Since the end of Ottoman Empire rule in Palestine, the land of the first holy mosque has been systematically undermined by false pretences at best, betrayal at worst. But since the 2011 so-called Arab Spring, the disloyalty has intensified.
The Israeli occupation of Palestine has entered its 7th decade in full force and systematic expulsion remains steadfast. And yet, that lands are shrinking and towns are divided is nothing new. What’s new now is that Israel’s traditional “foes” are turning into friends in broad daylight for all to see.
While, yes, the rise of petrodollar power over the past two decades, American hegemony and a general level of apathy in the Arab world have greatly hurt a cause that has gradually diminished in standing, especially post 1967 and 1973, something new has happened post-2011 - the year when the people of the Arab world rose in defiance.
The present policies implemented across the region by most Gulf countries not only accept Israeli occupation as a reality, they now openly seek to be a part of it. Over the past five years, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have emerged as arguably the two strongest pro-Israeli states regionally.
They have repeatedly condoned aggressive Israeli policies behind closed doors. While in 2008 and 2009, the Saudis openly blamed Hamas for the attack that led to the 2006 war on Gaza, the then Bahraini foreign minister said aggression on Gaza was “justified” in the wake of the militancy it harbours.
Still, that was nothing new. Gaza has been under siege for more than a decade and only a handful of well-wishers have acted to break the blockade.
Indeed, the memorable dents in the 70-year track record of general indifference interlaced with bouts of contempt are few and far between. Take, for example, the 2010 Turkish Gaza freedom flotilla, which was attacked by Israeli forces, killing nine activists.
Otherwise, it has been business as usual for the Gulf (and Egypt, of course). The only new element to this is that the contempt is no longer hidden or occasionally neutralised with words of the ideological faff the region has become accustomed to. Others have openly argued that "Israel has the right to defend itself.”
In the past few years, Israeli delegations have been welcomed by countries like the UAE and Bahrain.
An Israeli delegation was expected to attend the Global Entrepreneurship Congress, held in Bahrain on April 15, but strong resistance from inside and outside the country led to the cancellation of the visit.
That by no means has stopped the normalisation of relations between some GCC states and Israel.
This process has always been presented in the context of challenging Iran’s expansionism in the region. The Trump administration has pinned its Middle Eastern policy on combating Iran and quelling any Arab animosity of Israeli occupation.
In January 2018, a Washington Post article by David Kirkpatrick said: "a de facto alliance against shared foes such as Iran, the Muslim Brotherhood, Daesh militants and the Arab Spring uprisings is drawing the Arab leaders into an ever-closer collaboration with their one-time nemesis, Israel — producing especially stark juxtapositions between their posturing in public and private."
Shibley Telhami, a Middle East scholar at the University of Maryland and the Brookings Institution, called the Arab states’ acceptance of moving the US embassy to Jerusalem “transformational.”
Saudi and UAE crown princes and de facto rulers Mohammad bin Salman and UAE's Mohammad bin Zayed (infamously known in the mainstream media as MBS and MBZ) have become the leading figures in this process. Egypt’s military rulers have been more than happy to join the pro-Israeli chorus.
A year ago, MBS told heads of US-based Jewish groups that the Palestinian leadership must accept conditions for “peace” put forward by the US Trump administration in what has been termed as “the deal of the century.”
In a closed-door meeting in March 2018 in New York, with the organisation’s leaders, MBS harshly criticised Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, saying: “In the last several decades, the Palestinian leadership has missed one opportunity after another and rejected all the peace proposals it was given...It is about time the Palestinians take the proposals and agree to come to the negotiations table or shut up and stop complaining.”
Meanwhile, the UAE has all but normalised relations with Israel. Three months ago, Israel’s Energy and Water Resources Minister, Silvan Shalom, was hosted in Abu Dhabi in the first official visit by an Israeli minister since a Mossad assassination team murdered Mahmood Al-Mabhooh, a Palestinian activist, in 2010.
Shalom headed an Israeli delegation to the World Future Energy Summit that was held between in the UAE capital in January.
Last month, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash told the UAE-based newspaper The National in an interview” “Many, many years ago, when there was an Arab decision not to have contact with Israel, that was a very, very wrong decision, looking back … because clearly, you have to really dissect and divide between having a political issue and keeping your lines of communication open.”
The Arab boycott has complicated efforts to find a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he argued, speaking to the paper onstage at the Ideas Abu Dhabi forum last month. Gargash called for a “strategic shift” in Israel-Arab ties, saying it was required for progress in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Egypt’s intelligence services were accused last year of attempting to promote acceptance of the American embassy move as well.
Several famous Egyptian TV personalities had taken orders from Egyptian intelligence officers to “persuade their viewers” to accept Trump’s decision to declare Jerusalem the capital of Israel. The Times claimed to have an audio recording of telephone calls in which the officer instructed hosts of several popular talk shows that “instead of condemning the decision, they should persuade their viewers to accept it.”
The famous actress, Yousra, was among the names mentioned in the report. She was furious and threatened to file court cases for defamation. The story highlights the sensitivity of the Palestinian issue among Egyptians … and, of course, the regime’s abandonment of the Palestinian cause.
The Saudis had opened their airspace for flights to and from Israel right before Trump decided his move.
At the end of 2017, Israel’s News 10 claimed that Saudi Arabia and Egypt had given Trump their blessing to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move the US Embassy there. The silence in the face of the move, and now the Golan Heights move, is more than palpable. For even the Jerusalem Post to notice, it must be glaring.
Just like the Arab regimes did not rise up to their responsibilities when Israel was formed in 1948 and just like the downfall of the Ottoman Empire in 1923 had heralded a new age of fragmentation and division for the Arabs, so, too, did the post-2011 era, if that were possible.
The Saudi-Emirati-Bahrain pro-Israeli policies are aimed at bolstering the proposed deal of the century, especially after newly re-elected Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu formed a ruling coalition following elections last week. Will that fundamentally yield even more power for Israel?
As strong as the odds are, the resilience of the resistance and the might of the downtrodden across the region are as alive as ever.
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