UAE/Bahrain Normalization: Peace or Geopolitics?

23 Sep

[Prefatory Note: responses to Murat Sofuoglu’s of TRT questions (IX/21/2020) on UAE/Bahrain normalization. It will be important to distinguish the immediate gains for Netanyahu and Trump from middle-term impacts that will not likely be evident for several months. Some speculation suggest that normalization in the form of the so-called Abrahamic Agreements goes beyond an acknowledgement of an Israel’s existence, but moves toward affirming Israel’s right to establish a Jewish state in an Arab society.]

 

  1. Do you think UAE-Bahrain normalisations with Israel are further dividi.ng the Arab world and the Middle East?

 

Yes, I think the willingness to endorse these normalization agreements in the White House setting was a dramatic expression of identification with Trump’s regional diplomacy in the Middle East and a formalized repudiation of Palestinian aspirations for a sustainable peace based on their inalienable right of self-determination. It also confirmed an acceptance of relations with Israel on the part of these Gulf monarchies on the basis of their self-interests, including arms acquisitions and U.S. diplomatic support, while abandoning the earlier Arab consensus on withholding normalization until the Palestinian have their own state with its capital in Jerusalem.

 

  1. Will Saudi Arabia eventually normalise relations with Israel?

 

My assumption is that Saudi Arabia is waiting to see whether there are any adverse reaction to the moves made by UAE and Bahrain. Of special concern to Riyadh is whether there is any serious anti-regime activism in Saudi Arabia or the countries that took the normalization steps. It may also be the case that the MBS will await the death of the king, and his own succession, before making such a move. The outcome of the U.S. election in November could be a factor working in either direction: early normalization to help Trump; deferred normalization to avoid alienating Biden or if it seemed as though Trump would lose the election.

 

  1. What kind of the Middle East would you envision after the UAE-Bahrain deal with Israel?

 

It should be kept in mind that the normalization agreements were preceded by a decade of extensive cooperative arrangements between Israel and these two Arab states. However, the agreements might also be intended to send a message to Iran that such an alliance is now robust enough to counter any further Iranian regional expansion, and as a warning to reduce profile in Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Gaza, and Lebanon or face the consequences. There is also a Turkish dimension, which seems intended to express the priority accorded by these governments to reconciling with Israel even if it means greater distancing from Turkey.

 

The Turkish dimension requires further analysis, but becoming so explicit about normalization  send a signal that these Arab monarchies are prepared to side formally with Israel despite their opposition to Turkish diplomacy–normalization with Iran, support for Palestinian rights, and low profile relations with Israel (while Israel pursues back channel anti-Turkish, anti-Erdogan initiatives with the objective of marginalizing Turkey in ME, Europe, and the United States.

 

 

4 Responses to “UAE/Bahrain Normalization: Peace or Geopolitics?”

  1. Rabbi Ira Youdovin September 24, 2020 at 5:14 pm #

    Richard,

    You write that current US/Israeli policy “denies to Palestinian refugees any right of return to pre-1967 Israel.” This is correct. But you also write that there can be no Israeli-Palestinian peace until the refugees are given the right to return to their pre-1947 homes, which is thinly disguised code for destroying Israel by allowing in millions of Palestinians.

    There can be no peace without a Palestinian consensus recognizing Israel’s legitimacy and renouncing any intention of eliminating it. I believe Fatah would do that, but they are blocked by Hamas rejectionism, which is backed up by a stockpile of increasingly destructive weapons supplied by Iran. Israeli acquiescence to Hamas’ demands would be risking national suicide or, more likely, setting the stage for a war in which both sides could suffer enormous casualties.

    You ask what do the Palestinians achieve by entering into negotiations at this point in time? With all due respect, this is the wrong question. The right one is what do they lose by remaining on the sidelines? Non-participation has been the primary Palestinian tactic since the Second Intifada failed in 2005. During that time they’ve gained nothing on the ground while suffering a serious diminution of standing in the region and the world. Among other things, the UAE/Bahrain-Israel agreement, together with the Arab world’s and UN’s positive reaction to it, indicates a growing weariness with Palestinian intransigence.

    Richard, it’s time for re-evaluating objectives and considering a course correction, which is a challenge for both the principal actors in the arena and those who advise them from afar.

    I trust that all is well with you and Hila, as you approach a landmark birthday

    Ira

    • Richard Falk September 26, 2020 at 2:11 am #

      Ira:

      On two points we agree, and your observations are well grounded:
      –it is time to consider what the Palestinians lose by not agreeing to take
      part in the negotiations being urged by various governments, including the U.S.;
      –it is time to consider a Palestinian course correction in view of changes
      in the overall situation.

      Unfortunately, such issue do not uncover common ground:
      –I add my concern as to what the Palestinians lose by bowing to the pressure to join
      negotiations from such a position of pronounced diplomatic weakness presided over by
      the United States, which has not even pretended to take Palestinian concerns and rights
      into account when setting policy. What Palestinians lose is being blamed for saying ‘no’
      to what are put forward as ‘peace proposals’ but are in fact a thinly disguised victory
      scenario for what I call maximal Zionist expansionism: most of West Bank, Jerusalem, no viable
      Palestinian state, and no meaningful right of return.
      –a course correction in my terms for the Palestinians is a matter of tactics, not an abandonment
      of the strategic goals of the sort mentioned above: new tactics: elections and Fatah/Hamas coordinated
      diplomacy; greater emphasis on civil resistance and global solidarity, with reduced emphasis on inter-governmental
      diplomacy; new elections; end security collaboration with Israel.

      We have two other lingering disagreements:
      –I think that Hamas has sought a political accommodation along the lines of 1967 borders and SC Res. 242 for at least
      the last 20 years; Israel has not wanted a territorial compromise and has insisted on keeping Hamas confined to ‘terrorist’ box for PR reasons;
      –I do not think peace is possible or Israeli legitimacy fully upheld unless Zionism gives up its position of being an
      exclusivist Jewish state as codified by the adoption of the 2018 Basic Law to this effect. To sustain such maximalist objectives will require continuing systematic repression to achieve tolerable security, with real peace unobtainable, and
      at most, a ceasefire.

      Wishing you and those you cherish the best of health as stressful politics in the US arise while the pandemic persists.

      My greetings from Yalikavak,

      Richard

  2. Beau Oolayforos October 1, 2020 at 9:37 pm #

    Dear Professor Falk,

    Trump’s phony “normalization” diplomacy is thoroughly exposed by Denigel Jegic in an eye-opening (for me) essay in Al Jazeera, “Trump’s Kosovo-Serbia Normalization Deal is all About Israel”. Can we hope for improvement? Alas, Senator Joe Biden seemed quite a KLA fan, and MAY have been (I can’t claim specific knowledge) one of the players who helped Kosovo become what Jegic, it seems correctly, calls a client state of the USA.

    • Richard Falk October 2, 2020 at 1:09 am #

      Interesting. I will check out the Jegic article.

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