Steve August 19, 2020

If there is one conclusion to draw from the agreement this week between Israel
and the United Arab Emirates – with Israel temporarily “suspending” its
threat to illegally annex parts of the West Bank in return for “full normalization”
with the Gulf state – it is this: the peace industry is back in business.

But this time, unlike the interminable Oslo Accords signed a quarter of a century
ago, there won’t even be the pretense that Palestinians are needed for “Middle
East peace” to proceed. This is a process that takes place over their heads,
a dialogue from which they are entirely absent.

This peace process is not between Palestinians and Israel, Washington’s client
in the region. It is between Israel and oil-rich Arab states loyal to the US.
It is a process that allows them to end the pretense that they are enemies of
Israel. It means that they can stop feigning support for the Palestinian struggle
for a state – even one on the last remnants of Palestinians’ homeland.

This is a peace process that effectively rubber-stamps the occupation and the
many dozens of illegal Jewish settlements Israel has built to steal Palestinian
land over many decades.

This is a peace process that moves the ostensible goal posts from permanently
ending the occupation to simply postponing – for a little longer – Israel’s
ambition to permanently annex those Palestinian lands it has already stolen.

In short, this is a peace process in which Arab states, led by the UAE, formally
join Israel in waging war on Palestinians.

‘Outside-in’ strategy

In that sense, this is a continuation of the process begun by Jared Kushner,
US President Tweety McTreason’s Middle East adviser and son-in-law, in developing
the so-called “deal of the century”.

From the start, Kushner turned to the Gulf – to which he and the rest of the
US political and economic elite have long been personally close – and sought
to craft what became known as the “outside-in” strategy.

That meant recruiting as many Arab regimes as possible, starting with the oil-rich
Gulf states, to sign up to the Trump “peace plan” and use their weight – and
money – to strong-arm Palestinians into surrendering to Israeli diktats.

A White House dedicated to the politics of the used-car lot was bound to imagine
that economics could be used to bludgeon Palestinians into compliance. That
was why Kushner held an economic conference in Bahrain early last summer, even
before he had a peace plan to

Saudis next in line?

Sensing how this was playing out, the Palestinian Authority under Mahmoud Abbas
refused early on to engage with the Trump plan, and soon cut off all ties to
Washington. It made no difference. This was a peace plan that did not need the
Palestinian people to be involved in the haggling over their future.

The Trump plan, unveiled earlier in the year, offered Palestinians the promise
of an eventual state on shards of the West Bank, after Israel had been allowed
to annex swaths of their territory.

Now, Israel has put this move on temporary hold in return for normalization
with the UAE. Kushner says other states are expected to follow. Bahrain and
Oman are likely to be close

The agreement states:
“The United States, Israel and the United Arab Emirates are confident that additional
diplomatic breakthroughs with other nations are possible, and will work together
to achieve this goal.”

The real coup would be Saudi Arabia, which is presumably waiting to see how
the deal with the UAE is received. It is hard to imagine, however, that the
UAE’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, took this step without first
getting the green light from Riyadh.

By contrast, the previous Saudi ruler, King Abdullah, championed a regional
peace agreement in 2002 that offered
Israel full recognition by the Arab states in return for Israel conceding Palestinian
statehood in the occupied territories.

That offer exposed the true colors of Israel and Washington. Israeli leaders
ignored the Saudi plan, and, taking their cue from Tel Aviv, US leaders refused
to seize the opportunity to advance the bold Saudi offer as the basis for a
peace agreement.

Biden jumps on board

Under Trump, things have rapidly worsened for Palestinians. Millions of refugees
have been starved of aid; the US embassy has been moved to Jerusalem; Israel’s
illegal annexation of the Syrian Golan Heights has been approved; and illegal
settlements have continued to expand.

And yet, Israeli intransigence is paying off. The Gulf is ready to offer Israel
normalization, not just without any meaningful concessions, but at the same
time as the situation for Palestinians deteriorates significantly.

Trump has called the Israeli-UAE pact “a historic peace agreement between our
two great friends”. Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, described
the UAE’s normalization with Israel as “a significant step forward for peace
in the Middle East”.

But anyone who imagines that this is simply a floundering, implausible last
move by a lame-duck president – assuming Trump fails to win the presidential
election in November – is likely to be in for a disappointment.

Joe Biden, his Democratic challenger, has also excitedly jumped on board. He
described the agreement as “a welcome, brave, and badly needed act of statesmanship,”
adding that the alternative – annexation – “would be a body blow to the cause of peace”.

Bitter victory

In one sense, this is a victory, even if a very bitter one, for the Palestinian
leadership. They denounced
the agreement. Palestinians’ belated refusal to engage with the Trump plan – after long colluding in a US-dictated Oslo peace process that was designed from
the outset to negate their right to live in dignity in their homeland – has
flushed the real US-Israeli agenda out into the open.

Even with the best interpretation of the Oslo Accords, Palestinians were never
going to be allowed the semblance of a sovereign state, even on the remnants
of their original homeland.

They were to have no control over their borders, their airspace, the electromagnetic
spectrum, or their diplomatic relations with other states. And of course, they
were most definitely not going to be allowed an army.

The peace process was always about keeping Israel in control of the entire
space, with a segment of Palestinians allowed to live there as a caged, dependent
people. They could either willingly agree to their subordination, or face further
repression from Israel to crush their spirit.

Now, all of this is no longer being disguised, even if politicians and diplomats
in Washington and the Gulf wish to mislead the rest of the world that this should
still be called a “peace process”.

Signs that they may get away with this monumental deception were evident in
the responses of major European capitals, which welcomed the agreement. Germany
called it “an important contribution to peace in the region,” while Boris Johnson
in the UK said
it was “hugely good news”.

The message sent by Israel, the US and the UAE is that committing war crimes
and violating international humanitarian law can pay handsome dividends over
the long run.

A shared agenda

The gains in this deal for the UAE and the other Gulf states – assuming, as
seems likely, that they follow suit – are simple. The Sunni Gulf has long wanted
fuller integration into the US-Israeli security nexus in the Middle East.

The US, Israel and the Gulf states share a deep hostility towards Iran and
its Shia co-religionist factions in the region – from Lebanon and Syria to Iraq
and Yemen.

Israel opposes these Shia actors because they have proved most ready to resist
it, as well as Washington’s imperial designs, centered on control over the region’s

The Gulf, meanwhile, as the birthplace of Sunni Islam and the supposed guardian
of its honor, has a separate interest in securing its sectarian hegemony in
the region. Gulf states have been developing close, if semi-covert, ties to
Israel in recent years while engaging more actively in wars across the region,
either through proxies in Syria and Iraq or directly in Yemen.

They have been keen to go public with normalization so that they can gain greater
access to US-Israeli intelligence and improved military technology, which would
naturally flow from increased levels of trust.

Imperial agenda

Aside from the bland, positive diplomatic wording,
the agreement does not veil this goal: A new “Strategic Agenda for the Middle
East” will be developed to “expand diplomatic, trade, and security cooperation”.
The US, Israel and the UAE “share a similar outlook regarding the threats and
opportunities in the region, as well as a shared commitment to promoting stability”.

Repackaging its role in this entirely self-interested deal, the UAE can also
still present itself as the champion of the Palestinian cause and the two-state
solution, delaying annexation to another day.

The advantages to the Gulf run deeper still, however. Washington’s imperial
agenda inevitably feeds and needs enemies, especially in an oil-rich region
such as the Middle East, to justify endless wars and endless profits for its
“defense” industries.

The Gulf states want to be on the right side of that military-industrial divide
as the US moves into choppier waters ahead, facing oil shortages, a deterioration
in the global climate, and the rise of China as a superpower.

Diplomatic coup

Washington’s interests in the deal, and Trump’s, are similarly clear. Pushing
ahead with annexation has proved much harder than the Trump administration expected.
European and Arab capitals were adamantly opposed to a move that would deprive
them of the two-state cover story that, for more than two decades, had allowed
them to pretend they were committed to Middle East peace.

And it became ever harder for Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu,
to muster support from the Israeli public for annexation as the coronavirus
pandemic rapidly changed priorities.

Months from a presidential election he is predicted to lose, Trump needed a
diplomatic coup in the Middle East after promising so much and achieving so
little with his much-trumpeted “deal of the century”. Now he has it.

This move will placate his large Christian evangelical electoral base, which
is devoted to Israel and supports whatever it wants. Evangelical leaders lost
no time in saying
they were “elated” by the announcement.

It can also be spun, as his officials began vigorously doing from the outset,
as an “historic peace agreement” – equivalent to the deals Israel signed previously
with Egypt and Jordan. That can be used on the campaign trail to sell Trump
to the wider electorate as one of the great US statesmen.

Sharpening the battle lines

But there are wider benefits for the bipartisan Washington foreign policy elite.
They have long wished to cement ties between Israel and the Gulf states, having
the US’ two most reliable regional allies publicly cooperating.

As the Gulf states have become more deeply and obviously enmeshed in wars across
the Middle East – from Syria to Yemen – an agreement allying them to Israel
helps Washington’s improbable narrative that they are really the good guys.
It will sharpen the region’s battle lines and, it is hoped, convey greater legitimacy
on these theocratic dictatorships.

The US hopes, too, that the agreement with the UAE – and other Gulf states
later – will once again provide a plausible cover story as Israel entrenches
its occupation, steals more Palestinian land and intensifies its repression
of Palestinians.

It will allow Washington to revive its bogus claims of being an “honest broker,”
seeking the best for Palestinians, even if their leaders are supposedly too
dimwitted to understand what is good for them.

Pitting the Palestinian leadership against the Gulf – as well as other
Arab states, such as Jordan and Egypt, that dare not antagonize their oil-rich
neighbors – will further isolate Palestinians. They can now be presented
more convincingly as entrenched opponents of peace, at best – or, if they
resist, as terrorists.

Netanyahu bailed out

Lastly, Netanyahu, who is in deep trouble, hopes this agreement can dig him
out of his hole. He is up against a wave of protests that have rallied large
sections of Israeli society, including on the right. He faces an unprecedented
corruption trial. His handling of the Covid-19 pandemic looks increasingly catastrophic.
The Israeli economy is imploding.

In this context, his focus on West Bank annexation alienated much of the Israeli
public, and even failed to satisfy sections of the settler community, who want
all of the Palestinian territories, not just large parts. A deal with the UAE,
and implicitly one with the rest of the Gulf, allows him to climb down from
an unpopular annexation plan.

Netanyahu has long declared himself Mr. Security, the protector of Israel’s
interests, and the only Israeli leader capable of making dramatic moves on the
global stage. Here, he appears to have done both. It has even forced his political
opponents to praise
his achievement.

Netanyahu has managed to pull all this off while being able to argue that annexation
was still “on the table,” placating
his supporters among the settlers.

The agreement may yet set the stage for him to win a winter election he is
widely reported to be preparing for.

No price to pay

The abandonment of annexation, temporarily or otherwise, will not, of course,
interrupt Israel’s continuing capture of ever more Palestinian land in the occupied
West Bank, nor its relentless campaign of ethnic cleansing.

Netanyahu has demonstrated to Israelis that he was right. Israel could violate
international law, steal land, commit war crimes – and western and Arab
states would stomach it all. Israel would have to pay no price for its behavior.

Haaretz recalled on Friday that, when asked in 2018 whether concessions
to Palestinians initiated in the Oslo Accords had gradually led to improvements
in relations with the Arab world, Netanyahu responded
that it was the “exact opposite”.

By first recruiting the West and Arab regimes to Israel’s side, he said, Israel
would “become so strong” that it would force Palestinians to “understand that
they have no choice but to compromise with us” – his term for absolute submission.

For Netanyahu, a strategic alliance with the Gulf – at the expense of Palestinians – has always been about more than just grabbing the occupied territories. It
is central to his vision of an unreformed, maximalist, ethnic supremacist, Israeli
state secure in the Middle East, serving as a regional hegemon alongside US
global power.

Now, with this deal, Netanyahu believes he is in sight of the finishing line.

Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His
latest books are
Israel and the Clash of Civilizations: Iraq, Iran and the
Plan to Remake the Middle East (Pluto Press) and Disappearing Palestine:
Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair (Zed Books). His website is
This originally appeared in the
East Eye

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