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Palestine slides down agenda as Gulf states inch closer to Israel

Even as the BDS movement has made significant progress in recent years, security and trade cooperation between Israel and Gulf states marks a normalizing of ties that threatens to push Palestine off the agenda.

By Mohamed Mohamed

A United Arab Emirates air force F-16 aircraft takes off for a training mission during Red Flag in Nevada, August 26, 2009. Both the UAE and Israel took part in the 2016 Red Flag joint military exercise. (Michael R. Holzwort, U.S. Air Force/CC 2.0)

A United Arab Emirates air force F-16 aircraft takes off for a training mission during Red Flag in Nevada, August 26, 2009. Both the UAE and Israel took part in the 2016 Red Flag joint military exercise. (Michael R. Holzwort, U.S. Air Force/CC 2.0)

After 69 years of occupation, oppression, and exile, the overall situation for Palestinians on the ground remains bleak, if not worse than before. On the other hand, the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement has made significant progress in recent years by encouraging economic, academic, and cultural boycotts of Israel. These high-profile BDS campaigns helped convince major international companies and investors to divest from the Israeli market.

But, as people from Europe all the way to New Zealand begin to disassociate themselves from Israel, Arab Gulf countries such as the United Arab Emirates (UAE) seem to be regressing in the opposite direction.

This week, the UAE participated in “Iniohos 2017,”a joint military exercise with the air forces of Greece, Italy, the United States, and Israel. This is not the first time that Emirati pilots have flown alongside Israelis. Last year, the UAE also participated in the “Red Flag” exercise in Nevada, and it is reportedly taking part this year too.

The UAE’s collaboration with Israel goes beyond these multiparty training exercises. In 2015, Israel established its first diplomatic mission in the UAE in order to represent itself at the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), which is based in Abu Dhabi. The UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs stressed that this office is strictly for IRENA related activities, and that its establishment does not represent a change in policy towards Israel, which the UAE refuses to recognize.

Considering that in 2009 Israel supported the UAE’s bid against Germany to become the headquarters of IRENA, it is quite clear that UAE policy has in fact shifted, albeit unofficially. It is extremely unlikely that Israel provided its backing without prior guarantees from the UAE.

Also, despite what the UAE claims, it is likely that this unconventional diplomatic mission will engage in activities unrelated to IRENA and will serve to narrow the gap in communication between the two countries. Given that Israel has engaged in extensive spying against its number one ally, it is safe to say that the Israeli mission in Abu Dhabi will not hesitate to provide at least some kind of support for Mossad agents plotting in the UAE.

Furthermore, trade between the two countries is an open secret. According to a 2012 report, the UAE’s Critical National Infrastructure Authority has made business deals with several Israeli firms. This includes an $800 million contract with AGT, which is a Swiss-based company owned by Israeli businessman Mati Kochavi.

This deal provided “Falcon Eye,” a comprehensive surveillance and security system to protect the UAE’s “strategic infrastructure and oil fields.” A Middle East Eye analysis of publicly available flight data revealed that a private jet is secretly flying between Tel Aviv and Abu Dhabi, with a brief stop in Amman. The company that operates the jet, PrivatAir, is based in Geneva, so it is possible that Mati Kochavi is the secret Israeli guest of the UAE.

These secret ties with Israel are believed to be cultivated with the help of Mohammed Dahlan, a former strongman of the Palestinian Authority living in exile in the UAE since 2011, currently acting as security adviser of the UAE’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed.

Fatah lawmaker Mohammed Dahlan speaks to the press, Ramallah, December 16, 2006. (Michal Fattal/Flash90)

Fatah lawmaker Mohammed Dahlan speaks to the press, Ramallah, December 16, 2006. (Michal Fattal/Flash90)

Dahlan is a shady figure in Palestinian politics accused by many of financial corruption and collaboration with Israel. Given that Avigdor Liberman prefers Dahlan as successor to Mahmoud Abbas, it seems quite likely that Dahlan is indeed the primary connection between the UAE and Israel.

So far, the UAE has engaged Israel quietly and under the table, with intermediaries and indirect transactions serving as cornerstones of the relationship. This gives the government a degree of plausible deniability to avoid facing serious criticism from the Emirati people, who are supportive of the Palestinian cause.

At the same time, it seems as if the UAE is subtly signaling to its people and to the region that normalization of relations with Israel is coming and has already started. The fact that the Emirati flag appears on the Iniohos 2017 insignia along with the Israeli flag suggests that the UAE is not too concerned with the backlash of public opinion. Of course, it is helpful that these events are censored by the Gulf Arab media (at quick glance, Al Mayadeen and RT Arabic are the only major Arabic-language outlets that mentioned the military exercise).

In November, UAE President Khalifa bin Zayed stated that, “We in the UAE commit to continue our solidarity and our political and economic support to the Palestinian people, based on our belief in their just cause.” If this is true, then why does the UAE purchase Israeli security technologies, which have been developed and tested on the backs of the Palestinian people and are directly involved in their oppression? This is a far cry from the legacy of the UAE’s founder, Sheikh Zayed, who actively provided humanitarian, political, and moral support to Palestinians.

The UAE’s underhanded dealings with Israel, aided by Mohammed Dahlan and facilitated by countries like Jordan, provide a sobering and disappointing reminder that Palestinians are being betrayed by some of the people closest to them.

This article was originally published on Lobelog, and is reprinted here with permission.

Mohamed Mohamed is the Executive Director of The Jerusalem Fund and Palestine Center. He is a graduate of the University of Texas at Dallas, where he majored in Political Science and completed his senior thesis on statelessness and its practical implications on Palestinians living in the refugee camps of Lebanon.

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    COMMENTS

    1. i_like_ike52

      Maybe the Palestinians are being betrayed by their own people. Wouldn’t be the first time. However, they can count on Jewish Voice for Peace, at least part of J-Street and people here. Maybe they could put Peter Beinart, Brant Rosen, David Mivasair and Richard Silverstein in power. They spend their whole lives worrying about the Palestinians and would no doubt take care of any Palestinian who is not as committed as they are.

      Reply to Comment
    2. R5

      For all the Hamas fans – this show you that Iran’s strategy for destroying Israel depends not only on supporting militants, but also steamrolling the entire Arab world, which has prioritized containing Iran over the Palestinian cause. Unless Iran can effectively overthrow UAE, KSA etc., they will never reach Palestine, and will actually push these states closer to Israel the harder they try. Doesn’t seem like a viable approach to me, but hey you guys are fine with suicide terrorism so not setting the bar too high for geostrategic thinking.

      Reply to Comment
    3. JeffB

      @Mohamed Mohamed

      — On the other hand, the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement has made significant progress in recent years by encouraging economic, academic, and cultural boycotts of Israel. These high-profile BDS campaigns helped convince major international companies and investors to divest from the Israeli market. But, as people from Europe all the way to New Zealand begin to disassociate themselves from Israel,

      Not in meaningful numbers they haven’t. Israel’s foreign trade and cultural exchanges are growing fast. It is hard to think of any major international companies that say they comply with BDS and only a few that claim anything of the sort. The Arab boycott efforts of the 1950s and 1960s failed and at that point there was far more weight behind them while the Israeli market was worth little.

      — The UAE’s underhanded dealings with Israel, aided by Mohammed Dahlan and facilitated by countries like Jordan, provide a sobering and disappointing reminder that Palestinians are being betrayed by some of the people closest to them.

      The Arab peoples have endured several wars and lots of regional strife for the Palestinians. At a certain point it is just too much to ask for this to continue decade after decade after decade. I wish the Arab governments would just tell the Palestinians “your window of Arab support closes in 10 years, cut a deal by then or we fully normalize with Israel without a peace treaty with Palestine”. But like the ffall of opposition to Jewish immigration or the fall of a general inclusive boycott of all companies doing business in Israel or the adoption of a 2 state framework … this will gradually slide in as policy with denials every step and then just be policy.

      — This gives the government a degree of plausible deniability to avoid facing serious criticism from the Emirati people, who are supportive of the Palestinian cause.

      The Associated Press reported in 2015 that 53% of Saudis view Iran as Saudi Arabia’s primary adversary, compared to the 18% of Saudis who viewed Israel as Saudi Arabia’s biggest enemy. Of course they are supportive of the Palestinian cause. The question is whether they are supportive enough of the Palestinian cause to tolerate the damage to other objectives that are harmed by having a hostile relationship with Israel. “All other things being equal I want X”, is a much lower bar than “I want X enough to pay the cost”.

      ___

      BTW if any of the editors see this. The original article was: http://www.thejerusalemfund.org/16634/open-secrets-uaes-deals-israel not the link you have.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Mike

      Well obviously! This is called ‘the real world’ They realized the Palestinian situation will be only resolved by the Palestinians accepting coexistence. And that Iran and extreme Islam are threatsorders of magnitude higher.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Grandpa Frost

      @Mohamed Mohamed

      Stop whining, will ya? Clearly, your Sunni co-coreligionists are terrified of the Shias and are willing to deal with Israel whom they correctly perceive as a rational actor. And who could blame them? Everyone knows how Muslims treat their enemies. On the other hand, nobody really believes the fairy tales of Israeli atrocities. Naturally, the Sunni monarchies are acting in their rational self-interest.

      69 years of occupation? Obviously, the occupation is a myth, but you are quite clearly saying that Israel’s existence is occupation. Why is this allowed? Rather shameful.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Ben

      Mr. Mohamed sir you must be confused or gotten this wrong. There must be some mistake. As countless right wing supporters of the occupation have relentlessly assured us, “the Arabs” form a great seething mass of irrational foaming at the mouth Jew Haters, it’s what they live for, and they are united in this from one end of the continents to the other, and they’re, you know, Arabs, and so they don’t think rationally like Jews do and so it can’t possibly be that they could form constructive and lasting alliances with Israel based on rational considerations. So Israel naturally, you see, is just helpless, it could never form the same constructive relationship with the Palestinians and other Arabs over a fair two state solution based on self interest and rational rewards that you say they are forming with UAE. I mean you say that Israel managed very well when it wanted to forge all sorts of bonds with UAE and it’s not because UAE are a bunch of Zionists—Israel did this quite easily—but your information on this must be wrong because Israel professes total helplessness when it comes to forging similar deals with the Palestinians and their constructive Arab allies like the Saudis (of the “Saudi Peace Initiative” and “the Arab Peace Initiative”). So no, Mr. Mohamed sir, you just must have your facts wrong here, because everybody knows Israel can’t form such a mutual interest deal with the Palestinians, it would be just beyond their capacities, so unfortunately even though it just hates to do it, Israel has to keep building settlements for “security.” Poor Israel. Sigh.

      Reply to Comment
    7. i_like_ike52

      The Palestinian issue is the only thing that unites the Arab world. That is why the recent meeting of Arab leaders claimed the main problem in the Middle East is the Palestinian problem, which everyone can see is not true. The only reason they said that and ignored the elephant in the room which has good Muslims butchering each other in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Egypt, Lebanon, etc, etc is because it is the only thing they agree on. The problem is that in the past, they were able to unite for action against Israel, the simple fact that today ALL the groups killing each other DO agree on hatred of Israel, it is not enough to get them to lay down their arms.
      The simple fact of the matter is that in reality, few people around the world care about the Palestinians, the settlements and the such. Everyone agrees that the problem is insoluble, that there is no possibility of a compromise peace or effective military opposition, so, for most people, including the Arab world, simply tune out, outside of perfunctory statements bashing Israel or supporting the Palestinians.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        You see, Mr. Mohamed? FAKE NEWS! BAD! We are assured that “the Palestinian issue is the only thing that unites the Arab world.” So it just can’t be that Israel could have forged a constructive deal based on the self-interest of Arabs–with regard to either the Iranian issue or the Palestinian issue because it is just not possible–Jew Hatred just overwhelms them Arabs and then they can’t think straight. So I am convinced this UAE-Israel deal is FAKE NEWS! BAD! Meant to discredit our confident advisers on Arab culture and the need to build swimming pools in Ariel. Poor Israel. That plucky little underdog. Forced to build swimming pools against its will.

        Reply to Comment