Palestinians will need more support than ever from global popular movements as the normalisation of what used to be a mainly covert relationship between Israel and the UAE could signal the beginning of a long-term plan to make Palestine and Palestinians irrelevant.
On 13 August, Israel and the UAE announced, in a deal brokered by US President Donald Trump, that they would normalise diplomatic and trade relations. Almost immediately, in a show of force, Israeli warplanes bombed the Palestinian people of Gaza for eight days and prevented the delivery of fuel to Gaza’s only power plant, leaving Palestinians without electricity.
Historically, as a sign of support for the Palestinian struggle, which is seen as a key Arab struggle, Arab and Gulf states have shunned official relations with Israel. Apart from the UAE, only Jordan and Egypt have formal and overt ties with Israel. According to Na’eem Jeenah, the executive director of Johannesburg-based research institute Afro-Middle East Centre, the new normalisation aims to create a situation where Palestinians “might exist as bodies, but do not exist at all politically”.
Israel aims to strike up similar normalisation deals with Bahrain, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Morocco and Sudan. “If Israel can normalise its relationships with all Arab states, they believe there will no longer be a Palestinian question because Palestine has always been an Arab issue. So if the Arab states no longer have a problem with Israel, freedom for Palestine ceases to be an Arab issue. The Palestinians would become just a bunch of troublemakers,” said Jeenah.
“The UAE political agenda is to use their deep pockets to own the Palestine Liberation Organisation [PLO]. The UAE is putting Mohammed Dahlan up as a substitute to [current PLO leader] Mahmoud Abbas and the intention is to get Dahlan to become head of the PLO and Palestinian Authority and completely change the Palestinian scene,” said Jeenah.
Dahlan, a deeply unpopular person in Palestine, was the leader of the Fatah party in Gaza, but was expelled for corruption and went into exile. Before his expulsion, Dahlan was said to have held many covert meetings with Israel, the US government and the US Central Intelligence Agency to discuss how he could put a stop to the ongoing Palestine liberation struggle. He was also implicated in plotting an assassination of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, after Hamas won the Palestinian Authority (PA) elections in Gaza.
Deals with Arab states
According to online news publication The Electronic Intifada, when Dahlan was the leader of the PA’s Preventive Security Forces, he used Palestinian police officers to “work together with Israeli authorities to crack down on opposition groups … arresting thousands. Dahlan’s forces were involved in acts of violence and intimidation against critics, journalists and members of opposition groups, primarily from Hamas, imprisoning them without formal charges for weeks or months at a time. A number of prisoners died under suspicious circumstances during or after interrogation by Dahlan’s forces.”
Dahlan, essentially a warlord, would be a terrible leader to foist on Palestinians. They should have the right to elect their own leaders, ones who would continue their struggle for freedom from military occupation and the return of their land. But imposing Dahlan on Palestinians would fit with the agenda of the UAE and Israel, which is “to make Palestinians irrelevant to the regions’ politics”, said Jeenah.
In the medium term, the alliance with the UAE is also designed to make it far easier for Israel to “dump any idea of a Palestinian state”. Jeenah said “there was a time when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would use the term ‘Palestinian state’, even though the kind of ‘state’ he was referring to was more of a municipality than a Bantustan. But now he doesn’t even do that.” This shows a strong bent towards making Palestinians irrelevant, he said.
The current reality for Palestinians is that they are segregated by Israel from Israelis and from each other.
There are about six million Palestinian refugees in the diaspora, who were driven out of their homes by Israel in 1948.
There are Palestinians in the West Bank who live under total military occupation. They have no freedom of movement and must show dompas-style identity cards at military checkpoints when moving from town to town. They are frequently detained, tortured and killed by Israeli soldiers at these checkpoints or taken away for long prison sentences.
There are Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip, under a siege during which Israel often refuses to allow medicines, fuel and other essentials into Gaza, and where there are regular Israeli bombardments of schools, hospitals and homes.
While the West Bank and Gaza are just 80km apart, Palestinians from these areas are not permitted to visit each other. Many Palestinian families have not seen each other in person for decades. Diasporan Palestinians cannot return or visit either the West Bank or Gaza and it is difficult for West Bank and Gaza Palestinians to get permission from Israel to travel overseas. There is also a minority of “1948 Palestinians”, who Israel describes as Arab Israelis. They stayed behind when Israel drove out the rest of the Palestinians and although they are classified as Israeli, they live as second-class citizens and may not visit Gaza or the West Bank.
For long-time pro-Palestinian Israeli activist Jeff Halper, the situation means the struggle for a total decolonisation of Palestine and Israel has become more important than ever.
Halper is the founder of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, which through non-violent action tries to prevent the Israeli military from bulldozing Palestinian homes. He is also a member of the One Democratic State Campaign, which advocates for Israel and Palestine to merge into one democratic state in which all the Palestinian diaspora refugees who were forced from their homes will be allowed to return.
The One Democratic State Campaign envisages a new constitutional democracy and compensation or restoration of stolen land and property to all Palestinians dispossessed by Israel since 1948. However, Halper says this no longer goes far enough.
“The only way out of a settler-colonial situation is decolonisation. It means you dismantle all the colonial structures of domination and control. It does not mean a binational state with the maintenance of the current walls,” Halper said at a recent webinar organised by the South African Palestine Solidarity Campaign.
“People will say there can’t be one state because Israel won’t allow it, but most of the white people in South Africa during apartheid were not going to be partners in dismantling apartheid. The only allies that the Palestinians have is international civil society, not governments, and so our strategy has to rely on them. Israel over Palestine is a microcosm of the Global North over the Global South and certainly of neoliberalism. I’m optimistic because I think we can win,” he said.
Gaza as a metaphor
Noura Erakat, a Palestinian-American human rights attorney and legal academic based in the US, also backs the decolonisation of Israel and Palestine. She sees freedom for Gaza as a struggle of importance globally, as Gaza is not only the epicentre of the Palestinian future but also a metaphor for the future of what the world might be.
“The idea of besieging communities, hyper surveilling them, enclosing them in order to use them for laboratories of new laws of war that are meant to destroy and eviscerate civilian populations, that are meant to test for new weapons technologies. Where children do not have access to clean water and it is a question whether or not somebody is going to be granted access to chemotherapy to treat terminal cancer and then when they are given permission, children are not allowed to travel with their parents. This is just the tip of the iceberg, the level of dehumanisation inflicted upon the Palestinians with global support and complicity,” she said.
Erakat pointed out that a one-state solution that only democratises a settler colony has not worked in South Africa nor in the US for African-Americans.
“To simply say that Palestinians are equal – one person, one vote with the Israelis – is not the future we want to return to. We don’t have to look very far to see how militarised nationalist supremacy continues to reign in places where that kind of democracy has been achieved, including in the United States, which remains a white settler colony. That is why there remains in the US a black and indigenous freedom struggle for decolonisation and why we see such popularity for Donald Trump, because he is their last hope to hold on to the US’s future as a white future,” she said.
In the wake of the normalisation of Israeli relations with the UAE, professor Mazin Qumsiyeh of the Palestine Institute of Biodiversity and Sustainability at Bethlehem University says there is now an urgency for young Palestinian activists to take up leadership positions in their own struggle.
“We face an existential struggle … the US/Israeli Imperialism/Zionism threatens to liquidate the case of Palestine and to dominate the Middle East (Western Asia) and far beyond. My suggestion is that the Palestinian people say to these elderly leaders that unless you do this PLO restructuring by a certain date, that we will create a new representative PLO ourselves. Young professionals and independents must be represented,” said Qumsiyeh.
Meanwhile, the joint committee of national and Islamic forces in Palestine has not given up hope that the liberation of Palestine remains a key concept in the Arab world.
Describing the rulers of the UAE as “realtors”, the committee said “the Israeli military occupation is and will remain an enemy to the Arabs and all the free people in the world. In these moments when our Palestinian people face the danger of occupation and the coronavirus pandemic, we still trust the Arab nations and the free world, so we call on the peoples of the Emirates and Arab world to refuse normalisation, and adhere to justice and victory for the Palestinians,” the committee said on 31 August.