DUBAI: The deadly Israeli aggression against the Palestinians has embarrassed Gulf states which forged ties with the Jewish state and put a strain on their “Abraham Accords” that were billed as a game-changer.
The bloodshed has prompted condemnation from Israel’s new Arab “partners”, at a time when Muslims have been celebrating the end of Ramazan.
Less than a year after signing normalisation agreements with Israel, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco have been forced to change course.
“These statements are largely intended as a public relations exercise towards a domestic and regional Arab audience that continues to overwhelmingly support the Palestinians,” Elham Fakhro, an analyst at the Crisis Group think tank, said.
The “Abraham Accords” swept away decades of consensus, and were condemned as “treason” by Palestinian leaders who feared they undercut their demands for a homeland.
They were struck at the urging of then US president Donald Trump, who hailed the “dawn of a new Middle East” as his son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner dismissed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a mere “real estate dispute”. It has now come roaring back into the headlines.
“The Abraham Accords were never intended to address the conditions of military occupation and land dispossession facing the Palestinians,” Fakhro said.
In Bahrain, daily demonstrations have been staged in support of the Palestinians, with the foreign minister, Abdullatif al-Zayani, expressing “strong condemnation of the attacks launched by the Israeli forces on the Gaza Strip”. Internet users have shared photos of themselves wearing the Palestinian chequered keffiyeh scarf, and civil society groups have called for ties with Israel to be severed.
In the UAE, which has tight curbs on social media, many users have shared videos and photos to denounce the occupation and brutality of Israeli forces.
It is a far cry from the heady days after the accords were announced, when prominent Emiratis tweeted “Shalom Aleikum” — a combination of Arabic and Hebrew greetings.
For Hugh Lovatt, an analyst at the European Council on Foreign Relations, the crisis is “the first real test” for the UAE, which for years had quietly cultivated ties with Israel.
“From Netanyahu’s perspective, the “Abraham Accords” vindicated his long-held belief that Palestinians could be effectively sidelined as Israel developed its ties with neighbouring states,” Lovatt said.
“Is the UAE prepared to put its relations with Israel on the line for the sake of the Palestinians? The answer appears to be ‘no’ at present,” he said, pointing to gains such as technology partnerships and access to military hardware from the US.
“Given the deep bilateral interests that underpin normalisation for Israel and the UAE, escalation in Palestine is probably at most a speed bump, not a brick wall”.
After the “Abraham Accords” were signed last September, eyes turned to Saudi Arabia, the region’s heavyweight and custodian of Islam’s holiest sites.
But the kingdom stuck to the old consensus, rejecting any normalisation without a resolution of the Palestinian issue. King Salman has voiced “strong condemnation of the Israeli measures in Jerusalem and the acts of violence carried out by Israel”, and stressed his country “stands by the Palestinian people”.
Published in Dawn, May 16th, 2021