The clandestine relationship between the UAE and Israel was the Middle East's worst kept secret for years. Now that it is in the open Palestinians have a clearer idea of who their allies are.
Like a high school drama, only with deadlier ramifications, the Emirati-Israeli love affair was perhaps the worst kept secret relationship in that everyone knew about it for a very long time indeed.
Now, however, the United Arab Emirates has decided to fully come out of the closet and profess its love for Israel for the world to see, after the so-called Abraham Accords were announced in a joint statement by President Donald Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Emirati Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, better known as MBZ, formally normalising ties between the two states.
While there has understandably been much outrage as the Emirates becomes the fourth Arab country to recognise the Jewish State after Egypt in 1979, Jordan in 1994 and Mauritania in 1999, yesterday’s announcement changes very little and simply makes what was once covert an overt affair.
Covert relations with Israel are nothing new
It is important to state that the UAE’s backchannel dealings with the Israelis are not unprecedented in the region.
First on the list is the Islamic Republic of Iran, the country that features annual Quds Day marches ostensibly in support of Palestinian rights but which is in effect a public relations stunt where Israeli flags are burnt and vows are made to crush the Jewish State. Throughout the 1980s, Tehran – who has never directly fought a war with Israel – repeatedly worked with Tel Aviv to bomb Iraqi nuclear research facilities.
Tehran also received arms and materiel via the Israelis to prolong the Iranian war effort during the Iran-Iraq War in the now infamous Iran-Contra scandal that almost toppled the Reagan administration.
Moving onto the Arab world, Saudi Arabia under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, or MBS, granted explicit recognition of the right of the Jewish people to have a nation-state right next to a Palestinian one in a 2018 interview with The Atlantic. While this falls short of normalising ties, it was also MBS who said that Palestinians who rejected Trump’s disingenuous peace plans should “shut up and stop complaining”.
This “be happy with what scraps we deign to give you” attitude towards the Palestinians is what endears Arab monarchs to Israeli statesmen bent on Palestinian subjugation like Netanyahu. Of course, other Arab states are guilty of similar actions, including Qatar which used its impressive soft power capabilities via the Al Jazeera Network to leverage Israel, and censored parts of a documentary about the pro-Israel lobby in the US in exchange for diplomatic support.
Watching this undignified regional scurry to appease and co-opt Tel Aviv’s good offices with major international powers such as the United States in order to one-up their rivals must leave Israeli policymakers wheezing with laughter. On the one hand, Arab leaders do their level best to pay lip service to the Palestinian cause. On the other hand, these same Arab leaders know that they are perched atop shaky thrones that rely on the good graces of the US simply to stay in power.
Herein lies the true reason behind Abu Dhabi’s desire to further entrench their subjugation to the Washington-backed and Tel Aviv-blessed order. As regional disputes pit various axes against one another, it is woefully apparent that both Saudi Arabia and the UAE feel threatened by both Qatar and Turkey, who have supported pro-democracy movements throughout the Arab Spring and who espouse a new regional order where increased democratisation moves hand-in-hand with Islamic values.
This, clearly, is anathema to the absolutist monarchs of the Gulf, and they will therefore take any action to smother that particular baby in the cradle. Allying openly with Israel simply allows them to intensify what they have already long been doing, namely financing and encouraging coups in Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, and Turkey, and spying on and torturing dissidents at home and abroad. There are simply no depths the Emiratis won’t plumb to force a brutal secular autocratic order down the throats of the Arab world.
No shame for Palestinian suffering
While they attempted some window dressing by saying that the Abraham Accords will essentially put an end to Israel’s plans to annex large parts of the West Bank, Netanyahu was quick to let MBZ know that he can and will shame him at will, declaring that annexation had only been suspended temporarily but will resume. US Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, openly said Israel has not been asked to abandon annexation “but we have prioritised peace over sovereignty at the moment. It’s not off the table.”
This has left MBZ looking precisely like a subservient lapdog and a model of the shameless Arab leader others risk appearing to look like if they follow the same path. However, one should not feel any sympathy for his humiliation. Instead, our sympathies should go to the Palestinians.
Earlier this week, a harrowing and heartrending video of a Palestinian girl crying with her family went viral as she was forced to watch her home being demolished due to a decision by Israeli authorities. In the video, an elderly Palestinian woman can be heard saying: “God curse them and the Arab traitors.” Not days later, MBZ and the online Emirati troll army were gleefully celebrating the normalisation of ties with Israel, absolutely heedless to the suffering their actions enable and cause, and proving they are well-deserving of the curses sent their way.
Some have had the audacity to compare diplomatic ties with Israel to the fact that the legendary Sultan Salahuddin al-Ayubi, better known as Saladin in the West, maintained correspondence and communications with King Richard the Lionheart and other Crusader lords. But there is a stark difference between this symbol of Islamic chivalry and justice, and the skulking cowards ruling the Arab world – Salahuddin actively worked, fought, and strove for justice and freedom for the occupied lands. His actions are also different fundamentally due to the differences in the natures of feudal kingdoms and modern nation-states, and there is therefore no comparison.
It is not as though the Palestinian leadership is any better, however. After all, who can forget how President Mahmoud Abbas was deciding which parts of land he will surrender this time and had to draw the map on the back of a napkin because then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert did not think him worthy of a copy? The curses of the Palestinian lady and many other oppressed people also follow the Palestinian leadership without doubt, who have sold this just cause down the Jordan River.
But Palestinians and those around the world who support their just rights should take heart. There can be no more ambiguity about statements issued by the Emiratis as they have firmly nailed their colours to the mast of aggressive Zionist expansionism. After all, it is better to know who your true friends are and who is in bed, quite literally, with your foes. In that sense, the noble quest for Palestinian rights is now in a better position today than it was last week in that the waters are now less muddy and, for that at least, we should be grateful.
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