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Discord Around the Abraham Accords

Three questions to Dr. Alaa Tartir

INTERVIEW - 14 October 2020

Alliances have been shifting since Israel started signing a number of so-called peace accords with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain this summer. Hailed as beacons of peace by the US, who brokered these meetings, the Abraham Accords bypass an important actor in the equation of peace in the Middle East: Palestine. In order to understand the implications of these alliances on Palestine, as well as the geopolitical motivations behind them, we asked Palestinian researcher, Dr. Alaa Tartir, three questions. 

Under the auspices of the US, Israel, Bahrain and the UAE signed the Abraham accords on September 15, agreeing to normalize relations. What does this normalization mean in the context of countries who are not at war with each other?

The so-called Abraham Accords are neither peace agreements nor historic breakthroughs, as is hailed by many observers. They are rather a prime example of the distortion of the very meaning of peace. At best, on one hand, they are a set of economic and diplomatic arrangements between a number of regional actors in response to a mutual interest. On the other hand, they are an expression of the formation of an alliance to face what is perceived as a common threat. 

Normalization of relations between Israel and other Arab countries such as Bahrain and the UAE, operationally means "doing joint business without being shy or embarrassed"

Hence, they are narrow and self-serving arrangements designed to reap benefits from a mutual interest and to face a perceived common threat. They are formulated through a top-down, elitist approach that is meant to serve the ruling class and the "leaders-in-trouble" in the concerned countries. The emergence of these Accords was neither due to the aspirations of the people (who are the real guarantors of any lasting peace), nor in response to a bottom-up incremental approach that aims to create a positive peace.  Therefore, it would be absolutely delusional, misleading, dangerous, and irresponsible to think about the so-called Abraham Accords as a form of meaningful "peace" or even a formula for a genuine stability or security. 

So, within this contextual understanding, normalization of relations between Israel and other Arab countries such as Bahrain and the UAE, operationally means "doing joint business without being shy or embarrassed". Politically, it means transforming the "under-the-table" diplomacy into "over-the-table diplomacy". Economically, it implies capitalizing on the existing security arrangements and intelligence cooperation, to ensure the prosperity of security -driven economic deals (and their industrial complexes) between the signatories. Socially, especially in the post-Covid-19 era, we will witness some social media influencers, celebrities, and possibly religious actors enjoying the trivial trappings of "peace-building", for the sake of impacting public perceptions, pleasing the ruling elites, and financially benefiting from this emerging "peace industry". These multi-dimensional consequences are some selected reflections of the short-sighted strategy that we could see in the near future. However, these manifestations are largely dependent on the continuation of the current administrations and polity in the ruling offices. A test to the strength or fragility of these "normalization deals" will occur the day after Trump and Netanyahu leave their political offices. 

Additionally, it is crucial to remember that these "normalization deals" violated the "Arab consensus" around the Palestinian cause, and effectively declared the end of the much-totted Saudi-led Arab Peace Initiative (API) as we know it (a future modified version of the API remains a strong possibility). Therefore, they further fragmented the "Arab bloc", which has always been an Israeli-American objective that is now potentially fulfilled. Consequently, these "normalization deals" offer the Palestinian political leadership a reality check concerning whom they can depend on. 

The failure of the Arab League to confront Bahrain and the UAE for their violation of the "Arab consensus", and its failure in performing its basic political mission, testified to the Palestinian leadership that if they don’t ensure dignity, independence, and self-determination in their political actions, no one will. 

Since the agreement, it seems that Israel is putting aside its plans to annex the West Bank. What are the actual implications of these alliances for Israel-Palestine?

It is a myth to think that the so-called Abraham Accords stopped, or waseven linked to, the Israeli annexation plan of Palestinian West Bank territories.

It is a myth to think that the so-called Abraham Accords stopped, or waseven linked to, the Israeli annexation plan of Palestinian West Bank territories. The Israeli Prime Minister and the US Ambassador to Israel made it very clear that Israel’s annexation plan is still on the table. On September 14, The Israeli government approved the construction of a thousand new units in settlements and colonies, that are illegal according to international law. The Israeli annexation of Palestinian territories has been an on-going process since Israel was established in 1948, and therefore this annexation dimension should not be treated as "breaking news"; it is what a settler colonial project is all about as it is embedded in its DNA. Thefact that we are even discussing it testifies to our collective failure at the international level to tackle the root causes of the Palestinian-Israeli "conflict". If anything, the Israeli annexation plan, as it is currently unfolding, is directly linked to intra-Israeli politics and dynamics, and a stark violation of international law and even a violation of the obsolete Oslo Accords of 1993. 

The US-backed Israel-Bahrain-UAE alliance offers the Israeli leadership, and its settlers in the occupied West Bank, an additional source of power and strength. In turn, that translates into more coercive physical and non-physical forms of violence. It is no surprise that over the past two months, the Israeli violence and settler terrorism have increased vis-à-vis the Palestinian people. These immediate implications of the Israeli-Bahraini-Emirati alliance are also accompanied with longer term effects, depending on how the different actors will be instrumentalizing them at the local, regional, and international levels, and also if they will lead to new additional "normalization deals". The implicit and explicit roles of Saudi Arabia are the most critical in this regard. But meanwhile, Israel is equipped with an additional card, thanks to the notion of Arab weakness and "sell-out". It will not spare in abusing that card, by establishing new facts on the ground that will only solidify the one-state reality: the state, system, and structures of apartheid.

Palestine was not part of the deal, and Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki announced the decision to quit the presidency of the Council of the Arab League as a sign of protest. What are the prospects of the Palestinian people and Palestinian leadership under these regional shifts?

The unfolding regional shifts and transformations can be seen as a double-edged sword, as far as the Palestinians are concerned. They can make the grim future prospects even grimmer, but they can also offer the Palestinian leadership another opportunity to shift gears and engage in a seriouss process of reforming the Palestinian national project. 

Reacting to the US-Israeli-Bahraini-Emirati alliance by convening a leadership meeting to read and narrate empty slogans and rhetoric, or by announcing a nominal unity between Fatah and Hamas, or even calling (once again) for democratic elections, are not the panacea for this grand challenge and existential threat. These approaches are well-trodden and have failed multiple times before, and it is time to move beyond the tactically dysfunctional and short-sighted strategies, and indeed move beyond the existing obsolete political framework that the current Palestinian political leadership is fixated to. More meetings, declarations, committees and promises to unite are not what the Palestinian people are waiting for, nor are they satisfied with the old tactics, approaches, and failed strategies. Clear, operational, and tangible action plans to sufficiently address the question, "what to do?" are what the Palestinian people are waiting for and working hard towards achieving. Certainly, there are multiple constraints and obstacles along the way. But who said the road to achieving freedom, justice, equality, self-determination, and lasting peace is a smooth ride? 

 

 

Copright: SAUL LOEB / AFP

 

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