Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa

Stumbling Normalisation Train: The US Intervenes

Normalisation, as some see it, is an attempt to radically, comprehensively, and systematically expunge the Arabs and their history, culture, moral and religious values, resistance, and national character.

Normalisation Train
The flags of US, Israel, United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain are projected on the ramparts of Jerusalem’s Old City on September 15, 2020 in a show of support for Israeli normalisation deals with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. Menahem KAHANA / AFP

Khaled Mahmoud

As the Arab-Israeli normalisation train stumbles again and is about to derail, Washington intervenes again to put it back on its predetermined tracks.

Netanyahu’s return to power in Tel Aviv caused a gap in Arab countries between the official and popular positions on normalisation with Israel. Naturally, the new Israeli government and its practices will further jeopardise the suspended peace process between Israel and occupied Palestine. Additionally, the Israeli government’s extremism diminishes the odds of more Arab countries getting aboard the peace train.

Expanding the Circle

During the first meeting of the 37th Israeli government, Netanyahu states his fourth objective is to “dramatically expand the circle of peace.” Indicating his desire to advance with the Arab-Israeli normalisation process.

Netanyahu, who recently formed his sixth government, believes that his objective is “within reach” as if the issue is practically settled. In his recent video conference with the AIPAC leaders and activists, Netanyahu expressed his optimism: “Arab leaders have changed their views regarding Israel and now see us as partners, not enemies.”

Some believe Netanyahu is keen on mediating for Arab leaders to improve their ties with the United States in return for further normalisation. The most important question now revolves around his capacity to appease the United States, especially since Biden’s administration has considered Netanyahu uncooperative regarding the Palestinian issue.

However, after returning to the government, Netanyahu is looking towards Saudi Arabia again. In an interview with the Saudi al-Arabiya channel, he said that peace with Riyadh “would serve two purposes: It will be a quantum leap for the overall peace between Israel and the Arab world, and it will change our region in ways that are unimaginable.”

Claiming that this normalisation “will facilitate peace between Palestine and Israel,” Netanyahu presented a clear vision that formalises relations with Arab countries that have not yet normalised as the path to peace in the region.

In contrast, a survey by the Washington Institute indicates that a minority of people viewed the Abraham Accords positively. Over two-thirds of citizens of Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE consider the Abraham Accords unfavourable.

Nevertheless, a US official believes that some of the steps Israel plans will determine the probability of adding new countries to the normalisation path.

In its efforts to support normalisation and to induce Netanyahu’s government to exercise restraint, Washington arranged a meeting between Israel and the normalising Arab states earlier this year.

According to a statement by Anthony Blinken, the US secretary of state, senior officials from the governments of Bahrain, Egypt, Israel, Morocco, the UAE and the United States discussed opportunities to “advance initiatives that encourage regional integration, cooperation and development, for the benefit of their populations and the wider region.” Blinken made his remarks during the inaugural meeting of the Negev Forum, which the UAE recently hosted.

The US claims that these initiatives “could strengthen the Palestinian economy and improve the quality of life of the Palestinian people.” Washington’s vision is based on the Negev Forum’s recognition of the potential to build cooperation networks to advance common interests, regional stability and prosperity in the Middle East.

According to the United States’ view, this would lead to “a negotiated resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict within the framework of efforts to achieve a just, lasting, and comprehensive peace.”

Such hopes and dreams are bound to hit an undeniable truth; Netanyahu is the head of the most radical rightwing government in the history of Israel. This government includes extremist figures who strongly support the expansion of settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories.

The World Cup

Two years after the Arab Gulf states established relations with Israel, Tel Aviv was able to sense antagonistic sentiments among the Arabs. Despite the official normalisation efforts with various Arab countries, Israel realised it was still far from welcome.

Contrary to the official Arab normalisation rush, according to surveys, reality seems to oppose the endeavours of governments. What happened during the recent World Cup in Qatar has unquestionably revealed challenges to the ambitions of what some analysts have described as “warm peace on a wider scale.”

Israeli journalists recounted their suffering during the FIFA World Cup. Their World Cup experience left some Israeli journalists with the impression that “hatred and resentment” are not only exclusive to the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories but rather to the existence of Israel itself.

In Qatar, Israel and its media re-discovered the Arabs and found they were still the odd ones out. The World Cup, for the first time, provided an opportunity for the public expression of the Arabs’ popular rejection of Israel.

The World Cup put the Israelis in front of a mirror. The narrative claiming that normalisation agreements had established a way to disengage the Arabs from Palestine and its cause, which had been marketed for two years, suddenly collapsed.

Israeli commentators criticised the failure to “properly promote the Zionist and Israeli narrative to the Arab popular sphere.” Others concluded that, despite everything, the Palestinian cause was still among the people’s priorities.

The Popular Bet

The “official Arab abandonment” of the Palestinian cause indicates that it is entirely up to the Palestinians and their will to resist. This abandonment also runs counter to the Arab peoples’ rejection of all forms of normalisation with Israel. Naturally, this difference will deepen the rift between the Arab populace and their ruling regimes.

The diplomatic campaign to stimulate new pro-normalisation figures from the Arab world targets countries that adopt pragmatic policies, not those that implement policies affected by public opinion.

Mostafa Kamel al-Said, a political science professor at Cairo University, believes that these normalisation steps result in rising tensions between Israel and the Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese. The continued tension wastes all agreements and decisions reached by the pro-normalisation Arab countries in support of the Palestinian cause. According to al-Said, “Israel insists on keeping Palestinian and Syrian lands under occupation and threatening both countries with its war machine.”

Some believe that the recent wave of Arab normalisation with Israel, which aligns with a comprehensive Arab collapse and unprecedented Palestinian frailty, aims beyond the Palestinian cause to draw a new map of influence in the region.

According to an analysis conducted by the Washington Institute, the current normalisation process conflicts with the growing lack of popular support for the Abraham Accords in the Gulf region.

The Gulf states assume that establishing ties with Israel will strengthen their security connections with the US and guarantee access to advanced military equipment and technology through a changed position in certain political and diplomatic US lobbies.

Contrarily, civil society circles in the Arab and Islamic world believe that failing to resolve the Palestinian issue constitutes a significant obstacle towards achieving peace and normalisation.

Peace efforts have failed to overcome decades of mistrust and violence between Israel, Palestinians and their Arab allies. Most Arab countries did not recognise Israel or establish formal diplomatic and economic relations with the country so as not to thwart the Palestinians’ aspirations of establishing their independent state.

A study concludes that normalisation poses a real threat to the fundamentals of the Arab-Islamic Ummah. Populations that reject and oppose normalisation cannot force their governments to abandon the normalisation process with Israel as these governments do not prioritise their citizens’ demands.

Although the normalising regimes believe that normalisation increases their security and improves relations with the United States, the relationship with Israel remains driven by the calculations of the regimes, not the people.

It is clear that normalisation had nothing to do with solving the Palestinian question and that whoever normalised relations with Israel did so for reasons entirely disconnected from achieving justice in Palestine.
Moreover, Israel mistook these normalisation waves for acceptance of its Zionism, racism and settlement policies.

Noting Israel’s exploitation of what can be described as Arab psychological turmoil and a crisis of self-confidence, Israel’s bet on normalisation without paying in return is concerning.

The UN’s hopes for new paths of cooperation to advance Israeli-Palestinian peace were crushed following the wave of normalisation that ignited nearly three years ago.

Normalisation, as some see it, is an attempt to radically, comprehensively, and systematically expunge the Arabs and their history, culture, moral and religious values, resistance, and national character.

It transforms these nations into an assortment of individuals unable to collectively respond to new socio-cultural-economic mechanisms. Normalisation means the imposition of the “Zionist” hegemony on Arabs, their declaration of civilisational defeat, national collapse and mass suicide.

However, a survey revealed that the overwhelming majority of Arabs (84 per cent) disapprove of the recognition of Israel by their home countries. The primary reason for this rejection is due to considerations related to Israel’s racism towards the Palestinians and its colonialist expansionist policies.

This negative attitude towards Israel should not come as a surprise. All Arab-Israeli treaties were concluded between Israel and the elite ruling classes, not the people who refuse to bargain or bow to blackmail and for whom the US administration has yet to determine an effective management strategy.

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