by Paul Gadalla
Rai Insights Contributor
Beirut: In their show of support for Egypt’s October 6 War effort, GCC countries closed their taps on oil to make the world wake up to the Arab cause in its fight against Israel. But alas, gone are the days of the famous 1973 oil embargo led by the GCC and Arab solidarity. Instead the gap between Israel and some of the most conservative, yet richest Arab countries, has only grown smaller since the 1993 Oslo Accords.
One would think that the most conservative Arab states, which comprise the GCC, wouldn’t dare look in the direction of an Israeli diplomat. There are no formal ties between the two entities and no GCC country has an embassy in Tel Aviv. But over the last two decades relations between the two have improved significantly at the detriment of the Arab-Israeli peace process.
With Egypt and Jordan signing peace treaties with Israel, which effectively put the strongest Arab armies out of use, Saudi Arabia, an oil-rich powerhouse, threw itself into the fray of regional politics.
In 2002, Saudi Arabia unveiled a daring olive branch to Israel by offering it full peace with Arab nations and investment in return for its withdrawal to pre-1967 borders and a “fair” solution to the issue of Palestinian refugees. Mind you this deal came during the Second Intifada at the detriment to Palestinian protesters. Although the initiative ultimately failed it started a number of overtures by Saudi Arabia towards Israel while bypassing Palestinian groups and political parties.
In March of this year Saudi offered a revamped, albeit watered down, version of the deal. Israel would only have to “take significant steps to advance the peace process” in return for being able to fly over Gulf airspace and relax trade restrictions. Such vagueness leaves many wounds open in the historic plight for the Palestinian struggle. Once again such an offer was rebuffed but it shows the more tone downed rhetoric used towards Israeli now with Saudi even willing to give up on the pre-1967 borders.
These peace initiatives are not the only GCC overtures towards Israel though. Starting in 2014, Israel and Saudi Arabia startled many when they revealed that they held five secret meetings on how to contain what they perceive as an existential threat from Iran.
There have also been talks of secret meetings between Israel and Qatari and Emirati officials for almost a decade now. Even the UAE has a diplomatic mission to Israel and trade between Israel and the GCC countries is rumored to be in the hundreds of millions.
Israel has jumped on the fact that the Arab world is in disarray and the waning support for the Palestinian cause amongst the growing Sunni-Shia divide. It has continued to tighten its grip on the Palestinian Territories and increase settlements with little blowback from Arab governments who are mired in their own domestic disputes.
Increasingly and ironically, both the GCC and Israel are in the anti-Iran and anti-Muslim Brotherhood camp which have pushed the two sides closer together, especially in terms of security and arms. In 2011 it is reported that trade between the UAE and Israeli security companies reached $300 million. Closer ties between both have implications for both sides. GCC countries can gain access to Israel’s first rate military and security technologies, which they deem as necessary against the threats of ISIS and Iran. It also gives them an inroad into Palestinian-Israeli negotiations. For Israel it allows them to end their isolation in the region and expand into oil-rich Arab markets, as well as circumvent any Arab movements blocking their expansion and sideline Palestinians.
Yet it would be foolish to think the Israelis could be seen as peacemakers or integrate further in the open in the region. Already more and more protests have been culminating in the Palestinian territories, most recently near the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which is revered by Muslims worldwide. Palestinians themselves have also given up on the PLO and are now increasingly taking matters into their own hands. This could mean despite Israeli and GCC overtures towards each other, the Palestinian issue still needs to be resolved and the Palestinian people will not accept a solution, which they are not a part of. Overtures between the two only serve US interest by putting all its regional allies in one camp to face off against Iran while sweeping the Palestinian issue under the carpet.
*Paul Gadalla is a New York native communication specialist and aspiring political analyst based in Beirut, Lebanon