The agreement to normalize relations between Israel and the UAE is being sold to us as “historic” and a positive development that will change the Middle East. Bahrain, Oman, Sudan and Saudi Arabia are said to be waiting in line. Peace always appears to be good, especially if it can help resolve the Arab-Israeli Conflict. So what’s the problem?
As always, we need to ask, what’s in it for the parties? The answer is clear: military weapons, surveillance, technology transfer and political hegemony, all directed against the Arab peoples. The US, ever hungry for oil and control of the flow of raw materials, is using compliant, corrupt and authoritarian regimes in its struggle for regional hegemony against Russia and Iran but especially against the peoples of the Middle East who yearn for democracy and development (and more freedom from religious coercion that we may suspect).
The UAE epitomizes the problem. An autocratic state with no democratic institutions (it is ruled by Sharia law, in which flogging, stoning and even amputations are routine punishments), the UAE is an oil-rich country with huge financial and tourist sectors in which a thin layer of 1.4 million citizens enjoy the labor of almost 8 million non-citizens, both Emirati and foreign, with no legal or contractual rights.
There is no freedom of speech in the UAE, the news media is strictly censored and women are subordinated to men in every sphere of life (a UAE princess tried to escape twice, was caught, imprisoned and tortured each time, and has now “disappeared”). The government has been accused of the widespread arrest, torture and disappearances of its citizens, according to Amnesty International. Protests calling for more democracy have been brutally repressed.
But the UAE is a strong American ally and host to the al-Dafra air force base, very involved in the fighting in Yemen (where it also runs prisons). So its “normalization” with Israel – which is actually just an admission of a relationship that the two countries have had for years – merely makes easier the triangular military/oil cooperation between the US, the UAE and, soon, the other Gulf States and Saudi Arabia.
The US gets from this “peace deal” a surrogate that can serve its regional ambitions, in this case by helping the US normalize Israel’s position in the region, at the expense of the Palestinians.
That’s fine with Israel. In addition to marginalizing the Palestinians almost to the point of disappearance (a political trend which Palestinians angrily accuse their leadership of fostering), Israel gains a huge market for its military hardware, its technologies of repression and surveillance eagerly sought by Arab dictators, and, not least, a source of considerable investment, not only from the UAE but from all the countries that follow. True, annexation of West Bank settlements is "suspended," but that is nothing whatsoever in terms of Israeli control or freedom of action.
The UAE (and Saudi Arabia) gets not only those technologies of repression, but an image remaking in Congress and among the America public as an “ally” - a friend of Israel and a rich friend – as against criticism of its human rights record and reluctance to send it arms.
So it’s a win-win for the three countries. The only losers are the Emiratis and the other peoples of the Middle East aspiring for democracy and human rights, the Palestinians, and all of us who oppose US hegemony and its military involvement in Yemen. A good deal for autocrats, war-makers and rich people; a bad one for everyone else.