, which has long advocated that Israel’s military might and political power will make the Arabs bow and accept the stark reality of an occupied Palestine in the Middle East.
“I don’t believe that the deal represents the sentiment of the Arab street. Certainly, it represents the sentiment of dictators within the Arab world,” says Sami al Arian, a Palestinian-American professor and a leading voice for the Palestinian cause.
“Since the Arab Spring movement of 2011, we had had the real sentiment of the Arab street expressed as we had seen in every capital, where there were massive demonstrations of Arab people, they have always had their national flags and Palestinian flags. We saw that in Egypt. We saw that in Syria. We saw that in Tunisia. We saw that in Libya. We saw that in Morocco, Algeria, Sudan, Jordan and Yemen,” Arian told TRT World.
Arian believes that during the Arab Spring, the Arabs were not only rebelling against their own suppressive governments and decades of Western intervention, but also the Israeli oppression of Palestinians.
“That’s the real sentiment of the Arab street,” the professor says.
He thinks the current deal is an outcome of the weak and compromised political systems the Arab world's dictatorial regimes have built.
“What we see today is a movement by some regimes mostly dictatorial regimes, who are afraid of any democratic movements in the midst of the Arab street, in which they think that their rules would be threatened because democracy is a path by which these rulers cannot come to power [or hold onto power anymore],” the professor views.
In addition to the undemocratic nature of most of the Arab regimes, another political factor also plays a crucial role for the UAE and Bahrain’s rapprochement policy toward Israel.
“They are not only afraid of the Arab street but also afraid of any kind of movement towards independence because most of them receive their power from their alliance with foreign powers,” Arian says.
Most of the Gulf dynasties, including the Saudis, the Emirates and Bahrain, came to power in their respective countries with the help of the British, the former colonial power which had occupied parts of the Middle East under different mandates following World War I.
Since then, much of the Gulf has historically devised policies friendly to Western powers, especially the US, which would go on to succeed British power in the Middle East after World War II. That said, most of those policies have been against their own people or the Arab world at large, according to Arian.
Israel has been strongly backed by the US since its establishment in 1948.
Since the launch of the so-called Deal of the Century, which alleges to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and other Gulf countries, whose regimes depend on American support, are under a campaign of huge pressure from Donald Trump’s current administration to normalise relations with Tel Aviv.
“They think that these foreign powers will preserve their rule and their control of power and wealth. That’s unfortunately what is taking place today [in Washington with signing the deal with Israel],” says the professor.
In late 2018, during a tense rally, Trump made his point in typical fashion.
“We protect Saudi Arabia. Would you say they’re rich. And I love the King, King Salman. But I said ‘King - we’re protecting you - you might not be there for two weeks without us - you have to pay for your military,’” he said.
The 'Arab street' is alive
Other analysts agree with Arian, whose persistent pro-Palestinian stances get him into trouble with Washington, forcing him to leave the US.
“The Palestinian cause still lives in the consciousness of the Arab world. Civil society organisations and anti-imperialist movements including the leftists represent the [pro-Palestinian] sentiments in the Arab street,” says Yousef Alhelou, a Palestinian political analyst.
Alhelou believes that the political turbulence and the economic hardships across the Middle East, have worsened the quality of people’s daily lives, changing people’s priorities about their political and ideological stances.
“But despite this, the Palestinian cause is still a central issue to the Arab street in some countries. The UAE-Bahrain deal with Israel has some support in those countries but we have seen the rejection on social media by the ordinary people and even demonstrations in Bahrain to say no to normalisations,” Alhelou told TRT World.
A Jordanian cartoonist reacted to the recent deal with a cartoon showing a handshake between an iron hand and a human hand.
From Oslo Accords to “Abraham Accords”
Since the 1993 Oslo Accords, signed between the Palestinians and Israel, the political situation of the Palestinians has worsened.
Tel Aviv has used the Oslo Accords as a diplomatic tool to develop its economic relations with other countries, which refused to recognise the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands, believing that Israel’s expansionist plans would end at some point due to the deal.
However, the complete opposite has happened since then as Israel has revealed its plans to annex the West Bank and other illegal settlements across Palestine.
“Today there are more than triple the number of Israeli settlers living in the West Bank than there were in 1993,” wrote Diana Buttu, a Palestinian human rights lawyer and analyst, in the New York Times last week.
Despite the popular Arab opposition to the UAE-Bahrain deal, which is called “Abraham Accords”, the Palestinian cause could further lose considerable ground, some analysts say.
“With Palestinians sidelined, the UAE deal makes it very clear that Palestinians can no longer count on Arab states for political support,” Buttu viewed.
“The UAE-Bahrain Deal is a great loss to the Palestinian cause and weakens the steadfastness and morale of Palestinians in the face of Israel which continues to occupy Palestinian lands over five decades. The Palestinian leadership under President Mahmoud Abbas described the deal as a stab in the back,” Alhelou said.
With the deal, direct flights have also resumed between Israel and the UAE, adding to the disappointment of Palestinians.
“We had hoped to see an Emirati plane landing in a liberated Jerusalem, but we live in a difficult Arab era,” said the Palestinian Authority’s Prime Minister Muhammad Shtayyeh.
Saudi Arabia appears to have distanced itself from the deal. However, its neutralisation from the Palestinian cause has not been missed by careful observers like Buttu.
“While King Salman of Saudi Arabia told President Trump in a recent phone call that he is prioritizing a fair and permanent solution to the Palestinian issue, his country had allowed the Israel-U.A.E. flight to travel through its airspace,” says Buttu.
“In any case, a once united diplomatic front of the Arab states supporting the Palestinian cause is clearly crumbling. And if President Trump and Mr. Netanyahu are to have their way, other Arab countries may soon follow the U.A.E,” she predicted.
She also wondered why the UAE signed the agreement with Israel in the first place.
“Unlike the agreements Israel signed with Egypt and Jordan — to return land to those countries — the UAE deal comes at no cost to Israel, which left many baffled as to why the UAE would make such a move,” she said.