Abu Dhabi First, Palestinians Later

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People walk in Masdar City in Abu Dhabi, which hosts the International Renewable Energy Association Agency (IRENA), October 7, 2015.
People walk in Masdar City in Abu Dhabi, which hosts the International Renewable Energy Association Agency (IRENA), October 7, 2015.Credit: AFP

At the peak of the Palestinian propaganda campaign that accuses Israel of “executing children,” and nearly six years after the assassination of Hamas higher-up Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates is allowing Israel to open a visible diplomatic mission in its capital Abu Dhabi. Haaretz last week called it a diplomatic achievement. Indeed, despite its status as an economic leader, the UAE could not have allowed this without the agreement of larger and more powerful states – Saudi Arabia, for example.

The credit being given to Foreign Ministry director general Dore Gold, described as the architect of this accomplishment, is deserved. But here’s a heretical thought: This is an expression (and not the first) of a rational, utilitarian approach reflecting a slow but steady loosening of the Gordian knot that since 1948 has tied the Arab countries to the Palestinians.

In the deeper and more promising sense, it’s more of an Arab psychological achievement that an Israeli diplomatic one. Israel does not need any release, psychological or otherwise, to forge ties with any Muslim country, including Iran. Today these regimes no longer base their legitimacy on hostility toward Israel. The “Palestinian problem,” it turns out, has been shoved to the margins and no longer serves to cover up those governments’ failures.

Due to America’s gradual withdrawal from its obligations in the region, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt and the UAE now need Israel at least as much, if not more, than Israel needs them. The sharp drop in demand for Middle Eastern oil has weakened them economically and therefore diplomatically as well. Iran, the Islamic State and the other murderous organizations are threatening their regimes, and the United States is being revealed as an unreliable ally (only recently it sold the Kurds to the Turks).

True, Israel’s strategic power in the region does not match that of the Americans. But because of its technological, military and intelligence capabilities it can be a source of strategic support, if only partial, to quite a few countries struggling with forces seeking to bring them down. The regimes that survived the earthquake of the Arab Spring need Israel as they confront the destructive groups that are flooding the region and metastasizing to Europe and even – based on preliminary assessments – to California.

Israel’s interests in the region are not dependent on energy sources or on exploiting competition between the superpowers. They are existential and immutable. The Arab states’ recognition of the existence of a sovereign Jewish state is a supreme interest. Israel will be a loyal ally to those countries who need it.

In the past, before they (and we) were caught up by the concept of “Palestine first,” the Europeans and Americans tried to persuade the Arab states to moderate their hostility toward Israel and develop relationships with it. Today it seems that some of those Arab states might be able show these Western countries how to extract themselves from the notion that as long as the Palestinian problem isn’t solved, the region will not be calm and they will never forge ties with Israel.

This new development may launch a process that will cause a revolutionary turning point for the Palestinians as well. The Palestinians may discover that the new Middle East is no longer mortgaged to their intransigence, and they may be left without their primary supporters and financial backers. At that point even they, from lack of a choice, might begin moving toward ending terror and rejectionism.

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