Let’s not for one second pretend the Middle East wasn’t fed up of the ‘Palestine problem’. As fast food joints and clothing brands, who have never hidden their support for Israel, mushroomed globally, the Middle East opened and welcomed them with arms wide open. And why not? It’s economic, not political.
Plus public support for Palestine by the rulers that be was always vocal because of the concept of the ‘Muslim brotherhood’ and a shallow representation of the people’s outrage. As history has repeatedly shown, people and politics don’t always mean the same thing, especially in lands where ethnicity, tribes, castes and sects in particular are definitive of identity and allegiance.
With US influence waning post war on terror and China’s spreading, there was a recognition that new alliances needed to be formed and post Iraq and Syria wars, the Middle East region had begun to recognise that Palestine was a cause that simply had to be forgotten to forge new relationships to remain relevant and stay secure.
Enter the Abraham Accords under Trump’s administration. Spearheaded by his son in law Jared Kushner, these paved a roadmap where a process of normalisation between Israel and Muslim countries were to be established – without offering a plan or a solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – as a means of bringing regional peace offering security as the ultimate goal.
Several countries including the UAE, Morocco, Bahrain and Sudan saw this as an opportunity to make their mark regionally by-passing Saudi Arabia – no small act - and finally being able to have a stronger say. Pakistan teetered on whether to go ahead or not eventually preferring to keep things under wraps undoubtedly tempted by what Israel offered such as arms, funds, spyware and visits to holy sites. Again, the people could rage all they wanted, but economics and defense that two pronged hydra rules the roost.
What of Palestine?
While some Israeli and American organisations working for the Abraham Accords engaged with Palestinians from the West Bank, Gaza remained out of the picture completely on the basis that it was ‘ruled by Hamas’ and therefore not to be considered at all. The fact the people of Gaza never had much of a choice when it came to who ruled was never viewed with much sympathy and so that was where the conversation ended.
Palestinians with the West Bank were engaged but in a limited capacity which essentially meant they needed to work with the Abraham Accords because the ultimate jewel in the crown was and is remains Saudi Arabia. No room for dissent or any form of Palestinian recognition. To give Saudi some credit while the normalisation conversations were taking place, the Palestine issue is where the buck stopped. What was the solution? And how could any ‘friendship’ take place as long as Palestine ‘remained’ a problem? Never mind that Saudi had become friends with Iran who supported Hamas. This three way relationship between Israel-Saudi-Iran was clearly coming with too much baggage.
Come, October 7 2023. A surprise attack by Hamas which has defined the world in the same way 9/11 did. While there is no excuse for violence, there is no denying than Hamas’ actions did not take place in a vacuum.
As phosphorus burned through the sky, are we to assume the Abraham Accords are nothing more than mere ashes now?
John Rakolta, previous US Ambassador the UAE believes Hamas’ attack have only reinforced that the Abraham Accords must be upheld, justifying it because “enlightened leadership understood that to secure a prosperous and sustainable future, a new solution to the regional hate and division had to be found.”
This over simplification of the complexities of the Middle East is precisely why the Abraham Accords may not have had the impact it has hoped for. Yet.
Saudi’s entertainment of the Accords was a clear indication of the double game that was to be played at Iran’s risk. The UAE has long wanted to position itself at the forefront with the arts and technology. By normalising relations with a country building a reputation for start ups, the Accords offered a golden opportunity to the UAE and trade and travel between the two began to take place. But does that serve the unspoken interest here, which is to limit the support for Hamas and Hezbollah? Not quite.
A waning US presence gives Israel the chance to not just fill the gap as the Next Big Thing but it also means a direct hotline to the Saudi to finally offer a means to legitimately create new regional alliances whereby Iran stands isolated and seen as the real problem, not Palestine. There are two things to consider here.
Hamas’ existence plays right into Israel’s claim to exist. Palestine can exist in the form of the West Bank for which in return food, water and menial jobs can be provided as ‘humanitarian’ acts; while checkpoints merely serve as a reminder of the need to behave in order to continue to be given such basic necessities).
But what’s stopping Israel from wiping out Gaza? There is a religious claim for the existence of an Israeli state but in the Muslim narrative it doesn’t work. So then there is a political need and what can work better than have a hostile neighbour, one that Israel fed to stave off the PLO? Enter Hamas and its legitimacy. It is important to mention here that Israel’s existence precedes the Holocaust and the claim for the state has been a religious one. That this is a political war between Israel and Palestine comes after the creation of the Israeli state.
Israel’s own Prime Minister Netanyahu stated in 2019 “Those who want to thwart the possibility of a Palestinian state should support the strengthening of Hamas and the transfer of money to Hamas”. Former Israeli PM Ehud Barak also said in the same year “Netanyahu’s strategy is to keep Hamas alive and kicking… even at the price of abandoning the citizens (of the south)… because it is easier with Hamas to explain to Israelis that there is no one to sit with and no one to talk to”.
Secondly, any movement whether it be an insurgency, freedom movement or activism, it needs support. Iran’s support for Hamas is what is identified as the real problem in the Israeli perspective, not the West Bank which is comparatively touted as a successful project of sorts. How does one counter it? By making friends with the other kids in the sandpit and coming together to deal with the one rebel.
Saudi’s stance is clear. Normalisation with Israel is attractive for defense and economic purposes which is why the US can continue to claim that the Abraham Accords are necessary and still successful even if Saudi hasn’t signed on. Palming off Hamas as a problem created by Iran on Saudi’s part clears any apprehensions (if, any) on Israel’s part. The rest can do as they please if they must. Far from ashes, this setback brought on by the current war is but a mere setback.
What then of Pakistan?
With the India-Saudi recent alliance leaving Pakistan out in the cold, it does come down to survival and if that means dealing with Israel, then so be it. At least that is how it was pre October 7th. Given the reaction of Pakistan’s state and society in the form of outrage over the treatment of Palestinians, chances are the Abraham Accords could have suffered a setback here too, assuming that Pakistan's inclusion, although not specifically spelled out, was part of the 'broader' Abraham Accords.
Otherwise, seeing allies such as Saudi Arabia and UAE entertain Israel’s offers of friendship only means a matter of time before Pakistan could potentially follow suit.
And as for Palestine. It will survive. After all, the world loves a charity case to ease off the guilt.
Disclaimer: Special input by Tariq Bashir.