Israel-Arab normalization has not eliminated the resistance

Palestinians take control of an Israeli tank after crossing the boundary fence with Israel from the southern Khan Younis area of the Gaza Strip on 7 October.

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Palestinians were always understood to be the sacrificial lambs at the normalization feast between Israel and Arab states.

The Palestinian question had been the thorn in the side of Arab states that wished to forge economic, military and political alliances with Israel.

Some Arab states, in their effort to cloak their narrow self-interest, have attempted to mollify Palestinians by securing cosmetic “concessions” to them through those deals.

But Hamas’ surprise military operation against Israel on Saturday not only reshaped the strategic equation of military confrontation with Israel, but also sent a message to states that had chosen to normalize relations with the occupier.

This message was that any hopes of liquidating the Palestinian question through normalization agreements are entirely in vain.

The Palestinian resistance is immune to economic incentives, bribes or sporadic statements to keep the fragile lie of a two-state solution believable.

Palestinians want one thing and one thing only: liberation. No change in the overt alliance between Israel and any country in the region has been able to alter this fundamental truth.

There’s been no greater proof of that than the events of the past two days.

The first to normalize

The al-Aqsa Flood operation “is a message to the Arab and Islamic world and the international community, especially those seeking normalization, that the Palestinian issue is alive until liberation,” Hizballah, Lebanon’s de facto defense and deterrent force against repeated Israeli threats and aggressions, said on Saturday.

Israel and Hizballah reportedly exchanged fire on Sunday, stoking fears of a broader military confrontation.

Ismail Haniyeh, the head of Hamas’ politburo, similarly addressed the Arab normalizers in his speech on Saturday.

“I say to our brethren countries that this occupation will not be of benefit, and normalization will not be of benefit.”

There’s been no greater proof of that than in the Arab state that first normalized relations with Israel: Egypt.

Egypt formalized diplomatic relations with Israel in 1979, and the deal went into effect the following year.

Over the years, the country went on to become Israel’s partner in besieging Gaza. Israel controls every entry and exit point with Gaza, except for the Rafah crossing. That is controlled by Egypt, which uses it to tighten the noose around the coastal enclave’s neck. Even when Rafah is open, crossing can be difficult and dangerous.

In recent years, the US-backed, Israel-allied Egyptian military regime has taken extreme measures to reinforce Israel’s siege of Gaza, including the mass demolition of thousands of Egyptian family homes along the border.

But predictably none of that, more than four decades on from the treaty, was able to achieve a “warm peace” between Egyptians and Israelis.

Quite the contrary. On Sunday, an Egyptian policeman opened fire on Israeli tourists in the coastal city of Alexandria, killing two Israelis and one Egyptian national.

Sunday’s incident serves as an example of how the vast majority of Egyptian nationals still view Israel as a collective regional enemy.

On Saturday, the Egyptian foreign ministry warned against further escalation and called for “restraint” in a statement.

Egypt urged international efforts for urgent intervention to halt the escalation and ensure that Israel “ceases the attacks and provocative actions against the Palestinian people.”

Saudi wedding in jeopardy

So much for the first.

Saudi Arabia, which had been gearing up to become Israel’s newest bride, now finds itself facing a major obstacle.

On Saturday, Saudi Arabia called “for an immediate halt to the escalation between the two sides.”

The Gulf state said the escalation was the result of “the continued occupation, the deprivation of the Palestinian people of their legitimate rights, and the repetition of systematic provocations against its sanctities.”

The statement called for the activation of a “peace process that leads to the two-state solution.”

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman had presented the prospect of a normalization agreement with Israel under the guise of offering concessions for Palestinians, as he told Fox News in an exclusive television interview last month.

“Every day, we get closer,” MBS told the US broadcaster, but emphasized that “for us, the Palestinian issue is very important.”

He added that if a breakthrough in negotiations involves meeting Palestinians’ “needs” and fostering “calm” in the region, he is prepared to collaborate with whoever governs the apartheid state.

Now, not only does that appear implausible in light of a Palestinian uprising that is rewriting its own rulebook of engagement with the Israelis, but after Saturday’s events, it will be a tough task for the Biden administration to convince the Israelis to even pretend to want to offer crumbs to the Palestinians.

US officials are reportedly working to try to keep efforts at achieving normalization between Saudi Arabia and Israel alive.

“Look, who opposes normalization? Hamas, Hizballah, Iran. So it wouldn’t be a surprise that part of the motivation may have been to disrupt efforts to bring Saudi Arabia and Israel together,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken told CNN.

“It speaks to the fact that if we could achieve normalization, which is incredibly difficult,” Blinken added, “it would bring greater stability to the region.”

Blinken continued that “normalization cannot be a substitute for Israelis and Palestinians resolving their differences.”

Before the beginning of the military confrontation on Saturday, Israeli officials were already making no pretenses about their objectives in entering a deal with Saudi Arabia.

“We will not make any concessions to the Palestinians, it’s a fiction,” Israel’s ultra-far-right finance minister Bezalel Smotrich told Israeli army radio last month.

“Fiction” was right, and it debunked any assertion that these agreements benefit Palestinians.

But now the facade of concessions has been unmasked for the smokescreen it actually is.

The public relations messaging of the Abraham Accords has consistently centered on false claims of achieving something for Palestinian rights, when, in fact, the opposite is true. Palestinians always pay the price for such agreements.

Jordan’s King Abdullah expressed caution regarding any enthusiasm for a Saudi-Israeli deal when he spoke at the UN General Assembly last month.

“This belief, by some in the region, that you can parachute over Palestine, deal with the Arabs and work your way back – that does not work,” King Abdullah said.

“And even those countries that have Abraham Accords with Israel have difficulty moving publicly on those issues when Israelis and Palestinians are dying,” he added. “So unless we solve this problem, there will never be a true peace.”

Jordan is an integral component of US regional hegemony and shares Israel’s longest border. But ever since the Abraham Accords, the kingdom no longer enjoyed the distinction of being – along with Egypt – one of only two countries in the region to have diplomatic relations with Israel, diminishing its diplomatic status.

Whitewashing Israel’s responsibility

The United Arab Emirates, the initiator of those accords, whitewashed Israel’s responsibility and simply “expressed great concern regarding the escalation of violence between Israelis and Palestinians.”

The Gulf state didn’t address Israel’s actions at Palestinian holy sites, despite Hamas leaders citing these provocations at al-Aqsa as a cause for the surprise attack.

Similarly, Bahrain’s foreign ministry also issued a muted statement, downplaying Israel’s involvement and urging restraint.

Qatar, which has no diplomatic relations with Israel but often mediates ceasefires between it and Palestinian resistance fighters, minced less words in its takedown of Israel, saying that Israel’s provocations are what led to this escalation.

Qatar said it “holds Israel solely responsible for the ongoing escalation due to its ongoing violations of the rights of the Palestinian people.”

Qatar called on Israel to “stop its flagrant violations of international law, respect the resolutions of international legitimacy and the historical rights of the Palestinian people, and to prevent these events from being used as a pretext to ignite a new asymmetric war against Palestinian civilians in Gaza.”

The Gulf state’s statement similarly invoked the two-state solution without explicitly mentioning it, calling for the establishment of a Palestinian state on “the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital.”

Not-so-silent majority

Unlike the timid responses of most of their leaders, the majority of the Arab population clearly stands with the Palestinian people in their struggle for liberation from Israeli occupation and settler-colonialism.

Thousands of Yemenis gathered in the streets of their capital, Sanaa, to express their support for Palestinians.

Many came out in Bahrain’s capital, Manama, in support of Palestinians, despite their government’s relationship with Israel.

Demonstrators gathered in the vicinity of the Israeli embassy in Amman on Saturday to show solidarity with Palestinians and reject their country’s relations with Israel.
Others protested in Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon, Kuwait and Iran as well, underlining their support for Palestinians.


Tamara Nassar

Tamara Nassar is an assistant editor at The Electronic Intifada.