Imad K. Harb

On the costs of normalisation with Israel

'Saudi Arabia is assisting the Trump administration in peddling a peace plan' writes Harb [AFP]

Date of publication: 30 November, 2017

Comment: Arab normalisation with Israel is tantamount to accepting the final liquidation of Palestinian lands and rights, writes Imad K. Harb.
Over the last few months there has been increased speculation that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) may have finally arrived at a time of reckoning over the future of their relationship with Israel.

The two states are seen as going through the motions leading to normalisation and the establishment of diplomatic relations with Israel before a just resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is found.

Harbingers of normalisation

Below the radar of open diplomatic contacts, secret high-level meetings, television interviews and pronouncements about security cooperation between the two GCC states and Israel point to real momentum towards normalisation. Israeli prime minister Benyamin Netanyahu indicated as much recently, although he blamed the absence of a peace deal on the Palestinians' "persistent refusal to recognise a Jewish state in any boundary".

One thing is sure; Saudi and Emirati officials may not require the drama of the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, who in 1977 directly broke the boycott of Israel and visited Jerusalem, setting the stage for the 1979 peace treaty with Egypt's longtime enemy. Instead, they can make more subtle manoeuvres, more similar to the late King Hussein of Jordan, who had met secretly with Israeli officials prior to a similar treaty with Israel in 1994.

But besides the secret contacts, there are other indications of the coming normalisation. First, Saudi and Emirati officials consider Israel to be a natural ally in their confrontation with Iran. Some even contend that they count on Israel in their efforts to thwart the Islamic Republic's actions and adventurism.

Second, Saudi and Emirati officialdom was silent last September when their GCC ally Bahraini King Hamad bin Issa Al Khalifa declared that he was "tired" of the Arab boycott of Israel and open to diplomatic relations with it.

Third, Saudi Arabia - with tacit Emirati approval - is assisting the Trump administration in peddling a peace plan about which little is known, between the Palestinians and the Israelis. Having shown a clear bias towards Israel, the administration cannot be thought to have a just and fair peace plan.

Still, Saudi Arabia's crown prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) reportedly told Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to accept the plan or resign. It is likely that MbS did this to hasten the sidelining of the Palestinian issue so that he could facilitate normalisation with Israel.

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Pushing for a Trump plan flies in the face of the Saudi-proposed 2002 Arab Peace Initiative whose central tenet is redressing the Palestinians' right to an independent state with East Jerusalem as its capital. According to the plan, only after this was accomplished will the Arab world recognise Israel and open diplomatic relations with it.

Fourth, Saudi Arabia has opened its arms to the charms of the Trump White House in spite of President Trump's commitment to Israel's security and his promise to move the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

The Saudi crown prince meets regularly with Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner. Along with Trump envoy Jason Greenblatt, the pair are interested only in ensuring Israeli supremacy in the Middle East.

The tenuous political situation in Riyadh is however preventing fully fledged relations from taking off immediately, while MbS consolidates power over others in the Saudi royal family and prefers to avoid opening another unwarranted front.

Moreover, the ongoing GCC crisis, the serious complications of the Saudi-led war in Yemen, and the uncertainty surrounding MbS' economic plans make foreign policy adventures dangerous at present.

The real cost of normalisation

Be that as it may, normalisation with Israel on its terms will come at a great cost that may not be easily defrayed.

More Arab normalisation with an aggressor Israel in control of Arab and Palestinian lands is tantamount to accepting occupation and the final liquidation of Palestinian rights.

No one expects - or ever expected - Saudi Arabia and the UAE to help wage a war of liberation to affirm Palestinian rights. What they are called upon to do, is help shepherd the Arab Peace Initiative as a just and fair formula for peace.

Additionally, normalisation with Israel at the expense of the Palestinians expropriates their right to speak for themselves. Such expropriation is no longer tenable.

Not only will Palestinians reject being made vassals of the Arab order, the international community will not agree to marginalise their national aspirations.

Finally, to normalise relations with Israel is to give Iran a platform as the only credible and serious defender of Palestinian rights. This will be a free gift the Islamic Republic has been seeking for decades; and it will be offered by the very states trying to cut it down to size.

Imad K. Harb is the Director of Research and Analysis at Arab Center Washington DC.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab.

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