How far will normalisation with Israel go?

Photo by Zoheir Aberkane

by Ameen Nemr

Morocco’s recognition of Israel is the latest in a flurry of deals ending the diplomatic boycott of Israel by Arab states. This trend has deep roots, argues Ameen Nemr despite its recent promotion by Trump and Netanyahu.

The announcement on 11 December that Morocco will open diplomatic relations with Israel brings the number of Arab states recognising the Zionist state this year to 4.

A flurry of activity around this issue over the last year has been hailed by Trump as a major breakthrough for US policy in the Middle East, which has long sought to end the diplomatic and economic isolation of its Israeli ally in the Middle East.

UAE became the first state in the Gulf to open diplomatic relations in August, and was quickly followed by Bahrain, then Sudan and Morocco. Oman, Qatar and Djibouti are expected to be next.

There is some speculation that Pakistan may also agree to normalise relations with Israel, under pressure from both the US and Saudi Arabia.

Although this current trend has hit the headlines, many Arab governments have long had ties with Israel. In 1996, the former Israeli president visited Doha and appeared on Aljazeera TV, in addition to the establishment of trade relations with Qatar during the same year.  

While Israeli PM Netanyahu celebrated the normalisation with Morocco as “historic”, the two governments enjoyed security and economic ties for 60 years before the announcement. The deal also came with a sweetener, US unilateral recognition of Morocco’s 50 year old illegal occupation of Western Sahara, which was announced by Trump on 11 December.

Saudi Arabia’s influence over the normalisation process has been crucial, despite the fact that historically Saudi Arabia’s religious institutions opposed such moves. But there is no resistance now in the path of the Saudi crown prince, Mohamed Bin Salman. He may, however, face some pressure from the incoming Biden administration over Saudi Arabia’s appalling human rights record. Cementing a new round of normalisation deals in the dying days of the Trump presidency will help bolster Saudi Arabia’s role in the security architecture of the region. Bin Salman is also driven by Saudi Arabia’s competition with Iran, which has already sparked or fuelled wars across the region.

The assassination of Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh on 30 November was blamed by Iranian officials on Israel. It is worth mentioning that the assasination happened after the secret meeting between the Saudi Crown Prince, MBS and the Israeli PM Netanyahu in NEOM, a city in North-West of Saudi Arabia.

While Netanyahu revealed the visit to support his re-election campaign, Saudi Arabia denied the visit. Later, the Saudi Prince, Turki Al Faisal, who has a long history of meeting Israeli officials which had already been seen as steps toward normalisation, criticized Israel. Some saw this as just a cover up for actual strong hidden ties.

In addition, normalisation between the UAE and Israel, will give the latter a direct platform to talk to Arabs about the Israeli narrative of the conflict and affairs in the region.

Terms like the ‘Peace of the brave’ which were used during the 1990s in the context of the push towards the Oslo peace process are once again being used to cover up the betrayal of the Palestinian cause.

*** This article is a reprint from Middle East Solidarity magazine issue 15. Download your pdf of the current issue here. Scroll down for previous issues. During the Covid-19 crisis we are suspending our print publications temporarily, but you can help support our work by making a donation for your copy below. Click to take out an annual solidarity subscription. ***

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