Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 163, 16 September 2020

The Middle East: Another Arab State follows the UAE, as Bahrain normalizes its relationship with Isr
Lakshmi V Menon

In the news
On 11 September, the US President Donald Trump sharing a joint statement announced the decision of the Bahrain-Israel normalization on Twitter. "It's unthinkable that this could happen and so fast," he wrote. Sharing the joint statement of the United States, the Kingdom of Bahrain and the State of Israel on his Twitter handle, Trump called it a historical day and said other countries would follow suit. The US-brokered deal is said to be concluded on 15 September 2020. 

Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority recalled their Bahrain envoy and denounced the deal as "another treacherous stab to the Palestinian cause." Bahrain's opposition has rejected the deal.

Iran and Turkey have condemned the development. However, Egypt appreciated the "important step" while Jordan called for necessary steps from Israel for ensuring a comprehensive and fair regional peace, and the United Arab Emirates and Oman welcomed the initiative.

Issues at large
First, the US efforts are gaining success. The Donald Trump-Jared Kushner "deal of the century" is working. Since the beginning of Trump's term, various Arab states have been warming up to the state of Israel. Making the world call the Bahrani and Emirati normalizations as no surprise.

Second, the willingness of the Arab countries to go along with the US plan. This highlights the readiness of these Arab countries to work towards a deal that derails the earlier Arab League Peace initiative, 2002 which centres on the Palestinian cause. Perhaps the Arab countries were awaiting such a push from the United States.

Third, the growing irrelevance of Palestinian statehood. The joint statement merely makes a passing mention of the Palestinians, leaving the Palestinian grievances unaddressed. According to the statement the three countries will work “to achieve a just, comprehensive, and enduring resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to enable the Palestinian people to realise their full potential”. The end of the traditional collective regional understanding for peace which prioritised Palestinian statehood.

Fourth, the angle of common geopolitical interests. The Bahraini normalisation is a piece in the larger puzzle of attempts to single out the regional rivals – Turkey and Iran. It sits well with US’ ‘isolationist Iran policy’ and Riyadh and Abu Dhabi’s multi-pronged efforts against the theocratic country.

In perspective
The recent development reflects the weakening of the Pan-Arab position that calls for Israeli withdrawal and Palestinian statehood in exchange for normalization of ties between Israel and the Arab states. 

Does Bahrain's decision reflect Saudi acquiescence? Saudi Arabia, the bastion of the two holiest sites of the Muslim world – Mecca and Madina, cannot openly follow UAE's path due to internal and external constraints.  Soon, more Arab states may follow suit, perhaps, starting with Oman, thus materializing a novel Arab-Israeli peace. One that is devoid of Palestinian statehood.

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