How the Israel-UAE Pact Undermines International Law

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How the Israel-UAE Pact Undermines International Law—An Analysis (22 August 2020) by Lawrence Davidson

Part I—“Normalizing” Relations

Much of the diplomatic world has gone gaga over the 13 August 2020 “normalization” of relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE)—facilitated by years of encouragement coming out of Washington. 

In truth this is but a quasi-new relation, because “Israel and the UAE have been cooperating and normalizing relations under the table for many years.” The UAE’s agreement to the public upgrading of this relationship was reportedly made in exchange for Prime Minister Netanyahu’s “suspension of plans to annex parts of the West Bank.” We can now update the old warning to beware of Greeks bearing gifts—beware of Zionists offering compromise.

Though the Israeli Prime Minister’s suspension of annexation is hailed as a major compromise on the part of Israel, it is more illusory than real. Both the Palestinians and Netanyahu himself pointed out that the suspension is not seen as a permanent one. The Palestinians and their supporters also quickly pointed out that this agreement changed nothing in terms of Israel’s illegal behavior on the ground—particularly the de facto annexation represented by the continuing encroachment of Israeli settlements. Under these circumstances, the agreement actually registers the UAE’s acceptance of this criminal state of affairs. The Palestinian spokesperson Hanan Ashrawi put it succinctly: “May you never be sold out by your ‘friends.’ Israel got rewarded for not declaring openly what it has been doing to Palestine illegally & persistently since the beginning of the occupation.”

Despite the fact that the change from informal relations to something more official and public meant little change on Israel’s part, the leaders of the Zionist state, the U.S., and the UAE were determined to present the event in a way that would convince both themselves and others that something momentous had been realized. 

The joint statement coming from the three governments celebrated a “historic diplomatic breakthrough.” Netanyahu asserted that the agreement marked “a new age in Israel’s relations with the Arab World.” He expected to see more Arab states follow the UAE’s lead. And, indeed, it looks like the disreputable dictatorship in Bahrain might be the next in line. 

President Trump framed the event this way, “By uniting two of America’s closest and most capable partners in the region” — something which his egocentric worldview drove him to insist only his administration could do—“this deal is a significant step towards building a more peaceful, secure, and prosperous Middle East.” Trump’s National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien expressed his opinion that the deal should “solidify a Nobel Peace Prize nomination for Trump.” That would, potentially, put Trump right up there with the ignominious Henry Kissinger.

The Democratic Party candidate for president, Joe Biden, immediately gave his approval. “The UAE’s offer to publicly recognize the State of Israel is a welcome, brave, and badly-needed act of statesmanship. … A Biden-Harris administration will seek to build on this progress, and will challenge all the nations of the region to keep pace.”

Others soon chimed in:

—Egyptian military dictator Abdel Fattah El-Sisi told us “This step will bring peace to the Middle East. We appreciate the efforts of those in charge of this agreement in order to achieve prosperity and stability for our region.”

Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas: Germany welcomed the “historic” deal between Israel and the United Arab Emirates. The normalization of ties between the two countries “is an important contribution to peace in the region.”

—United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson praised the agreement, saying “The UAE and Israel’s decision to normalize relations is hugely good news.”

Besides the Palestinians, there were only a few others who saw through the facade. Iran labeled the agreement as a betrayal of the Palestinian cause. “The oppressed people of Palestine and all the free nations of the world will never forgive the normalizing of relations with the criminal Israeli occupation regime.” Turkey’s reaction was similar: “Neither history nor the collective conscience of the region will ever forget and forgive the hypocritical behavior of the UAE, which is trying to depict the deal as a sacrifice for Palestine, when in reality it is a betrayal to the Palestinian cause for its own narrow interests.”

I think Iran and Turkey are correct in their reaction to what is certainly a betrayal. However, I am not sure of the “never forgive” part, keeping in mind the fact that collective memories have, historically, proved fickle. Nonetheless, if anything, these two critical countries did not go far enough in their condemnation. This is so because the Israel-UAE deal is a betrayal of more than the hopes for justice and a better future of oppressed peoples. This bilateral agreement, whether it spreads to the rest of the Arab world or not, is nothing less than the forsaking of the world’s prospects for more civilized and humane international relations.

Part II—The Deep Context 

It would appear that the vast majority of world leaders either know very little history or consider it, as Henry Ford did in 1916, as “bunk.” Yet, the Israel-UAE pact should be measured not only against the historical injustices to Palestinians which it reinforces, but also against the harm it does to a number of progressive historical achievements realized immediately following World War II.

After World War II a number of seminal reforms were undertaken. A revived United Nations was established, a Universal Declaration of Human Rights was inaugurated, international conventions outlawing genocide and crimes against humanity were signed. Eventually apartheid was outlawed and an international criminal court established. These steps, spurred on by the horrors of total war culminating in the Holocaust, represented great forward progress for mankind. They should have strengthened the provisions set forth in the pre-existing Geneva Conventions and acted to restrain aggressive nationalism. They should have acted to educate the masses against racist policies and assured accountability for those who would promote government-level criminal behavior. 

If all of these post-World War II reforms had actually been enforced, it would now be easier to exercise effective pressure to settle the differences between Israelis and Palestinians based on the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the provisions of the 4th Geneva Convention. International acceptance of the racist nature of Israeli society and the apartheid-style policies it pursues would be much less likely. Government leaders who promoted near-genocide in places like Myanmar and Sri Lanka would face a truly effective International Criminal Court. George Bush’s unjustified invasion of Iraq in 2003 would have had to be judged every bit as criminal as Saddam Hussein’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait. And the two men’s fates might have been the same. The world would have progressed both in terms of ethics and respect for laws forbidding crimes against humanity.  

The recent Israel-UAE deal is but another sign that these progressive reforms mean nothing. The Israelis can perhaps look forward to “normal” relations with ever greater number of Arab states. The reaction of Western countries to Israeli crimes will be to continue turning a blind eye. All the governments concerned will see the UAE’s behavior as a green light, and thus they too will acquiesce in the destruction of those progressive achievements outlined above.

Part III—Calling Going Backwards Something “New and Innovative”

Back in 2018 I attended a small conference put on by an organization named Middle East Dialogue. The stated aim of this meeting was to “promote dialogue about current policy concerns in the Middle East, and to provide a civil space for discussion across the religious and political spectrum.” The conference theme in 2018 was “A New Collective Vision.” 

While there I attended a presentation on “new and innovative” approaches to foreign policy in the Middle East. The presenters were extolling an environment of national self-reliance—the formation of policy based on assumed national interests without any “unreasonable” restrictions placed on policy by outside organizations. This was, of course, a version of the traditional “realist” approach to foreign policy that conservatives support. However, here the approach was being presented as something new. And, surprise, surprise, the presenters were claiming that Israel was leading the way into this new and bright future.

Come the Q and A session, it took me about 45 seconds to destroy the presenters’ premise. And, if I do say so myself, I did it politely. Their only reply was that my rebuttal was not how they saw things—implying that mine was but another opinion. The presenters were wrong. What I laid out was a short version of the above, based on evidence of the potential progress they sought to destroy. As good Zionists they probably knew that it was only based on the destruction of agreements like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 4th Geneva Convention, that today’s Israel could be accepted as a “normal” state. The United States has long bought into this Faustian restructuring of international relations. Now the UAE leaders can regard themselves as fully part of this ruinous bargain. 

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