Opinion by Dr. Hanan Ashrawi PLO Executive member
The agreements between the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain on the one hand and Israel on the other, brokered by the Trump administration and signed at the White House on Sept. 15, attempted to normalize the abnormal in spite of their misleading declarations about realizing peace.
In fact, they succeeded in normalizing occupation, oppression, annexation, and grave violations of international law, including international humanitarian law.
We must call things by their real name. The UAE and Bahrain agreed to open regular diplomatic ties with Israel, but these were not “peace treaties.” They ended no wars, as the three countries have been engaging in secret security, intelligence, and economic deals for years. The agreements merely brought out into the open the clandestine relationships they had forged.
The UAE and Bahrain turned the Arab Peace Initiative — the 2002 agreement by Arab countries not to recognize Israel until it accepted a Palestinian state, among other conditions — on its head and undermined the political leverage of the Arab consensus, dropping the prerequisite of normalization that Israel must first leave all Arab territories it occupied in 1967, primarily Palestine. These agreements realized the long-term objectives of both the US administration and Israel to reposition the latter in the region as a major political, military, economic, and intelligence power.
The consequences of the Emirati and Bahraini steps are far-reaching.
In addition to creating divisions within the Arab League and undermining its leverage, these agreements also created a rift between the people and their rulers. The Arab people across the region, including in the Gulf, have overwhelmingly expressed their opposition to normalization with Israel so long as it continues to occupy Palestine and oppress its people. Despite the regimes’ attempts at suppressing any signs of dissent, this passionate opposition has found expression in a variety of ways over the past few days, including demonstrations, social media protest, and widely adopted petitions.
The normalization drive led by the US administration is exacerbating dangerous fault lines within the region and enhancing an artificial polarization along sectarian divides. It exploits and strengthens identity politics along sectarian and ethno-religious lines to redefine alliances while redrawing the lines separating friend and foe, enemy and ally, based on the distorted Trump-Netanyahu worldview.
This also serves Israel’s attempts to gain legitimacy as a hyper-nationalist, exclusively Jewish state. Trump is exploiting the Gulf regimes’ hostility to and Sunni Arab fears of Shia Iran in order to create such unnatural alliances, sell weapons at a profit, and fulfill his clearly stated aim of only being in the Middle East to protest Israel.
Such precarious realignment is a recipe for further instability and unrest that will encourage lawlessness and challenge the global rule of law. It will deepen distrust and hostility within the region and will generate a more dangerous dynamic that opens the door for other regional players to compete for influence.
The misleading claim that the region is now closer to peace cannot be farther from this new reality. Our region is now more precarious, unpredictable, and unstable.
There are other dangerous dimensions to these developments.
The Trump syndrome of populism, aversion to facts, deflection of core issues, total disdain for human rights and the law, and open contempt for the downtrodden has emboldened the non-democratic regimes that rely on this US administration for their power, longevity, and legitimacy.
In the meantime, the real victims of wars and violence in the region — in Palestine, Yemen, Libya, Syria, and elsewhere — will continue to suffer from a lack of positive intervention for peace.
On another note, both US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are obsessively driven by personal agendas. The two men find themselves in political trouble as a result of drastic mismanagement of the Covid-19 pandemic, deteriorating economic conditions, accusations of corruption, as well as domestic unrest and popular protest over their failed leadership.
Trump is pandering to part of his base in gifting Israel with normalized relations in the region. Meanwhile, Israel and its US allies are intent on maximizing their benefits should Trump lose the November election.
It is a race against time to create preemptive facts and secure gains for Israel that serve a racist, expansionist right wing agenda. The F-35 stealth planes the UAE is hoping to purchase have been on-again, off-again in a contest between Trump’s declared avarice and Netanyahu’s veto.
Israel’s qualitative military edge, a cornerstone of US policy in the region, hangs in the balance as Israel demands even greater military hardware, ironically in the context of these so-called peace achievements.
In contrast, the US President and his aides have made no secret of their strategy to bash the Palestinians into submission. By applying immense political and economic pressure, the Trump administration believes it can bring the Palestinians to their knees, forcing them to accept economic handouts in return for abandoning their basic rights.
Such disdain is at the core of the so-called Trump “plan” that would relegate the Palestinians to disconnected Bantustans and would legalize Israel’s annexation of Palestinian territory and control over Palestine’s air space, territorial waters, and borders. This is the sure way of destroying the chances of peace, because it demands the Palestinians to be complicit in violating international law and defeating their right to freedom.
Clearly, the Trump administration does not understand the Palestinian people’s determination and spirit.
People of conscience around the world and in Israel have already stated the obvious: The Trump drive toward normalization, polarization, and security realignment in the region — while sidelining, snubbing, or abusing the rights of the Palestinian people — will not deliver peace. By destroying the very foundations of peace, it is introducing additional forms of conflict in the region.
Undoubtedly, the Palestinian people are facing an especially difficult and challenging moment. The dangers and threats we face are nothing short of existential. But we are not alone. Throughout the world, heightened awareness of the intersectionality of human rights and social justice is driving people to defy imposed taboos and censorship and to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people.
The Palestinian people are not in the habit of surrendering to threats, or abandoning their aspirations to freedom. We will not betray our most basic human drive in seeking a life of liberty and dignity. We will walk tall and persevere.