Millennium Post

Back to the drawing board

Back to the drawing board

With growing indications that Saudi Arabia may also be considering a normalisation of its relations with Israel in the not so distant future, Palestine is now at the risk of being completely alienated in a region where Israel is no longer the issue but rather a part of the proposed method of controlling Iran, a common regional concern.

Last week, in a video conference with the foreign ministers of the Arab Gulf nations, Palestine gained the renewed support of Saudi Arabia for Palestinian statehood. At the same time, it failed in its attempts to get the Arab League members to not only denounce the UAE-Israel deal but also get the League to condemn the nations trying to approach normalisation with Israel. In fact, the Saudi side was careful in offering its support but also at the same time not making any explicit judgement regarding the deal. As is normally the case with international politics, silence in such matters speaks more loudly than any words could.

In another recent related event, a leading Saudi cleric called for Muslims to avoid "passionate emotions and fiery enthusiasm" towards Jews. A remarkable shift in tone considering the skewed anti-Israel rhetoric that plays a large part in the public sphere in the Arab League countries. In the past, such statements that may even indirectly be read as support of Israel were not likely to see the light of day. Now, with such views being openly expressed from the side of the conservative religious establishment of the nation, it is not hard to see that Saudi Arabia is exercising extreme caution and discipline in maintaining a comfortable distance from the whole affair. While their support of Palestine may continue, it also unlikely that Saudi Arabia will continue its antagonism towards Israel, instead, taking a wait and watch approach. The normalisation process of Bahrain and UAE will allow Saudi Arabia to safely test public opinion in not just their own nation but the rest of the Arab world as well. Other, more subtle signs exist as well that Saudi Arabia may be preparing for an eventual normalisation of its own. In April during the Ramadan period, state-controlled MBC television aired 'Umm Haroun', a drama that focuses on the trials of a Jewish midwife in an unspecified Gulf state with a multicultural community. Palestine heavily criticised the show, saying that it portrayed the Jews in an overly-sympathetic light. In Saudi Arabia, however, MBC reported that the show was the top-rated Gulf drama during the Ramadan period.

Needless to say, America will be all too willing to continue acting as a bridge between its Arab allies and Israel. Not only would it suit the campaign promises of the current administration but would also have long term benefits for US interests in a region where previously a well-tuned balancing act was the name of the game to avoid raking over old regional tensions.

All in all, MBS may be seeking an opportunity to draw Israel into a business and strategic relationship with Saudi Arabia, though it is unlikely to be a formalised and openly visible affair for the near future. As commentators have pointed out, Saudi Arabia's unique position as the religious head of the Muslim world means that it cannot always directly chase its interests as a nation and must instead consider the implications for its control of Mecca and Medina, control that is hotly contested by its rivals. All the same, regardless of how and when normalisation comes, it is clear that Palestine only stands to further lose what limited diplomatic ground it holds over the issue. The Palestinian leadership is already facing heavy criticism within and outside the nation for what is an increasingly isolated hold-out against Israel. Critics are now saying whatever limited readjustment that the Palestine leadership may attempt at this stage will be too little, too late. The truth of the matter is that the Palestine position was already facing critical structural damage by the time UAE broke ranks and attempted normalisation. Now, the unstated acknowledgement that there are bigger regional concerns to address has become more obvious. International support, at least in the form that is desired, is also unlikely. While Europe has taken a decidedly dim view of the aggressive Israeli settlement of the area, it is unlikely that Europe will offer even a single word of criticism regarding the normalisation deal. Naturally, this does not mean that Palestine should give up its position though this is precisely what the US wants. The answer instead may lie in reframing their opposition to Israel in a way that takes cognisance of the fact the other Arab nations will likely wish to include Israel in any containment plan regarding Iran. Instead of threatening to "rethink relations with the Arab League", the Palestinian leadership should draw focus on the fact that Israel has, in fact, not actually agreed to stop its aggressive resettlement campaign.

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