As the El Al flight 971 touched down in Abu Dhabi, a number of people looking at the aircraft wondered about the significance of the message it carried. The number for what both sides claimed to be Israel’s first-ever commercial flight to the UAE was the dialing code for the Emirates, with the return flight to be 972 — Israel’s dialing code. More significantly, the aircraft’s name, clearly written on the cheek of its front fuselage, Kiryat Gat, is that of a Palestinian village, Iraq al-Manshiyya, whose population was forcibly removed by the Israeli Defense Forces in 1948 and ultimately annexed to become the Israeli city of Kiryat Gat.
The symbolism was unmistakable. UAE’s military strongman, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, had earlier tweeted that his decision to “normalize” relations with Israel was part of a deal that will stop the annexation of the West Bank. Immediately, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded by contradicting Bin Zayed, stating that his decision was only a temporary suspension, requested by President Donald Trump, an indication that even the suspension itself was not influenced by Bin Zayed.
Annexation or No Annexation, Little Will Change in Israel-GCC Relations
The deal with Bin Zayed, Netanyahu affirmed, was “peace for peace.” Nothing more. The aircraft’s name was a confirmation that even as the flight carried the Arabic, English and Hebrew words for peace, it was not intended to revoke Israel’s annexation program. Ultimately, like Kiryat Gat before, the West Bank will also be annexed.
How Normal Is Normal?
It is the sovereign right of every country to define its relations with any other party. What Bin Zayed has done is revoke the promises made to the Palestinians by the UAE and other Arab nations, including the current undertaking, first declared in the Arab summit conference in Beirut in 2002 and reaffirmed as recently as 2017. Known as the Arab Peace Initiative, it offered normalization, but only if certain conditions were met. The UAE is a signatory to the original and subsequent declarations, including the 2017 document.
This and similar earlier declarations over the years by Arab governments had prevented Palestinians from seeking their own methods for liberating their lands. Negotiations, mainly controlled by Arab governments guided by their own political and economic agendas, had monopolized the Palestinian struggle for the past seven decades. In the process, Israel had become more powerful, imposing an increasing fait accompli by creating more settlements, while Palestinians still remain scattered in refugee camps, generation after generation, in hope that Arab governments will ultimately help them regain their rights. With Mohammed bin Zayed deciding to normalize relations with Tel Aviv, the question that springs to mind is how normal can relations be when one party to that normalization refuses to abide by normal behavior and in fact continues to evict, imprison, confiscate land, bulldoze houses and create more forced realities on the ground that deny the Palestinians some of the most basic human rights?
Under what definition can a relationship between Israel and the UAE be termed “normal,” especially given Abu Dhabi’s repeated commitments to the Palestinians under the Arab League Charter and Arab summit conferences? By this normalization, Bin Zayed has unconditionally opened to Israel doors that were promised only as part of a comprehensive settlement for the Palestinians. This is not normalization. This is a sellout and betrayal of Palestinians who were denied — through Arab compromises and declarations — to seek their own route and method to a solution.
The UAE’s abrogation of its commitments is not the first one we see. The US has abrogated its commitments under several international agreements. And the Palestinians themselves have been on the receiving end of numerous Israeli violations of their treaty commitments toward Palestinians, including many UN resolutions that obligate Israel, as a UN member, to obey. But the UAE used a pretext that the Palestinians find insulting — the claim that this normalization is part of a deal that will stop annexation of the West Bank. This claim is not only a foolhardy lie, as Netanyahu’s immediate denial shows, but also demonstrates political immaturity and lack of understanding about the 72-year Palestinian struggle.
The Palestinian fight has never been about stopping or suspending Israel’s West Bank annexation but about the entire history of Palestinian rights that are being systematically eradicated while Arab governments continue to hijack their cause. If indeed Bin Zayed is correct that such an understanding exists, then Netanyahu’s turnaround will probably be just the first, but certainly not the last, that the UAE will experience in its dealings with Israel. The well-known Palestinian politician, Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, told RT: “The UAE will experience what we have seen many times over the years. Israel doesn’t respect any treaties, any covenants, any promises it makes.”
Of Dying and Forgetting
Referring to Palestinians in the diaspora, Ben Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, had said, “The old will die. The young will forget.” More than 70 years after the creation of the state of Israel and the forced eviction of Palestinians, many of them hold the keys to their homes which are passed over to their children. Every year as Israel celebrates another anniversary of its creation, Palestinians mourn another anniversary of the Nakba — the Catastrophe — that descended upon them. The old have died, and the young refuse to forget.
Khalid al-Sheikh Ali, a Palestinian living under Israeli occupation in Al Shaafath refugee camp, told Al Jazeera: “We live here in prison. We live in a camp while we have a plot of land inside Palestine — it is empty. You want me to be an intellectual human being, a well-informed human being, a non-violent human being and so on. But I am not living like a human being here. You go out, you see the army, the overrunning drains, the piling garbage, the humidity that is eating into us and our dwellings, the dirty drinking water. The most painful thing we suffer, everyday, is to try to go outside the barriers.”
This misery is being inflicted upon Palestinians to force them to abandon their homeland, throw away their keys, forget and escape. Instead, they endure, passing the barbed-wire barriers that separate them from their homes the keys to which they still hold on to, sure that they will return. Indeed, given the never-ending misery Palestinians inside and outside Palestine suffer, it is impossible to imagine Ben Gurion or any of his successors ever realizing their dream. Enduring pain has its own way of sustaining memories.
In an act that again demonstrated the inability of Arab rulers to resolve Arab problems, Iran and Turkey — repeatedly accused of interfering in Arab affairs — have been vindicated by Bin Zayed. Arabs, especially Palestinians, indeed need to look to regional solutions instead of Arab solutions. Clearly, Arab rulers have decided that self-preservation takes precedence over national preservation. The deal with Israel, supported by the US, aims at enabling Netanyahu and Trump to win elections with the quid pro quo of helping Mohammed bin Zayed push back the growing internal opposition to his rule. The security agenda in this deal unmistakably stands out by the deafening silence of the dealmakers on the subject. Going forward, this deal will result in more draconian methods to silence the growing opposition.
Following the arrival of flight Kiryat Gat in the UAE, two explosions erupted almost simultaneously, one in Abu Dhabi, on a road leading to the airport, and another in Dubai. The government claimed gas leaks to be the cause for both. The coincidence and the timing are an uncanny precedence, in a country where such incidents are unheard of.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.