The clashes and violence between Israelis and Palestinians in Jerusalem and the new round of fighting between Israel and Hamas are putting Arab-Israeli normalization to the test.
The four normalization agreements signed in the second half of 2020 between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco, did not include specific provisions addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While the four Arab countries emphasized the need to advance a two-state solution as the best way to resolve the conflict, there was no conditioning of implementation of the normalization agreements on the advancement of an Israeli-Palestinian process of negotiations.
On the eve of the breakout of violence, the UAE has dispatched an ambassador to Tel Aviv, senior Israeli diplomats have begun working in the UAE and direct flights were established between Tel Aviv, Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Bahrain appointed an ambassador to Israel who is due to arrive in the coming weeks, as Israeli diplomats were already operating in Manama. Morocco has also opened a mission in Tel Aviv, headed by a senior Moroccan diplomat and an Israeli ambassador-designate is representing the country in Rabat. Numerous bilateral agreements have been signed between Israel and the four Arab countries, focusing on trade, economic cooperation, as well as academic, scientific, medical, technological and cultural exchanges and the future of normalization looked promising.
As violence in Jerusalem erupted at the height of Ramadan, Israeli police entered the area of Haram al-Sharif to quell protests, using excessive force (including stun grenades) in and around the al-Aqsa Mosque, resulting in hundreds of injured Palestinians. This immediately sparked demonstrations in some Arab countries, as Arab governments issued condemnation statements over Israel’s handling of the situation in Jerusalem. Once the confrontation between Israel and Hamas in Gaza broke out, Arab demonstrations and condemnations continued.
The Arab League’s Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit blamed Israel for the escalation of violence in the Palestinian territories, warning that Israeli policies would blow up the situation in Jerusalem. He decried Israeli actions in and around the al-Aqsa Mosque during Ramadan and called on the UN Security Council to take action. On Gaza, Aboul Gheit denounced what he described as indiscriminate and irresponsible Israeli air strikes. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation. (OIC) held an emergency session in Saudi Arabia and denounced Israel’s “continuous violations of the sanctity of the al-Aqsa Mosque”, as well as “barbaric attacks” against worshippers in the compound.
Reaction from countries that signed normalization agreements with Israel
Countries which signed normalization agreements with Israel also denounced its actions. The UAE and Bahrain condemned the May 7 raid by Israeli security forces on the mosque and crackdown on Muslim worshipers. Abu Dhabi also called on Israeli authorities “to take responsibility for deescalation of violence”. Emirati Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed stressed the importance of putting “an end to aggression and practices that exacerbate tensions in the sacred city”. Morocco, which chairs the OIC’s Jerusalem Committee, said it was following developments “with deep concern”, adding that King Mohammed VI considers Israel’s violations as “inadmissible and fueling tensions”. Saudi Arabia, which has a custodianship role in the holy sites in Jerusalem and did not normalize relations with Israel, rejected “Israel’s strategy of evicting dozens of Palestinians from the homes” in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. After a meeting between the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia and Jordan, the two issued a statement calling for effective international efforts to “protect Palestinians against Israeli attacks and violations”. Gulf and Moroccan statements, although critical in nature, were far less harsh than statements made by Iranian leaders, as well as Turkish President Erdogan.
As for now, the four countries which have normalized relations with Israel have not suspended the implementation of the agreements they signed nor have they retreated from any of the understandings reached with Israel. Nevertheless, as the situation escalates and there is no end in sight to the confrontation between Israel and Hamas, the strength of these normalization agreements will be tested. These four Arab governments may find it difficult to ignore their own publics, and as scenes of death and destruction in Gaza emerge, the governments will most likely be challenged by their public’s opinion, and may be forced to take concrete steps, beyond statements, to show solidarity and support for the Palestinians.