On the morning of Thursday, August 13, Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed al-Nahyan (commonly known as MBZ), crown prince of the United Arab Emirates, tweeted an official declaration of a normalization agreement with Israel. The majority of Palestinians on social media were enraged by this news. Adding salt to injury, MBZ framed his announcement as a favor to Palestinians by associating it with an agreement to “stop further Israeli annexation of Palestinian territories”—a claim refuted the following day by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Many Arab governments have long conducted secret relations with Israel and are expected to follow in the UAE’s footsteps, including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, Sudan, Oman and Morocco. This contradicts the Arab Peace Initiative launched in 2002, which was signed by the Arab League and endorsed multiple times, the last time in 2017. The initiative mandated that official recognition of Israel by Arab states only take place after Israeli withdrawal from occupied Arab land, including the Palestinian territories. The initiative defined the latter as bounded by the borders stipulated in the agreement reached after the 1967 six-day war, with East Jerusalem as the capital and a “just settlement” of the status of refugees.
Normalization with Israel refers to any activity or communication with an Israeli individual, organization or government entity that does not recognize the full rights of Palestinians to freedom, justice and equality. Through the call for boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) targeting enterprises doing business with or within Israel, we Palestinians ask people around the world, especially in the Arab region, to demonstrate their solidarity with our cause by avoiding and speaking out against normalization.
As an authoritarian dictatorship, the UAE government does not tolerate dissent or criticism from anyone living within its borders, citizen or not. Thus, its residents cannot challenge its decision to whitewash ongoing Israeli crimes against the Palestinian people, from the blockade of Gaza to extrajudicial murder. (Case in point: Ahmed Erekat was shot and killed June 23 by Israeli security forces on his way to pick up his mother and sister for her wedding later that day. His body has not yet been returned.)
We refuse normalization with Israel because it greenlights the status quo, reinforces Israel’s impunity and lack of accountability, and demonstrates that it is okay to murder, occupy, demolish and steal. We refuse normalization because it is not normal to collaborate with murderers and thieves, and it is not okay to support those who exploit a global crisis like COVID-19 to steal more land from Palestinians and double down on home demolitions in Jerusalem. It is not okay to shake a hand soaked with Palestinian blood. It is not okay to buy weapons and military equipment from a state that uses humans in Gaza as a lab rat to stamp “field-tested” on its military exports.
The UAE is not the only, or the first, Arab dictatorship to open its arms to Israel without achieving real gains for the Palestinian cause. Egypt signed the Camp David peace treaty with Israel in 1979, six years after its 1973 defeat in the Sinai Peninsula. Jordan signed the Wadi Araba peace treaty with Israel in 1994. The “Abraham Accords” between Israel and the UAE, however, contains no terms that benefit the people of the UAE or the Palestinians, at least none that are more than words on paper. In its announcement of its deal with Israel, the UAE government said, “Israel will suspend declaring sovereignty over areas outlined in the President’s Vision for Peace and focus its efforts now on expanding ties with other countries in the Arab and Muslim World.” However, Benjamin Netanyahu held a press conference shortly after, saying, “I will not remove sovereignty [over the West Bank” from the table. There is no change in our plan to extend sovereignty to Judea and Samaria… It is not off the table as far as I am concerned.”
School teacher and political commentator Dr. Taysir Abdalla wrote on Facebook: “For the second night since the UAE’s announcement of the agreement with the occupation. The occupation continues to bomb us by jet fighters.” Then wonders “Have you signed a peace treaty, or agree to bomb us every night?”
Prominent youth activist Hasan Aldawoudi satirically commented on the agreement “After years of bloody wars between the two sides, the UAE and Israel sign an historical peace treaty today. The last battle between them resulted in 30 thousand humans falling down from laughter.”
We often hear the advice “choose your friends wisely” from our elders and role models. It does not only apply to individuals. Since unofficial relations between Israel and the UAE started around 2011 in the wake of the “Arab Spring” revolutions, the UAE has taken the side of every oppressor in the region with funds and military support. The UAE currently leads an ongoing front with Saudi Arabia against the people of Yemen, causing massive deaths and displacement. It also supported the NATO bombing of Libya, fueling a civil war that still persists to this day. The UAE reportedly attempted to play proxy in a coup to topple the Tunisian elected government. On many other occasions, the UAE has sabotaged democracy and freedom in the Arab region.
It is not a coincidence that the UAE only became involved in such activities when it associated itself with Israel. The same could be said about Saudi Arabia and its crackdown on dissidents, which climaxed when a Saudi journalist was gruesomely murdered in 2018 after entering the country’s consulate in Istanbul. When you associate yourself with criminals, you will become a carbon copy of them sooner or later.
Peace does not come through accepting the status quo or settling for half-solutions. It is true that no peace can ever come without compromise from both parties, but justice must always be served to ensure the sustainability and authenticity of peace.