“HUGE breakthrough today,” crowed Donald Trump on twitter as he announced the new peace deal between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The deal makes the UAE the first Gulf Arab state and the third Arab nation, after Egypt and Jordan, to have diplomatic ties with Israel. But the new Israel-UAE partnership should fool no one. Though it will supposedly stave off Israeli annexation of the West Bank and encourage tourism and trade between both countries, in reality, it is nothing more than a scheme to give an Arab stamp of approval to Israel’s status quo of land theft, home demolitions, arbitrary extrajudicial killings, apartheid laws, and other abuses of Palestinian rights.
The deal should be seen in the context of over three years of Trump administration policies that have tightened Israel’s grip on the Palestinians: moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, recognizing the Golan Heights as Israeli territory, and creating a so-called peace plan with no Palestinian participation or input. While no US administration has successfully brokered a resolution to Israel’s now 53-year-long occupation, the Trump years have been especially detrimental to the Palestinian cause. Palestinian leader Hanan Ashrawi wrote on Twitter that with this deal, “Israel got rewarded for not declaring openly what it’s been doing to Palestine illegally and persistently since the beginning of the occupation.” Indeed, with Donald Trump at the helm and son-in-law Jared Kushner as the primary strategist, even concessions for Palestinians have been done away with. To add insult to injury, while the deal had been couched in terms of a commitment by Israel to suspend annexation of Palestinian territories, in his Israeli press conference announcing the deal, Netanyahu said annexation was “still on the table” and that it was something he is “committed to.”
Among the most brutal aspects of this period for Palestinians have been the loss of support for their cause in neighboring Arab states. The Arab political party in Israel, Balad, said that by signing this pact, “the UAE has officially joined Israel against Palestine, and placed itself in the camp of the enemies of the Palestinian people.”
The UAE has previously held a position consistent with public opinion in Gulf and Middle East countries that the acceptance of formal diplomatic relations with Israel should only take place in exchange for a just peace and in accordance with international law. Back in June, Emirati ambassador to the US Yousef al-Otaiba penned an op-ed in the Yediot Ahronot newspaper, the Israeli equivalent to USA Today, appealing directly in Hebrew for Israel not to annex the West Bank. However, by working out an agreement with Trump and Netanyahu to normalize relations, the country has now made itself Israel’s partner in cementing de facto annexation and ongoing apartheid.
The UAE’s change from supporting Palestinian dignity and freedom to supporting Israel’s never-ending occupation is a calculated move by UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, a shrewd Middle East dictator who uses his country’s military and financial resources to thwart moves towards democracy and respect for human rights under the guise of fighting Islamic terrorism. His support for Israel cements his relationship with the Trump administration. Trump has already gone out of his way to push billions of dollars in arms sales to the UAE, despite opposition from Congress because of high number of civilian casualties associated with the use of those weapons in Yemen.
Secretary Pompeo has also defended the UAE from credible reports that US weapons sold to the UAE have been transferred in Yemen to groups linked to Al Qaeda, hardline Salafi militias, and Yemeni separatists. The UAE was also stung by revelations of secret prisons it had been operating in Yemen where prisoners were subjected to horrific forms of torture, including “the grill,” where victims were “tied to a spit like a roast and spun in a circle of fire.” In Libya, the UAE has been criticized for violating a 2011 UN Security Council arms embargo by supplying combat equipment to the LAAF, the armed group commanded by General Khalifa Haftar with a well-established record of human right abuses. So, this deal with Israel gives the UAE a much-needed veneer of respectability.
But it is impossible to understand the impetus for this deal without putting it in the context of the ongoing hostilities between all three countries and Iran. Following the old adage that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” in recent years Israel has been negotiating with various Gulf states, including the UAE, to push back against Iran’s growing influence in the region. As the communiqué announcing the Israeli-UAE deal asserted, the US, Israel, and the UAE “share a similar outlook regarding threats in the region.” This dovetails with Trump’s anti-Iran obsession, which includes withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal and his “maximum pressure” campaign designed to force Iran back to the negotiating table to make a “better deal.” In announcing the UAE-Israeli pact, Trump declared with ridiculous bravado that if he wins the elections, he’ll have a new deal with Iran within 30 days. Anyone who believes this must be almost as delusional as Trump.
The fact that this agreement between two Middle East countries was first announced thousands of miles away in Washington DC shows how it is more about shoring up Trump’s slumping electoral campaign and improving Netanyahu’s battered image in Israel than bringing peace to the Middle East. It also shows that Netanyahu and bin Zayed have a stake in seeing Trump win a second term in the White House. Instead of pointing out the hollowness of the pact, Joe Biden’s response was unfortunately to congratulate Israel and the UAE and try to take credit for the deal. “I personally spent time with leaders of both Israel and the U.A.E. during our administration, building the case for cooperation and broader engagement,” he said. “I am gratified by today’s announcement.”
The normalization of relations between the UAE and Israel, facilitated by the US, serves to prop up three repressive leaders – Trump, Netanyahu, and bin Zayed – and will cause further harm to Palestinians. It is both a shame and a sham.
ON August 7, a virtual meeting was held between the foreign ministers of India, Brazil, Israel, South Korea, Australia, and the United States. This meeting was, by all standards, a curious one.
Foreign minister, Jaishankar tweeted, “Continued our conversation on the Corona challenge, always good to learn from each other”. But the composition of the meeting and the countries represented by the foreign ministers raises many questions.
The lineup of the countries itself is inexplicable if the agenda was sharing experiences on tackling the Covid-19 crisis and the way forward. Except for South Korea, which has an excellent record in tackling the virus, none of the other countries have distinguished themselves in anyway in the matter. In fact, the United States and Brazil have set the worst example of how the pandemic is to be dealt with.
This grouping of foreign ministers along with Jaishankar was not decided by the Indian government. The participants of the meeting were chosen by Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state. Three of the countries – United States, India, and Australia – belong to the quadrilateral alliance; Israel and South Korea are allies of the United States and Brazil’s president is the closest partner and ideological soulmate of President Trump in South America.
The composition and purpose of the meeting become clear when it is put in the context of the telephone conversation which Jaishankar and Pompeo had a day previous to the meeting. According to a state department spokesman, there was a discussion on multilateral and bilateral cooperation on issues of international concern, including efforts to combat the Covid-19 pandemic, the situation in the Indo-Pacific region and the quadrilateral coalition.
The virtual meeting was, therefore, sponsored by the United States with its close allies and partners. It was more to do with advancing the United States’ agenda against China as spelt out through the Indo-Pacific strategy and the quadrilateral alliance. The discussion on the Covid-19 challenge was only a peg because what can India have learnt from the experience of the United States and Brazil in tackling the pandemic? Together they account for 40 per cent of all Covid cases and 36 per cent of all deaths in the world. The way President Trump has handled the Covid virus pandemic in the United States has been bizarre and scandalous. From denying it poses a serious threat to public health to recommending drinking of disinfectant to prevent the virus infection, the disaster that has struck the United States is being viewed with horror and pity around the world.
Bill Gates has recently stated that it is “mind blowing” that the US government has not improved Covid-19 testing and bemoaned, “You’re paying billions of dollars in this very inequitable way to get the most worthless test results of any country in the world. … No other country has this testing insanity”.
Bolsonaro in Brazil has outdone his mentor in the US. After dismissing the Covid-19 as nothing more than a “little cold”, he emulated Trump’s example by advocating hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) as a miracle drug to cure the disease. HCQ is an anti- malarial drug which proved to be worthless and even harmful to Covid patients when it was tested in trials.
It is interesting that both countries approached India to export HCQ to them. In April, Trump had demanded that India relax the ban on export of HCQ and fulfill America’s order for the same. Trump warned its close ally, India, that the US may retaliate if it did not do so. Prime Minister Modi immediately responded and allowed the export of the drug to the United States. This was followed by Bolsonaro writing to Modi requesting that HCQ be supplied to Brazil. Modi of course complied, especially since Bolsonaro had referred to the Ramayana in his letter. 530 kilograms of raw material to make the drug was dispatched to Brazil. Another five million tablets were offered on a commercial basis.
Both the US and Brazilian governments pushed for the use of HCQ as a prophylactic to be taken by the people to prevent the Covid-19 infection despite all evidence to the contrary. Trump himself boasted that he took the tablet for 14 days. Bolsonaro was shown on television popping a pill into his mouth. Even after he got infected with the virus, he continued to champion the drug. We do not know if Modi has used it as a prophylactic.
How such quackery has affected the lives of thousands in Brazil and America is still to be assessed. But the thread of anti-scientific irrationalism binds all the three authoritarian far-right leaders of the United States, Brazil, and India – which are ranked No. 1, 2 and 3 respectively in terms of the largest number of corona positive cases in the world. It is truly astounding and reflective of its subordinate status that the Modi government looks to the US to provide the lead internationally in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.
If the Modi government was serious about learning from the experience of other countries about Covid-19, it could have had a meeting with German government authorities who have the best record in Europe in tackling the disease; it could have discussed with Vietnam which has an exemplary record in Asia. Before the Galwan clash, it could have talked to the Chinese government which has the widest experience and knowledge in successfully tackling the coronavirus. But even before the standoff in Ladakh, Jaishankar preferred to have parleys with Pompeo, who represents a regime which has done everything to wreck the global response to the pandemic. The walking out of the World Health Organization being just one instance.
The Modi government still needs to learn a lot about how to tackle the pandemic in India. The daily increase in cases is now the highest in the world, so is the daily death toll. Self-satisfied pronouncements that the fatality rate is low, and the recovery rate is increasing do not, in any way, confront the continuing spread of the infection and the suffering that it is causing.