Arab normalisation with Israel loses appeal amid Gaza horrors

Time is running out for Israel to be a part of the Middle East. It has become a moral burden for anyone engaging with it.

Displaced Palestinian children gather to receive food at a government school in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on February 19, 2024.
Displaced Palestinian children gather to receive food at a government school in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on February 19, 2024.

Arab normalisation with Israel loses appeal amid Gaza horrors

At the time of writing, the Israeli offensive in Gaza has claimed over 28,000 deaths, with more than 68,000 individuals injured and 7,000 reported missing. Alarmingly, children and women constitute approximately two-thirds of these casualties.

To put this into perspective, if such a ratio were applied to the United States, it would equate to over 16 million people killed, injured, or missing within less than five months of this devastating conflict initiated by Israel against Gaza.

The campaign appears to be systematically designed to make Gaza uninhabitable. Research centres have estimated that, as of the beginning of last month, Israel had dropped around 65,000 tons of explosives on Gaza.

This staggering amount is equivalent to the potency of over four nuclear bombs similar to those dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, with each bomb having a yield of 15,000 tons. While Hiroshima covers an area of 900 square kilometres, Gaza is nearly three times smaller.

This relentless assault has specifically targeted infrastructure crucial for the survival of Gaza's residents. The attack has decimated the healthcare sector, destroying hospitals, medical facilities, and ambulances, resulting in the deaths of over 340 healthcare professionals. Hundreds more have been injured or detained.

Currently, around 10,000 cancer patients and 8,000 hepatitis patients face potentially fatal outcomes due to the collapse of healthcare services. Additionally, the lives of 60,000 pregnant women are in jeopardy without adequate medical support.

Most educational institutions and essential services, including water, electricity, and sewage systems, have also been destroyed or damaged.

In an attempt to suppress the dissemination of information, more than 120 journalists have been killed, further cloaking the dire situation from international view.

Residential areas have been levelled, and the basic necessities of life remain out of reach for Gaza's 2.2 million inhabitants, who are now deprived of food, water, fuel, and medicine.

Palestinian children react as they receive food cooked by a charity kitchen amid shortages of food supplies in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, February 20, 2024.

The looming threat of an attack on Rafah, home to over 1.5 million Palestinians in an area of less than 60 square kilometres, places tens of thousands more at risk of death or injury.

Multiple Israeli officials have explicitly articulated that its military's crimes in Gaza serve as a deterrent to all Arab nations, emphasising the consequences that await them should they challenge Israel.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant has asserted that failure to achieve dominance in Gaza would render coexistence within the broader Middle East untenable for Israel.

This stance underscores the belief that Israeli supremacy — supported by military might and destructive capabilities — is essential for peaceful coexistence with Arab nations.

Lessons learned

But what have Arab nations gleaned from the brutality and genocidal war perpetrated against the Palestinian people in Gaza?

The chief lesson learned by Arab nations during this conflict is the need to have military capabilities capable of self-defence. Relying on Israel to uphold international law and humanitarian standards in any prospective future conflict would be deemed an uncertain gamble.

Moreover, coexisting with Israel under the prevailing power imbalance poses an existential threat that Arab nations cannot afford to tolerate.

Secondly, the culpability for the perpetuation of the genocidal war in Gaza extends beyond Israel to include the Western powers, notably the United States. If the US were genuinely committed to halting the conflict, it could easily do so.

The culpability for the perpetuation of the genocidal war in Gaza extends beyond Israel to include the Western powers, notably the United States.

A mere announcement from President Biden declaring the suspension of weapon and ammunition supplies to Israel until the cessation of hostilities would be enough to halt the war.

Thirdly, despite the United States' persistent efforts to promote Israel's integration into the Arab world as a security asset in countering Iran, the reality exposed by the Gaza conflict unequivocally demonstrates that Israel poses a security liability to any nation aligning with it.

On 7 October, Israel failed to safeguard its own security. Furthermore, after more than four months of waging a genocidal war against Gaza, Israel failed to eliminate an armed Palestinian organisation armed solely with rudimentary self-made weapons.

We also cannot help but notice Israel's reliance on the United States and other Western nations to mitigate the risks of the conflict expanding to other fronts. Despite this support, Israel still faltered in deterring another armed organisation from launching attacks from southern Lebanon.

These ongoing hostilities continue to burden and deplete Israel, resulting in the displacement of residents in northern Israel despite the considerable firepower at its disposal.

Fourthly, the evident security failures and limitations of Israel, despite its attempts to intimidate Arabs by targeting innocent civilians in Gaza and portraying itself as the dominant force in the Middle East, have demonstrated to both Arab leaders and their populations that Israel is not invincible.

Consequently, Israel lacks the authority to dictate terms of peace to the Arab nations. This pivotal realisation forms the essence of the discussion in this article.

Increasing global consensus

The global consensus increasingly recognises that achieving peace in the Middle East is impossible without resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

This underscores the validity of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's steadfast stance, reiterated on numerous occasions, that any engagement with Israel must be predicated on a just solution that fulfils the aspirations of the Palestinian people for freedom and independence.

Read more: Saudi Crown Prince: Palestinian issue is very important

Consequently, the Kingdom declined participation in the previous Abraham Accords under the Trump administration and insisted on reaching a fair resolution to this conflict during negotiations with the Biden administration.

(L-R)Bahrain Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US President Donald Trump, and UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan after signing the Abraham Accords on 15 September 2020.

Notably, the Biden administration has sought to incorporate "normalisation" with Israel into any defence agreement with the Kingdom.

Presently, countries worldwide are saying that resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should be among the outcomes of the ongoing conflict in Gaza.

The United States, as articulated by multiple American officials, has unequivocally declared its commitment to a project aimed at establishing a Palestinian state within a defined timeline.

Additionally, it is deliberating the recognition of the Palestinian state or the possibility of allowing a resolution in the Security Council recognising this state to pass unopposed.

President Biden has directed the State Department to formulate various options aimed at facilitating the establishment of a Palestinian state without compromising Israel's security. He has underscored the notion that there are differing models of states, suggesting that the Palestinian state could be demilitarized.

During the Munich Security Conference, the US Secretary of State affirmed his country's commitment to devising a plan for the establishment of a Palestinian state and the integration of Israel into the region, suggesting that this plan could materialise within weeks.

Concurrently, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz assured the Palestinian people in Gaza of Germany's support in fostering a Palestinian state that coexists peacefully alongside Israel.

Britain expressed its contemplation of recognising the Palestinian state, while Canada, Australia, and New Zealand issued a joint statement advocating for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and the pursuit of a political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, ultimately leading to the creation of a Palestinian state.

The European Union, represented by its High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Joseph Borrell, disclosed its preparations for a peace plan aimed at realising a fully sovereign Palestinian state.

It has become evident that Israel is not invincible. Consequently, it lacks the authority to dictate terms of peace to the Arab nations.

Indeed, there is a notable political momentum toward resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a manner that culminates in the creation of a Palestinian state.

Leveraging the Gaza war

It is crucial to highlight that the Biden administration seeks to leverage the conflict in Gaza as a political opportunity centred around linking the defence agreement with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the integration of Israel into the Arab world with the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.

Let's also recall that initially, there was no explicit mention of an independent Palestinian state, but rather a focus on a political process aimed at achieving its establishment.

However, Riyadh remained steadfast and insisted on the establishment of an independent Palestinian state as a prerequisite for forging peace relations with Israel.

This position was underscored when the Kingdom issued a statement affirming that it had informed the US administration of its refusal to normalise relations with Israel "until Israel withdraws from the Palestinian territories it occupied in 1967 and until the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with its capital in East Jerusalem."

The statement also emphasised that halting the aggression on Gaza was of paramount importance.

It appears that this statement was issued to clarify Riyadh's position and squash any misconceptions propagated by US officials regarding Riyadh's stance on normalisation with Israel.

For instance, during his visit to Doha, US Secretary of State Blinken inaccurately stated that "Riyadh is prepared to normalise its relations with Israel if there is a clear political path and timeline leading to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state."

A weighty conflict 

Were the Israeli-Palestinian conflict less complex, Riyadh might have chosen to remain silent.

However, this conflict encompasses contentious issues such as state borders, the status of Jerusalem, the fate of settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories, the plight of Palestinian refugees, and security concerns shared by both Israel and the Palestinians.

If the resolution to this conflict were simply the mere establishment of a Palestinian state, it could have been attained at Camp David in 2000.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak (L), US President Bill Clinton (C), and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat during the Middle East Peace Summit on 11 July 2000 at Camp David, Maryland.

At that time, Israel proposed withdrawing from 90% of the West Bank, implementing land exchanges concerning its settlements, and dividing East Jerusalem into neighbourhoods allocated for Palestinians and others earmarked for Israelis while maintaining sovereignty over the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Alternatively, accepting Trump's plan, which proposed granting Palestinians a state on 70% of the West Bank within an expanded Israel stretching from the Dead Sea to the Mediterranean Sea, could have also served as a solution.

In any scenario, discussions concerning a two-state solution cannot be deemed credible without the cessation of hostilities in Gaza and the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the region.

Additionally, the issuance of a binding international resolution mandating Israel to cease its settlement activities in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, is essential.

If the West is genuinely committed to the two-state solution, it is imperative to establish a framework for this solution in accordance with international law, which acknowledges the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and Gaza, as occupied territories from which Israel must withdraw.

Consequently, any recognition of the Palestinian state must encompass recognition of its borders, which are defined by the pre-June 5, 1967 boundaries.

However, this recognition excludes two pivotal issues from negotiations with Israel: the borders of the Palestinian state and East Jerusalem.

These are the contentious subjects in all negotiations with Israel and have historically impeded the resolution of this conflict, notably during the Camp David negotiations in 2000.

Excluding these issues from negotiations suggests that the international community is not genuinely committed to ending this conflict — particularly considering the historical concession made by Palestinians and Arabs in accepting Israel within what essentially amounts to 78% of historic Palestine.

Discussions concerning a two-state solution cannot be deemed credible without the cessation of hostilities in Gaza and the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the region. 

What remains negotiable — subject to a defined and structured timeline — are matters concerning Israeli settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, the plight of Palestinian refugees, and the security assurances sought by both Israelis and Palestinians.

Solutions for these issues are attainable.

Regarding settlements – and I am not speaking for anyone – land swaps between Palestinians and Israelis could be facilitated, ensuring proportionality and quality. This proposition has been explored in prior negotiations.

Additionally, it could be contemplated to offer Israeli settlers Palestinian citizenship upon renouncing their Israeli citizenship and embracing Palestinian nationality and law.

In return, Israel could agree to permit a commensurate number of Palestinian refugees to return to its territory, where they would hold Israeli citizenship.

Regarding security guarantees, Palestinians are the ones who require them more urgently than Israel. Some propose the concept of a demilitarized Palestinian state.

Presently, Palestinians lack the weaponry necessary for self-defence, apart from what they have produced themselves.

Therefore, Palestinians might not oppose the idea of accepting a demilitarized state, provided there are international assurances preventing Israel from encroaching into their territory and territorial waters or violating their sovereignty.

In conclusion, while Americans and Europeans frequently discuss normalisation, the two-state solution, and the integration of Israel into the Middle East, they overlook the pressing reality that time is running out for Israel to be a part of it.

Israel has become a moral burden for anyone engaging with it. In the wake of the grave atrocities committed by Israel in Gaza, Arabs are nearing the conclusion that while peace with Israel may still be conceivable, it is no longer desirable.

Coexisting with a state that perpetrates genocide, habitually resorts to warfare to address political challenges, and responds to its security failures with further violence poses an intolerable burden on them, and they are increasingly disinclined to bear it.

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