Tensions between the Gulf States and Israel are growing as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu oversees illegal settlement expansion and mass killings of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. This comes as the White House is attempting to forge a “normalization” deal between Tel Aviv and Riyadh.
According to Bloomberg, Abu Dhabi and Manama are becoming frustrated with the outcome of the 2020 Abraham Accords. People familiar with the matter said the leadership in both the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as well as Bahrain are particularly concerned over a massacre Israel’s apartheid army carried out last month in the northern West Bank.
With the support of the Joe Biden administration, Israeli forces invaded and bombed the Jenin refugee camp, killing a dozen people including five children. Israeli bulldozers tore up the camp’s roads, electricity, and water networks. 1,000 troops participated in the raid, along with Apache helicopters, drones, and 150 armored vehicles.
Moreover, since Netanyahu returned to power last December, Israel has been destabilizing the region, carrying out drone strikes in Iran, myriad airstrikes in Syria, and bombing Lebanon. Already, 2023 has been one of the deadliest years in Palestine. As Middle East Eye reported “At least 204 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire this year, including 36 children – a rate of nearly one fatality per day. A total of 167 people have died in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, making 2023 one of the bloodiest years in the occupied Palestinian territories. Another 36 people were killed in the Gaza Strip.” In May, Israel launched a bombing campaign against Gaza – the blockaded, open-air concentration camp – killing 33 people.
Another point of contention is Netanyahu’s coalition which is full of extremist settlers, Jewish supremacists, and ultra-nationalists determined to annex the West Bank by force. Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich said earlier this year that there is “no such thing as a Palestinian people.” The UAE condemned the mass murder in Jenin as well as Smotrich’s comments.
On the domestic front, Abu Dhabi and Manama received public backlash after these incidents because of their relationship with Tel Aviv. Opinion polls conducted by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, an Israel lobby think tank, show significant drops in support for the Abraham Accords. Respectively, in the UAE and Bahrain, only 27% and 20% of respondents saw normalization with Israel – absent an end to the occupation in Palestine – as positive. These numbers represent a 20% and 25% decrease in support over the last three years. In Saudi Arabia, when asked if normalization with Tel Aviv would be good for the region, just 20% of respondents said yes, a 50% drop since 2020.
The Abraham Accords are a thinly veiled, American-led coalition against Iran. It is doubtful the Saudis will want to join, given that Riyadh recently restored full diplomatic relations with Tehran in an unprecedented, diplomatic feat brokered by Beijing. The long-time arch rivals resumed full diplomatic relations and plan to expand cooperation – particularly with respect to trade and investment – while both sides have expressed interest in creating a naval alliance. In another move that “blindsided” the US, Saudi Arabia has also restored relations with Iran’s key ally Damascus.
As Aziz Alghashian, a Riyadh-based analyst who studies the Saudi Kingdom’s policies toward Israel, explains “This is not part of the vision some in the Abraham Accords had — Israel wanted it as an anti-Iranian axis.” He continues, “The region is moving in a different direction now.”
Officially, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) has taken any normalization deal with Israel off the table unless there is a two-state solution and the millions of Palestinian Muslims and Christians, suffering under a brutal military occupation for nearly sixty years, are given their own state. Netanyahu’s policies of setting records for settlement expansion and construction in illegal Jewish-only colonies serve solely to eviscerate even the pretense of a future Palestinian state.
Riyadh has reportedly issued demands to the White House including increased access to advanced US weapons systems, NATO-style security guarantees, and assistance building its own civilian nuclear energy program.
Although, MbS has reasons to be skeptical of any assurances Washington may peddle to secure the agreement. As the Bloomberg article notes, “In a continuing sore point, the UAE suspended talks on the purchase of advanced F-35 warplanes from the US in late 2021 after Washington insisted it cancel a contract with China’s Huawei for 5G mobile technology. It was promised the weapons when it agreed to establish ties with Israel. The UAE experience over the Abraham Accords has been watched closely by Saudi Arabia.”
A major aspect of the White House’s push for a normalization deal between Riyadh and Tel Aviv is to curtail China’s influence in the Middle East, according to New York Times columnist Tom Friedman. Washington is pressuring Tel Aviv to decrease their economic ties with Beijing as well.