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Ramona Wadi

Israel is using Expo 2020 Dubai to fast-track normalisation

Expo 2020 will be hosted by Dubai, UAE, and opens on October 20, 2020 [Getty]

Date of publication: 1 January, 2020

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Comment: Arab states' willingness to fall in line with Israel's plan for normalisation is bad news for Palestinians, writes Ramona Wadi.
Arab countries are playing a duplicitous role when it comes to Palestine and Israel.

On the annual International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian people, the Arab League together with the African Union and the Non-Aligned Movement, pledged their support for Palestinian independence. 

These statements, however, are regularly contradicted by individual Arab nations on a quest to normalise ties with Israel, regardless of its colonial occupation of Palestine. 

Israel recently announced it will be participating in the Dubai 2020 Expo, even though there are no formal diplomatic relations as yet between Israel and the United Arab Emirates.

Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz 
described Israel's participation as reflecting "the rise in Israel's status not only internationally but also among the key state actors in our region."

According to its website, Dubai Expo, which will run from October 2020 until April 2021, prioritises the concepts of opportunity, mobility and sustainability, none of which are plausible options for the Palestinians who are still being gradually dispossessed by Israel's ongoing colonial expansion. 

The Boycott Campaign - Palestine (BCP) is calling upon participating countries to boycott the event in protest of Dubai's normalisation of Israel's military occupation of Palestine. Such an act, the statement says, is "a necessary struggle measure in order to deprive the occupation and its institutions of using the most important tools of its hegemony and control against our societies and capabilities." 

As the Palestinian cause becomes further removed from politics, it becomes easier for Arab states to make decisions which are detrimental to Palestinians

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been stating intermittently that building ties with Arab states is no longer subject to the Palestinian cause. Indeed, normalising ties with Israel while pledging mere rhetorical support for Palestine is becoming the new norm for Arab states. 

In March 2019, UAE Minister for Foreign Affairs, Anwar Gargash called upon Arab states to rethink their boycott of Israel. "Many, many years ago, when there was an Arab decision not to have contact with Israel, that was a very, very wrong decision, looking back," he stated in an interview with The National.

The reason for this, he expounded, is the fading away of the two-state paradigm and the issue of Palestinian rights in an Israeli state. "Should they be equal citizens, is it sustainable that they are not equal citizens?" he 
asked

[Click to enlarge]

Further than that question, however, Gargash did not elaborate on the role Arab states are playing in ensuring that Palestinian rights remain non-existent as a result of Israel's presence in Palestine.

The politics of a single state will indeed require a different approach. However, Arab states are contributing to the current failing scenario in which maintaining and consolidating ties with Israel is not only set apart from the purported support for Palestinians, it is also prioritised and being developed as a new, overt strategy. 

Israel's pavilion at the Expo has been described as reflecting "Israel's sense of belonging to the region as well as the openness the Jewish state seeks to broadcast to its Arab neighbours." What about the people it has colonised for decades?

Israel is attempting to frame its participation at the Expo as non-political, 'focusing on what Israel has to offer'

Within Israeli politics, this question is irrelevant. Netanyahu is taking normalisation beyond the usual framework and coercing Palestinians into "a peace deal with Israel". Arab leaders, unfortunately, are not averse to this strategy. The Palestinian Authority, dependent as it is upon foreign assistance, is not in a position to dictate any terms. 

Israel is attempting to frame its participation at the Expo as non-political, "focusing on what Israel has to offer".

Yet abandoning negotiations between Israel and the PA still forms the departure point for the desired political trajectory that the settler-colonial state seeks to enforce. In addition, the former director-general of Israel's foreign ministry, Dore Gold, has 
described the Dubai pavilion as "a quasi-diplomatic presence". Politics are being employed and this does not bode well for the Palestinian people. 

Read more: Israel's settler violence reeks of international impunity

The Arab League and its members are operating on two different trajectories, both of which are leading to normalisation ties with Israel, as well as a normalised settler-colonial state.

One is the collective upholding of the two-state solution, in the same manner as the international community does, despite the fact that it has been declared obsolete on more than one occasion. The other is the Arab League's willingness to fall in line with Israel's plan for normalisation. 

In light of the US recently declaring Israeli settlements as "not illegal", the Arab League should be doing more than repeating convenient statements. Last month, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged Arab countries to abandon their boycott of Israel and called for normalisation of relations mere days after the US statement regarding the settlements. 

Clearly, the US is seeking support for its unilateral moves among countries which have paid humanitarian aid and lip service to the Palestinian cause.

The Arab League should be doing more than repeating convenient statements

It also builds upon the diplomatic tactics of Arab leaders in 2019, in particular the Gulf countries, as they promoted the narrative of common interests against a purported common enemy; Iran. Behind this veneer, however, Netanyahu's prediction loomed.

As the Palestinian cause becomes further removed from politics, it becomes easier for Arab states, the US and Israel to make political decisions which are detrimental to the Palestinians. 

Boycotting Israel traces its roots back to the early colonisation process, before the settler-colonial state was established in Palestine. In 1945, the boycott was formalised by the Arab League. But circumventing the boycott has become an overt process and the two-state discourse plays a role in this agenda. 

The Arab Peace Initiative of 2002 stipulates normalisation of relations with Israel within the two-state framework. Israel has exploited this condition as it continued with its settlement expansion and land grab plans to make the two-state paradigm impossible to implement. 

Arab leaders' opportunism, disguised as pragmatism, takes a leaf out of the international community's book when it comes to supporting Palestinians. As long as the two-state rhetoric is not abandoned for an alternative that prioritises Palestinian demands, Israel remains the sole beneficiary. 

Within Arab and international circles, Israel has been accommodated to the point that political decisions are taken within consideration of what Israel wants to achieve. The boycott, therefore, no longer holds any political sway. 


Ramona Wadi is an independent researcher, freelance journalist, book reviewer and blogger specialising in the struggle for memory in Chile and Palestine, colonial violence and the manipulation of international law.

Follow her on Twitter: @walzerscent

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

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