The UAE-Israel deal has been seen as a shocking betrayal to Palestinians, but the Arab world’s silence is a telling example of where their loyalties lie.
The oil-rich UAE’s recent deal with Israel has been met with strong condemnations from non-Arab countries like Pakistan, Turkey and Iran, but the Arab world has largely chosen to stay conspicuously silent, giving the impression that they gave a nod to the deal beforehand.
Some experts have interpreted the Arab silence as a tacit acceptance of the deal and a clear retreat from their unanimously accepted initiative back in 2002, when Saudi Arabia proposed a peace plan with Israel in exchange for the withdrawal of Israelis from all occupied territories.
While Saudi Arabia publicly said on Wednesday that it will not follow suit with the UAE-Israel deal, they have still not condemned it either, giving the impression that they are playing a wait-and-see game.
“There should be no doubt that the UAE has taken such a step without a nod of approval from its Arab Gulf allies,” said Ramzy Baroud, an internationally-syndicated columnist and an author of several books on Palestine and its resistance against the Israeli occupation.
“The Gulf’s camp will use the UAE as a test balloon to assess the reactions to the deal and to pave the way for their own normalization. The speed of normalization between Israel and other Gulf Arab countries is now largely dependent on the consequences of the Israel-UAE deal,” Baroud assessed.
Baroud thinks that the UAE deal, which pledges no guarantee on protecting any kind of Palestinian rights and lands unlike the previous 2002 Arab initiative, has nothing to do with “resolving” the Palestinian conflict.
He thinks the UAE deal has mainly emerged at this particular time to give the two embattled administrations in Washington and Tel Aviv a political “lifeline”. This is largely because US President Donald Trump is gearing up for a tough election in November, while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may yet face another difficult election in the face of deteriorating relations with his partner, Benny Gantz.
What the essential gains for the UAE and the rest of the Arab world might be from the deal, appears to be more enigmatic than the apparent gains from the US-Israeli axis.
Arab fears of Iran
Experts see two main motivations for the UAE deal and the implicit Arab acceptance of the agreement.
One is directly related to increasing Arab fears of Iran, which is running several proxy forces across the Middle East from Iraq to Syria, Lebanon and Yemen for the realisation of its Shia Crescent from Central Asia to the Mediterranean Sea, according to Baroud.
“For years, the Middle East has been divided into two major political camps, one led by Israel and Saudi Arabia and the other by Iran. The ongoing war in Syria and the upheaval in various Arab Gulf countries have accentuated this growing divide,” Baroud told TRT World.
Along with its Arab partners, and in order to oppose the present Iranian threat, the Gulf, save Qatar - which enjoys close relations with Iran, and has been bitterly treated by its old Gulf partners for its policy differences - has already developed a secret alliance with Israel and the US against Tehran. Qatar also faces a severe blockade from UAE-Saudi-led Gulf.
“From the point of view of the Arab-Israeli camp, Iran has emerged as the main threat. The UAE has played a major role in keeping the channel of communication with Israel alive so that they continue to coordinate their anti-Iran action whether in Syria or throughout the Middle East,” says the analyst.
While Baroud does not see a big change in the current regional power structure, he also expects “a more brazen joint anti-Iranian rhetoric that will take place in the open.”
“The UAE will now serve Israel’s normalization hub in the region which will also give Israel’s intelligence and military apparatuses a strategic geopolitical access to combat Iranian influence in the Gulf, to balance out Iran’s growing clout in Syria,” analyses Baroud.
Arab fears of democratisation
Another reason for the deal and its accompanying Arab complicity could be hidden in the fact that most of the Arab regimes across the Gulf and the Middle East are autocratic in their nature, having no active popular support like Turkey and Iran enjoy in their respective territories. As a result, they need support from external powers like Israel and the US for their own very survival.
Arab autocratic regimes from the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain to Egypt could not maintain their hold on power without the US-Israeli support, says Sami al Arian, a Palestinian-American academic.
“These regimes think that by aligning themselves with Israel and the US, they can bring down revolutionary Iran and they can bring down assertive Turkey and they can bring down any sense of democratic rule or representation. And hell with the Palestinians. They don’t care about Palestinians,” Arian says.
“To them, securing their own rule, status, privilege and wealth is what matters. They could care less about anything else,” the professor views.
He still thinks, however, that their policy will eventually galvanise the anger that emanates from the average Arab.
“That shameful act by the UAE and other regimes, who may follow suit, are going to isolate these same regimes from their own peoples, who have never been consulted and have never agreed to give Israel sovereignty over holy places in Jerusalem and over Palestine,” says the professor.
“This is not about peace. This is about the realignment in the Middle East. The UAE and like-minded regimes have been fearful of the waves of democratisation that swept the Middle East aftermath of the Arab Spring in 2011,” Arian told TRT World.
“They have been working day and night since that time to roll back these revolutions and uprisings by the Arab people because they fear the wave of democratisation. These authoritarian regimes like to monopolise power and wealth and have no intention to share any of that or have representative government.”