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Analysis

With the Israel-UAE-Bahrain deals, ‘undeniable Palestinan truths’ no longer hold

Axioms the Palestinians imposed on the Arab world for decades — notably including the eschewing of all normalization with Israel — are crumbling before their horrified eyes

Avi Issacharoff

Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.

L-R: UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, Bahrain Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump talk at the ceremony for the signing of the Abraham Accords, at the White House in Washington, DC, September 15, 2020. (Avi Ohayon / GPO)
L-R: UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, Bahrain Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump talk at the ceremony for the signing of the Abraham Accords, at the White House in Washington, DC, September 15, 2020. (Avi Ohayon / GPO)

One of the first things that the historic agreements between Israel, the UAE, and Bahrain will do is bring the word tatbie, normalization, into fashion. In parallel it will marginalize the term edm al-tatbie, anti-normalization, the slogan used by generations of Arabs throughout the Middle East even after the signing of the peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan. It was invoked to denote that although a non-aggression treaty could be tolerated, tatbie could not.

As a result, trade unions in every Arab state took upon themselves limitations, prohibitions, and boycotts in everything to do with Israel that their governments had not already limited, prohibited or boycotted. Medical unions, lawyers, engineers, even journalists, all boycotted their Israeli counterparts. Even with Israel’s two full partners, there was peace on the top level – in the army and sometimes among the politicians – and non-peace on the ground among everyone who could or wanted to do business with the Israelis. A byproduct of the edm al-tatbie phenomenon was the BDS movement, which calls for complete boycotting of Israelis, including in academia and culture. All because of the Palestinians.

For decades, the Palestinians successfully imposed certain axioms on the Middle East that had almost the status of “undeniable truths,” and that held that Arab countries must not do business with Israel since the Palestinian issue was the foremost issue of all Arabs everywhere. As long as there was no solution for the Palestinians, no Arab country was “allowed” to do business with the Zionist enemy. Not only was this the foremost issue for any Arab, as far as the Palestinians were concerned this was the be-all and end-all issue for all Arab countries.

Moreover, the Palestinians – the PLO, Hamas, et al – succeeded in implanting another slogan in Arab consciousness: the Middle East refugee problem is the Palestinian refugee problem. These core refugees were followed by all sorts of other “hitchhikers” from Iraq, Syria, and so on.

Palestinians protest in Ramallah in the West Bank against Israeli normalization deals with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain on September 15, 2020, hours ahead of the deals signing ceremony at the White House. (JAAFAR ASHTIYEH / AFP)

These Palestinian successes have started to evaporate. Two Arab states have decided to ignore the Palestinians and establish diplomatic relations with Israel, and several more may soon follow. Each has its own reasons, but more or less the same problem – Iran, and the danger it poses to them.

This is not cold peace. The new ties provide for an opening of borders and collaborations in all fields, from business to culture to journalism. The message coming from the top, as well as from the ground, is that these Arab states want tatbie, normalization.

And if this is the sentiment coming from some Arab countries, how can those countries and agencies that continue to call for boycotting Israel justify themselves? The Palestinians’ own brothers are openly calling for full normalization, yet some Americans and Europeans, who have little to do with the Palestinian issue, are continuing to cry “boycott” on campus. This despite the fact that the PA and Hamas, too, maintain relations with Israel, mainly for economic reasons but also for security considerations.

Illustrative: Students protest at an anti-Israel demonstration at the University of California, Irvine. (Mark Boster/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images/JTA)

The hitherto “undeniable” axioms are crumbling before the astonished eyes of the Palestinians, the Israelis, and the watching world. The Palestinians are no longer the problem of all Arabs, and they are definitely not the most pressing issue in the Arab world. They have long since been shunted aside by the crisis in Sunni-Shia relations — i.e., the Iranian threat — and Tuesday’s festive ceremony in Washington, DC, was public confirmation of that.

Another slogan that has long since bitten the dust relates to the refugees. The Palestinian “refugee” population is no longer composed of actual refugees, but mainly of the third or even fourth generation descendants of those who lived in pre-state Israel. Some of these millions of refugee descendants are citizens of the countries in which they they live today, undermining the relentless efforts of the PA, the PLO, Fatah, and Hamas to assert the “right of return” for people who have no actual connection to Palestine. The current genuine burning refugee issue in the Middle East is the millions who fled Syria’s brutal civil war.

US President Donald Trump pictured with key participants from the US, Israel, Bahrain and the UAE in the Abraham Accords ceremony at the White House on September 15, 2020 (Avi Ohayon / GPO)

The UAE and Bahrain are the first tiles in a domino effect that might indeed see Oman, Morocco, Sudan and most significantly Saudi Arabia sign normalization accords with Israel. The cold relations, by contrast, are unlikely to warm in Egypt and Jordan. Don’t expect their journalist unions to embrace normalization, for the simple reason that public opinion in both countries is deeply hostile to Israel, largely as a result of years of anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish propaganda spread by the Muslim Brotherhood. This movement still holds much sway over public opinion in Jordan and Egypt despite the almost overt war waged against it by the two governments. In contrast, in the UAE and Bahrain, the Muslim Brotherhood has been outlawed for years. Its ability to impact public opinion and incite hatred through the mosques is extremely limited due to government supervision.

Today, though, the Muslim Brotherhood is not the most pressing security issue in the UAE and Bahrain.

Bahrain has a Shiite majority, and its leadership is concerned that Iran will attempt, in any way possible, to undermine its new accord and disrupt any and every cooperative step taken between Israel and Bahrain.

Bahraini protesters hold up placards reading, ‘Jerusalem is the rebels’ compass,’ in support of Palestinians and images of prominent jailed opposition leader Sheikh Ali Salman in Diraz, Bahrain, during a Jerusalem Day rally after Friday prayers, July 10, 2015 (AP Photo/Hasan Jamali)

Iran is actively involved within the UAE, and even more so in Bahrain – without government approval of course. An example is the “spontaneous” demonstrations in Bahrain during 2011’s Arab Spring that drove thousands out to the streets and that had Iranian fingerprints all over them. A wealth of Shiite propagandists from Iran made it their business to fan the flames in Bahrain against the monarchy, and managed to organize what seemed like the beginning of a revolution. This ended up being quashed by the Saudi monarchy, as Riyadh sent hundreds of armored vehicles and security personnel to crush the protests. Bahrain had appealed to the US for assistance, yet the Obama administration was so enamored of the Arab Spring that it refused to help, which now looks even more of a sad joke than it seemed at the time.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (via AP)

It can be safely assumed that Tehran will try to rekindle Bahraini public sentiment against the monarchy, and against normalization with Israel.

Alternatively, it may try to carry out a terrorist attack, along the lines of the plan it reportedly came up with to assassinate the US ambassador to South Africa.

Welcome to the new tatbie.

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