THE slow but steady wave of normalisation between Arab states and Israel rolls on, with Morocco being the fourth nation in recent months to establish ties with the Jewish state. The development was announced on Thursday via Twitter by outgoing US President Donald Trump, who has made cobbling together a ‘coalition of the willing’ of Arabs and Israel a central plank of his foreign policy.

Mr Trump has labelled it a “massive breakthrough”, while Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel chimed in by terming the scheme “another great light for peace”. In return for establishing ties with Tel Aviv, Rabat has won American recognition for Moroccan sovereignty over the disputed Western Sahara.

Where Arab politics is concerned, Morocco is an outlier, so it is difficult to be convinced by the American and Israeli exuberance over the latest deal. However, Arab regimes know well that the road to Washington goes through Tel Aviv, which explains their eagerness to ditch their Palestinian ‘brothers’ and Arab consensus over the Palestine question, and embrace Israel. Moreover, the UAE and then Bahrain — which were the first Arab states in decades to recognise Israel — have found a kindred spirit in Tel Aviv that also seeks to ‘contain’ Iran.

More Arab and Muslim states will expectedly follow, paying lip service to the just cause of Palestine while booking the next flight to Tel Aviv. Yet the elephant in the room is Saudi Arabia. There has been fervent media speculation over covert Saudi-Israeli meetings; one report even said Mr Netanyahu flew to northern Saudi Arabia for clandestine parleys with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The Saudis have officially denied this as it is a sensitive matter, with the kingdom hosting Islam’s holiest cities. In fact, senior Saudi Prince Turki bin Faisal was highly critical of Israel at a recent summit in Bahrain, with the Israeli foreign minister attending remotely. This shows that even within Saudi Arabia there is resistance to embracing Israel fully, without an equitable solution to the Palestine question.

Published in Dawn, December 12th, 2020

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