Arab states embrace Israel despite domestic resistance

The Palestinian call to boycott Israel is receiving growing support in the Gulf. 

Ryan Rodrick Beiler ActiveStills

Activists and political figures gathered in Kuwait City earlier this month for the first regional conference dedicated to combating normalization with Israel.

“The Zionist entity is taking advantage of regional circumstances and normalizing relations with some Arab Gulf countries. That is what necessitated holding this conference,” said Saad Akasheh, chairman of Kuwait Catalyst Company, in one of the opening speeches.

The conference was organized by BDS Gulf, a group that backs the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement for Palestinian rights, under the patronage of Marzouq al-Ghanim, the current speaker of the Kuwaiti parliament.

Participants focused on strategies to divest from firms complicit in Israel’s military occupation, such as security company G4S, technology giant Hewlett-Packard, French engineering multinational Alstom and South Korea’s Hyundai.

There were also calls for laws and regulations in Gulf countries to actively exclude corporations involved in Israeli crimes.

G4S has lost numerous contracts in Jordan and Lebanon as a result of activist campaigns.

It also took a big hit in Kuwait last year, where the country’s public pension and social security fund divested from G4S shares.

Omar Barghouti, one of the founders of the BDS movement, told participants in a recorded address that normalization is one of Israel’s strongest weapons to counteract the isolation it is experiencing because of boycotts.

Barghouti said that normalizing ties with Israel – which can include trade, cultural, sporting, political and military relations – is not only “a threat to the cause of Palestine, the central cause in the Arab region, but also to all the peoples of the region, as the Zionist colonial and racist project works against the region’s stability and prosperity.”

Video of the entire conference can be seen on YouTube.

Despite domestic resistance movements, Arab states’ relations with Israel have never been more overt.

Normalization in Jordan

In contrast to Kuwait’s anti-normalization conference, the invite-only World Science Forum, held at the Dead Sea in Jordan earlier this month under the patronage of King Abdullah, included 10 Israeli academics and scientists.

BDS Jordan relaunched the call for Jordanian academic and cultural boycott in light of the event.

Jordan signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994, but it remains deeply unpopular in a country with close historic and social ties to Palestine, and Jordanian society has generally resisted official efforts to promote relations with Israel.

“At a time when normalization conferences are bombarding Jordan and the Jordanians and exploiting Jordanians’ interest in scientific forums by receiving academics of the Zionist entity and imposing their presence in an attempt to force Jordanian individuals and institutions into normalization, there is a need for a movement of academics and intellectuals to address this massive wave of normalization,” BDS Jordan stated.

The group added that since its founding, Israel has “always expressed colonial ambitions on Jordanian territory and has occupied some of them and stolen their resources.” BDS Jordan also urged the Jordanian government to “boycott the Zionist entity academically, culturally and scientifically.”

Jordanian news website 7iber also denounced normalization at the conference.

Last summer, an Israeli security guard shot and killed two Jordanian nationals at a building used by the Israeli embassy in Amman. Amid a popular outcry that the gunman was spirited back to Israel where he was given a hero’s welcome, Jordan has since refused to reopen the embassy.

Israel has also threatened to withdraw from the Red Sea-Dead Sea Water Conveyance Project if the embassy does not reopen.

The Jordanian government said the project, which would generate hydroelectric power using a canal from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea, will continue regardless of Israeli participation.

Activists and environmentalists would see an Israeli withdrawal as a victory; the mega-project has long been criticized for potentially devastating ecological effects, as well as helping Israel to further dispossess Palestinians of their water resources.

Gulf “brotherhood” with the US and Israel

While Saudi Arabia has drawn ever closer to Israel out of a shared enmity towards Iran, their alliance has recently moved from the shadows into the open.

Muhammad bin Abdul Karim Issa, former Saudi justice minister and close ally of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, reportedly told Israeli media that violence against Israel is “un-Islamic” – in all its forms.

Israeli officials have also been welcome to speak to Saudi media as well.

In an unprecedented interview, Israeli military chief Gadi Eizenkot spoke to the Saudi newspaper Elaph.

He boasted about the two countries’ “many shared interests” and the readiness to share intelligence – likely a tacit admission that this has already been going on.

Eizenkot also bragged about the Israeli military, saying its status has never been better.

The United Arab Emirates is also taking steps towards a normalized relationship with Israel.

In an interview with the American news agency Defense & Aerospace Report, Abdullah al-Hashmi, an Emirati general, affirmed that Israel and his country do not pose any danger to one another.

“The UAE is a strategic partner of the United States. The UAE is not going to go and fight any of the United States allies, we’re going to fight in the same line and we’re going to defeat the same enemy,” the general said.

He also talked about the US as the “big brother” to the Emirates and Israel, acting as a broker between the two smaller siblings as the three allies jointly face off against Iran.

Earlier this year, the Israeli air force, which has killed and injured thousands of Palestinian and Lebanese civilians, and the United Arab Emirates air force, which has done the same in Yemen, participated in joint military exercises.




I’d say this article is timely but it’s not. This budding alliance has been out in the open ever since the Saudi, Egyptian and Emirati dictatorships used the GCC to pressure Quatar to cut ties with Iran and Hamas. Clearly this reveals the nexus between the Zionist oppression of Arabs within Israel and occupied Palestine, and monarchist oppression of Arabs throughout the Middle East.
I hope that EI and others will continue to shine a light on the disturbing ramifications of this anti-democratic trend. It will be interesting to see whether this malignancy seeps into the Pal reunification movement. I think it already has but what will be the result? An emphasis has to be put on the many human rights abuses of the GCC powers and the absence of them in the conduct of Iran and Qatar, the most progressive member of the GCC.


Economic relations between the Arab/Muslim world have been an open secret since 1948. Even after the 1979 Iranian Revolution, there was oil exported to Israel from the Iranians for a number of years.

I give up on boycotting Israel. It's pointless. And it never helped a single Palestinian.


I miss a lot, so I would be very grateful if you’d please explain how your closing statement isn’t a non sequitur.
If you’re frustrated that Middle East nations support the occupation of Palestine through economic ties with the occupier, why be against a movement whose goal is to strike a blow at the most egregious manifestation of that corruption; the economic exploitation of Palestinians and Palestine?
Leaving aside the fact that any and every means was employed to establish Israel and US, including terrorism, Palestinians must rise above that or even any armed struggle at all. They mustn’t build tunnels to supply themselves with what Israel denies them, they can’t avail themselves of legal redress or even seek to be recognized as what international law demands they should be, a free people.
And you agree with Israel that they shouldn’t find allies in a democratic struggle against forces that are clearly wrong by every measure. What form of resistance do you recommend at this point? Because it seems to me the only thing left is none at all.
If every act of civil disobedience was dismissed because it could be labeled Quixotic, then we would still have slavery and indentured servitude in an empire for rich, white men only.
Boycotting Israel, like everything short of justice, hasn’t helped a single Palestinian because it hasn’t ended the occupation – yet. The boycott has to continue to grow, whether it is the proverbial straw or not is immaterial. It’s the right thing to do and we have to do the right thing or we’re doing the wrong thing.

Tamara Nassar

Tamara Nassar is an assistant editor at The Electronic Intifada.