By Manikya Das and Rashtravardhan Kataria
The politics of the Middle-Eastern states have significantly evolved over the years. Over the past few decades, the universal definition of foreign policy to include a stronger focus on inter-state relations in the political, social and economic spheres, in addition to the traditional aspects such as strategic partnerships for war, maintenance of security along the border and peace keeping goals. For a better understanding of the political dynamic in the region, it is important to assess the situation through a holistic lens, taking into account the agendas of the middle eastern states, as well as the role of strong international powers such as the United States of America, and their influence on politics and governance of weaker nations. The Israel-Palestine conflict, although a regional political issue in the Middle-East, has garnered a large amount of attention from media across the world. This is primarily due to the impact this regional conflict has on the international political, social and economic spheres.
The Middle-Eastern region has had a long history of strained relations over various geopolitical issues like territorial claims, interpretations of Islam and aspirations for leadership of the Islamic world. Despite such sourness between them, Bahrain and UAE have recently signed Normalisation deals with Israel, brokered by the United States. After the failure of Trump’s Middle-East Peace Plan, one wonders what the aftermath of such a deal would be and most importantly, what does this mean for the Palestinian Cause.
Palestine has always been a complicated issue. One knows of the existence of the Palestinian cause but defining what exactly the cause is, is a hard task. The cause exists, but varies across different groups. For some, the cause is to create a sovereign state of its own even if that means a small state that is only a part of the entire Palestine, which in turn means fighting for the rights of a few Palestinians leaving several Palestinians behind in Israel. For others, the cause is to take back what they call their homeland, in all its entirety, meaning fighting for the rights of all Palestinians and basically turning all occupied territories occupied and present day Israel into a democracy with strong emphasis on the right to return.
The Israel-Palestine conflict revolves around the problem of who gets to take over the land which was occupied by Israel and how it shall be controlled. Both of them have staked a claim over the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, tracing it back to their ancient history, leaving the negotiations at a standstill.
The two solutions that had made the rounds in the negotiations to resolve this conflict were a “two-state solution” favoured by Palestine, and a “one state solution” favoured by Israel. A two state solution would mean that Palestine would take over the Gaza strip and most of the West bank, leaving everything else to Israel. The one state solution would entail the formation of one big state, which is either Israel or Palestine. Both sides have not managed to devise these negotiations for a long time.
In the midst of this conflict Palestine had received strong support in its cause from Iran. Iran had formally announced its support for the Palestinian cause, and had urged everyone to help stop Israel in its cause so as to restore the rights of all the Palestinians. The central motive for Iran’s support for the cause quite possibly is to further its anti-Israel agenda, which causes some concern for the Palestinians as this could mean that Iran is just using the cause as a Trojan horse in their fight against Israel and does not actually mean to do much for the Palestinians as long as their agenda comes through.
In the last decade or so, we have the Gulf Arab states had extended their support to Israel which showed their willingness for an alliance. The Israel-Arab deals made this a reality, removing the cloak of pretence that was their support for Palestine. The countries not only agreed to work against Iranian threats but to also work closely in business, investments and manufacturing.
Though, it is clear that the Arab states sympathise with the Palestinian people they refuse to cooperate with the Palestinian officials any longer and argue for new and better Palestinian leaders, while supporting Israel because of their antipathy towards Iran.
In January of 2020, The United States under the Trump government initiated a Middle-East peace plan, whose key aim was to resolve the conflict between Israel and Palestine through negotiations over the West Bank and Gaza strip. It was clear that Unites States was favouring Israel’s position over the West Bank and did not agree with Palestine’s “two-state solution”. This led to Palestine rejecting the peace plan and cutting off ties with Israel and the United States.
This plan also faced strong opposition from Iran, which paved the way for the countries that shared their strong antipathy against Iran to unite.
Iran, over the years has had difficult relations with the United States primarily due to its resistance to opening up its oil reserves to American oil companies. This has led to sour relations between the two countries. Due to its bad relations with the United States, the hegemon, Iran has also soured its relations with the UAE, which has a strong influence from the west, specifically, the United States, in its international policy agendas. Moreover, Israel, a long-time ally of the United States, has also had a difficult relationship with Iran over the years. Israel being the strongest, in terms of military and cyber warfare (to defend against and counter attack Iranian forces) would make a better ally for the Arab state.
All of this, in the recent past, has allowed for closer UAE-Israel relations. The UAE considers Israel as a useful ally for them, against Iran and its threats, and has been developing various back-door diplomatic relations with them. This smoothening of a conflict ridden relationship between Israel and one of the Arab countries, UAE, is a new framework of mutual support and benefits. This is the first time since the early 20th century that these countries have both made efforts to normalise their relationship. This was quickly followed by other middle-eastern countries, such as Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, following in UAE’s footsteps and joining forces with Israel. This marks the beginning of the Anti-Iran Alliance. An alliance is essentially motivated by their mutual dislike of Iran.
In February of 2019, United States arranged for a meeting in Warsaw between Saudi Arabia, UAE and Israel, and later in the year, there were further talks among UAE and Israel. These meetings built the groundwork for the Normalisation Deal between the UAE and Israel in August of 2020. As part of these accords, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed to not annex the west bank area, contradicting his declaration to annex the area earlier this year. The deal further calls for Israel to suspend declaration of sovereignty over the (west bank) areas. Instead, Israel now plans to pay more attention towards building stronger relationships with other Arab countries. Both countries also agreed to sign bilateral treaties relating to tourism, technology, energy, establishment of reciprocal embassies, and various other mutually beneficial areas. About a month later, Bahrain had also agreed to sign in on these normalisation deals with Israel.
This landmark deal has allowed the coalition of the middle-eastern countries to increase the political tension against Iran and its allies. It is very likely that Saudi Arabia and Oman would soon follow suit and sign similar deals with Israel as well. Although this deal is showcased as a peace agreement to bring normalcy within the Middle East, they have more to do with Iran than they have with peace, and has succeeded in this goal to unsettle Iran. In the midst of this geopolitical crisis, the Palestinians are losing traditional support from other Arab countries which have, in the past, supported their position against Israel. After the Normalisation Deal, it is very likely that the Arab countries supporting Palestine’s position would withdraw their support in order to develop strong relations with Israel and the United States. So, not only will the Anti-Iran Alliance be able to rattle Iran and make it lose its standing in Middle East politics but this would also mean a huge setback for the Palestinian Cause. Lastly, with this deal we see that the Middle-East no more appears as a monolithic entity, rather the Islamic world of the Middle-East seems to be getting diluted by Realpolitik.
Note: Sudan has also signed a normalisation deal with Israel, brokered by the United States.
About the Authors:
Rashtravardhan Kataria is a B.A. LL.B, (Hons) graduate from O. P. Jindal Global University. However, he switched fields to pursue his passion in filmmaking. On most days, he binges films “for work” and for fun he reads articles on the socio-political state of the society and how economics controls it all.
Manikya is a B.B.A. LL.B, (Hons.) law graduate from O. P. Jindal Global University, with a keen interest in Intellectual Property Rights, Women’s and Gender Studies and Alternate Dispute Resolution. On some days she even indulges in passing judgements about polity and the society whilst sipping on her black coffee in her pyjamas. When she’s done pretending to be a lawyer for the day she goes back to her real self, that is, a jobless painter.