The Normalisation Drive

Why are Gulf governments increasingly flaunting their ties with Israel?

By Abdel Bari Atwan

Three painful normalisation blows were dealt in as many days to what remains of the Arab states’ self-respect. The first was the participation of an Israeli delegation at a sports tournament in Qatar. The second was the despatch of another sporting delegation to the emirate of Abu Dhabi led by Israel’s notoriously racist and Arab-hating minister of culture Miri Regev. But the biggest and most painful blow was the official visit by the occupation state’s prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, to Oman, where he and the delegation accompanying him were accorded a warm welcome and a meeting with Sultan Qaboos.

This is a coordinated normalisation drive being carried out under pressure from the United States. It has nothing whatsoever to do with Palestinian-Israeli peace, and everything to do with achieving ‘cost-free’ peace between Israel and Arab governments. This is a prelude to imposing the remaining tenets of the ‘Deal of the Century’, which amounts to exploiting the collapse of the official Arab order to liquidate the Palestinian cause, end the Arab-Israeli conflict and recognise Israel as a ‘sisterly’ Middle Eastern state.

It is the latest, and perhaps most important, episode in a planned process, which explains the reasons that led to the destruction of Iraq, then Syria, then Libya and later Yemen, and to the crippling of Egypt. Without the destruction of these countries, under a variety of false pretexts, this plan could not be put into effect, and we would never have seen its painful consequences in the form of normalisation steps.

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When Qatar and Oman consented to the opening of Israeli trade offices in their capitals in 1996, and received Israeli officials such as Yitzhak Rabin (in Muscat in 1994) and Shimon Peres (in Muscat and Doha in 1996), they said this was aimed at encouraging the Palestinian-Israeli peace process and creating a climate conducive to negotiations. After all, the PLO had already signed the Oslo accords (in September 1993) followed by Jordan concluding the Wadi Arba treaty.

Ironically, Oman took a bold stance when it ordered the closure of the Israeli trade office in October 2000, i.e. 18 years ago. A statement issued by the Omani foreign ministry at the time said the mission was closed down in line with Oman’s policy of “supporting the Palestinian cause… and upholding the firm and legitimate rights of the Palestinian people”. The statement added that the country “remains committed to a just and lasting peace, but on criteria that champion the oppressed, safeguard the holy places, and restore the rights of those who are due them.” The question, therefore, is what has changed now?

Both Oman and Qatar shut down the trade offices in protest at Israel’s invasion the area that were supposed to be under the control of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and at the brutal shedding of Palestinian blood by the Israeli security forces. The current Gulf normalisation drive comes at a time when the Israeli forces are engaged in the same kind of murderous behaviour. On the day that Netanyahu, his wife and the head of the Mossad arrived in Muscat, six defenceless Palestinians were killed in the Gaza Strip, where two million fellow Arabs and Muslims are besieged and face the spectre of mass hunger and disease.

There is no peace process that the three states – Oman the UAE and Qatar – can claim to be supporting by receiving Israeli delegations. And the Israeli government has shown no regard for the criteria which these three governments insisted that they uphold: in terms of championing the oppressed, safeguarding the holy places and restoring due rights. Israel has judaised Jerusalem, with US President Donald Trump recognising as eternal capital of all the world’s Jews, and Jason Greenblatt is expected in the region next week to unveil the Deal of the Century. He will bring with him the coffin of the Palestinian cause and dig a grave to bury it in Ramallah by legitimizing colonization, enshrining ‘economic peace’ (financial bribes), and annulling the right of return once and or all.

Omani Foreign Minister Yousef Bin-Alawi said candidly on Friday that Netanyahu’s visit, which was preceded by one from PA President Mahmoud Abbas, was made in a “bilateral context” at his request. “We are not mediators,” he added, “the US role is the principal one, and Israel is a state in the Middle East region.” This suggests more than just a one-off visit. We cannot rule out Netanyahu returning to Muscat soon to open an Israeli embassy there, nor more embassies being opened in Doha, Manama and Abu Dhabi and perhaps Riyadh too. For the talk is of normal “bilateral relations”.

The Sultanate of Oman earned the admiration of millions of Arabs, ourselves included, by keeping out of many of the wars in and destructive schemes for the region, especially the wars in Yemen and Syria and prior to that Iraq. It also made sure to maintain a balanced relationship with Iran and refused to be extorted and dragged into American confrontation plans against Tehran. It is hard to understand what prompted Oman’s leadership to squander this huge asset of admiration and respect by hosting a war criminal like Netanyahu, and at a time when Palestine’s cause is being taken to the gallows and its people are facing siege and brutal murder.

We would have expected Netanyahu’s first visit to an Arab capita to be to Riyadh given the secret rapprochement between the two sides. But the shocking visit to Muscat is likely to be only a prelude to other, more open, visits, and to the opening of embassies, the exchanging of interests, and extensive security coordination – not least against the Palestinians and anyone who stands with them in the trench of resistance and upholds the values of justice and dignity. The process of normalisation is planned to start at the peripheries before moving into the heart of the region, hence the earlier focus on Mauritainia in the far west of the Arab world.

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We unreservedly condemn and reject all these forms of normalisation. But before blaming the normalisers, we should blame the PA, which preceded them and opened the doors wide to them. It must be made clear that this Authority does not represent the Palestinian people. Its policies of recognising and cooperating with the occupation do not have any popular support or approval.  The Palestinian people will never surrender, and they will never give up their rights, even if some of their Arab brethren do. And we are confident that the people of the Arab Gulf states will never accept this normalisation either and will resist it, as the people of Egypt did and do, along with those of all Arab countries.