Giorgio Spagnol
Date de publication: 


The last time a peace deal in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) was made with Israel was in 1994, when King Hussein of Jordan (the same king who oversaw the attack of Israel in 1967 when Israel captured the West Bank and East Jerusalem) recognized the Jewish state. Before that, in 1979 Sadat, president of Egypt, had recognized for the first time a Jewish state.

Last September two Arab nations, UAE and Bahrain, who for years said there was no Jewish state, officially recognized Israel. On 22 October Sudan joined the party, giving up its decades-old position against Israel’s occupation of Palestine, and agreed to normalise relations with the Zionist state.

How many countries will follow suit? Are Saudi Arabia and Oman already on the waiting list?


The establishment of Israel in 1948 led the neighboring Arab nations to declare war. In the years that followed, Israel fought four conventional wars with its neighbors: for all of its 72-year history, the Arab nations of the Middle East have viewed Israel as a mortal enemy. 

The only exceptions have been peace treaties with Egypt (1979) and Jordan (1994). The UAE and fellow Gulf state Bahrain in September became the first Arab states in a quarter of a century to sign deals to establish formal ties with Israel, a move that Washington and its allies have said would foster regional peace and stability but which has been rejected by the Palestinians.

Following the normalisation agreements between Gulf states and Israel, the US administration and Israel started talking about the next country in line: Sudan.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has been exerting pressure on Khartoum to join the normalisation wave. This coincides with the US’ offer to remove Sudan from the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism and hand over financial aid to Sudanese authorities.

The UAE is already promoting Israel's interest after getting closer cooperation with the Jewish state on security, intelligence, and cyber capability, and critically, the prospect of being able to purchase top-end American military equipment like F-35 fighter jets that have long been off the menu for Arab states.


After decades of hostility, Israel has succeeded to improve its relations with Arab countries with the aim of creating a regional bloc to confront Iran. Sudan has witnessed an intense Iranian presence before 2014. Iranian warships visited Sudan ports while military convoys and warfare equipment manufactured by Tehran kept finding their way to the Gaza Strip and Hamas.

When Sudan cut its diplomatic ties with Iran in 2016, Israel started making indirect communications through the US to study the possibility of establishing relations with Israel. The overthrow of Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir in April 2019 opened the doors to change, leading to the final approachment between Khartoum and Tel Aviv.

In February 2020, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Nethanyahu met in Uganda with the Head of the Sovereignty Council of Sudan, General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, and they agreed to promote the normalisation of bilateral relations. In the same month, the first Israeli aircraft crossed Sudanese airspace.

Who is gaining?

Nowadays, Israel believes that developing its relations with Sudan will serve its interests, including shortening the duration of flights to four hours with Latin American countries, by flying its planes over Khartoum.

Also, Israel wants to change the orientation of the African countries to vote in favour of Israel in UN bodies, in addition to attempting to invest in Sudan, especially in the fields of agriculture, water resources management, technology and medical innovation.

Sudanese-Israeli normalisation may lead to achieving a number of goals in several directions. Israel will gain from establishing relations with an African country of strategic importance on the shores of the Red Sea, and the US will create a reinforced transitional system as an alternative to the Islamists.

Meanwhile, Sudan benefits from removing its name from the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism, and receives generous financial aid. As for the UAE, the authorities there hope to score a diplomatic achievement by mediating this deal and obtaining significant material gains.

Reaction of the Arab population

Yet despite those treaties, many of the citizens of UAE, Bahrain and Sudan remain hostile toward the Jewish state. The question is: what about the Palestinians? The Palestinians just kind of sat there with their arms crossed and whined the whole time.

Now they're kind of left out there and it seems like they've been left behind. UAE, Bahrein and Sudan are making deals with Israel and more countries will likely come to the table. Have they left the Palestinians in the lurch? Palestinians had been invited to attend but declined the offer.

Now, the Palestinians are saying, "How could you do this?" But UAE, Bahrein and Sudan are probably saying to them "This is not the way to continue. You can be much more prosperous if you're ready to compromise." But so far Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, President of the Palestinian National Authority, is unwilling to do it.

The Palestinian issue

Two major changes in the political context made the deal with UAE, Bahrain and Sudan possible. The first was in the Middle East itself. For many Sunni Muslim Arab states, the conflict with Israel has taken a back seat to concern over the growing political and military reach of Shiite Iran.

That’s especially true for Gulf Arab countries like the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain, directly across from Iran. For them, moreover, Israel’s unparalleled regional strength in intelligence, cyberscience, and technology have made cooperation especially attractive.

At the same time, the major impediment to past normalization - the Arab world’s commitment to the Palestinians - has been eroding. The Israeli-Palestinian peace process has effectively ended. The Palestinian leadership is divided, between the heirs of Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement on the West Bank and the Islamist Hamas in Gaza. Amid complaints of mismanagement and corruption, their popular support has been weakening.

Yet equally important has been the dramatic political change in the United States – and in Washington’s approach to the region. The U.S. initiative that led to the Israel-UAE deal began with an explicit message to all involved: the Palestinians, having turned down previous negotiating proposals aimed at creating a two-state peace, were in no position to dictate the terms of a new deal.

Washington drove home the point two years ago by moving its embassy to Jerusalem, the holy city whose status, under decades of past U.S. policy, was to be resolved only as part of a final peace. The move triggered barely a murmur of opposition in the Arab world.

Palestinians betrayed but ready to struggle

For Palestinians, the UAE, Bahrain and Sudan agreements with Israel are a blow to Arab unity and their quest for statehood, and a final nail in the coffin of the Oslo Peace Process. Instead of "peace", or even "statehood", their new passwords are now "rights" and "resistance".

With such agreements, observers and officials say, the Palestinian leadership and the Palestinians are diplomatically and politically isolated. These agreements ignited protests in Gaza, Jerusalem, and Ramallah, with protesters accusing the Arab states of “treason”.

On the streets and on social media, slogans echoed one call: “normalization is betrayal.” The peace process was, anyway, a failed framework, solely focused on negotiations after negotiations when it was clear that negotiations were simply a tactic, never a true strategy.

Before the recent deal, Palestinians’ support for their leaders was already in decline and according to a last June survey, nearly two out of three Palestinians believed the two-state solution was no longer practical or feasible.

The discourse is now becoming more about pushing for self-determination and sovereignty: whatever form that takes, Palestinian activists and observers say they will increasingly turn to “popular resistance” to express their demands.

Such resistance would go beyond economic boycotts and could include general strikes, mass demonstrations, and disruptions to daily life in Israel and the Palestinian territories to put the media spotlight on their struggle.

Fatah and its rivals Hamas and Islamic Jihad began discussions for coordinated mass protests to keep up with grassroots calls for mobilization.

In this new phase, without the support of Arab states or the international community, Palestinians, feeling stuck and backed into a corner by every party, say they are increasingly ready to take matters into their own hands.

The way forward

President Trump has achieved what his predecessors never dreamt possible. UAE, Bahrain, and Sudan will establish diplomatic relations with Israel thus following a deliberate drive by the Trump administration to cast aside decades-old diplomatic assumptions about peacemaking in the Middle East. As if that weren’t enough, Trump brokered another deal that led Serbia and Kosovo to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

What do these agreements mean? Do they really herald a new era of peace in the Middle East? Some think so. But it’s more likely they herald a growing recognition on the part of many Arab Muslim nations of their common need to counter Iran’s growing influence in the region. All these nations have a shared interest in thwarting Iran’s regional ambitions, even if it means partnering with Israel to do so.

For that reason alone, many people believe we’ll soon see similar peace agreements between Israel and other Arab nations, such as Oman and Saudi Arabia. In recent years, Arab elites’ threat perceptions have changed. If their primary enemy in the 1960s and 1970s was Israel, today it is Iran, followed by Turkey. As the United States has pulled back from the region, many Gulf leaders have come to believe that a regional axis with Israel will be crucial to safeguarding their interests.

UAE, Bahrain and Sudan

The reality is that UAE, Bahrain and Sudan have wider interests beyond creating a Palestinian homeland. Strengthening ties with the US, and securing US-made F-35 fighter jets, is a higher priority. As Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz put it recently “The Palestinian cause is a just cause, but its advocates are failures, and the Israeli cause is unjust but its advocates have proven to be successful.”

For their part, the Israelis are hoping that the agreements will open the way for a new wave of normalization with other Arab powers, so that the road to regional security will no longer run through Jerusalem. By separating the Palestinian question from relations with other countries in the region, Israel has managed to turn it into merely a domestic problem. The “international community’s” position on the issue will now be more diffuse, and thus weaker.

After all, if the Palestinians can no longer negotiate for their own state, their best alternative will be to pursue a one-state solution by pressing for civil rights within Israel.

According to the United Nations’ 2019 demographic profile of the Palestinian territories, there are five million Palestinians who could potentially join with the1,916,000 Arabs living in Israel, thus outnumbering the 6,772,000 Israeli Jews.

Considering how ineffective and divided the Palestinian leadership is, an organized challenge seems unlikely anytime soon. For these reasons, leading Israeli national-security analysts have argued that if a negotiated two-state solution is not possible, Israel should develop an unnegotiated one, by establishing a viable Palestinian state unilaterally, while other Israeli leaders with a different strategic outlook have begun to look for ways to develop real statehood for the Palestinians through a process of de-occupation.

How about Israel?

According to Israel’s Defence Minister Benny Gantz, these agreements mean that Israel’s security achieved a massive jump forward with two dimensions: the renewed US “strategic commitment” to Israel’s security, and probably US arms deals worth billions of dollars with the Arab countries which are now Israel’s allies.

A glut of advanced weapons plus support from the US and Israel will reinforce hostility among Arab states and destroy whatever bonds they have between each other at the moment, weakening rather than strengthening them. A weak Arab world is, of course, what Israel has been working towards for decades.

Moreover, if only the “normalised” states will be allowed such advanced weapons, those Arab states can be relied upon to stand with Israel in any confrontation with Iran. Again, something that Israel had dreamed of for many years.

An arm race in Middle East?

Pitching Arab countries against Arab countries and ensuring that Israel has the qualitative and quantitative edge in the region is one race that the normalising Arabs must know they will not win. Nevertheless, Israel wants to make absolutely certain about its future, just in case the current dictators in the region are overthrown.

It is believed that Saudi Arabia will normalise relations soon, and the decision will be accompanied by a significant arms deal with Washington. Saudi Arabia and the UAE are still fighting a war against the Houthis in Yemen. In Libya, the UAE, along with Egypt, is supporting the renegade Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, whose militias have been fighting the legitimate government.

All the evidence suggests, therefore, that these “peace” deals are, in fact, little more than a fig leaf for arms deals which will make the region more dangerous for everyone.


When Zionism’s founders devised the strategy to build a Jewish state in Palestine, colonization had to be slow and covert, beginning with small land acquisitions. Zionism’s strategy of gaining Palestinian land here and there envisaged also land taken by force. Israel’s annexation strategy can nowadays be summed up with “one more Arab country.”

With US backing, Israel has had carte blanche in the region. The rulers of the UAE, Bahrain and Sudan have determined that their security and longevity is bound up with the two regional powers.

Arab leaders who once sought political unity under the banner of Pan-Arabism, or Arab nationalism, are united today by their hostility toward Iran. The Palestine-Israel conflict has been transformed into an Iran-Arab conflict.

Fearing internal opposition and pressure from Washington, other Arab monarchs will fall in line like the UAE and Bahrain, well aware how USA and Israel have become indistinguishable in their symmetrical pursuit of hegemonic control over the “old Middle East,” which they have worked tirelessly to create in their image.

But the agreements that fail to address and correct the wrongs that have been done to the Palestinians will not win the hearts of the Arab people or quell their anger. US-Israeli policies might therefore bring more instability to the region.


From the Western perspective, ensuring Israel’s right to exist was a way of repaying an historic debt to the Jewish people: Israel, as a homeland for global Jewry, was insurance against future anti-Semitism. But in the Arab world, the displacement of the Palestinians in 1948, and the ongoing experience of Israeli occupation since 1967, was a perpetual rallying cry.

The conventional wisdom was that both the Israelis and the Palestinians would need to be compensated for historic wrongs in order to guarantee stability and peace in the Middle East. But, by agreeing to normalize relations with Israel in the absence of a deal for the Palestinians, the agreements have essentially swept all of this history under the rug.

From the day it was announced the Oslo agreement was a failure because it was a security agreement, not a political one. Oslo died when both its signatories, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO leader Yasser Arafat, were killed. Rabin was assassinated by an Israeli ultra-nationalist in 1995, while Arafat’s death in 2004 is alleged by some to have been a result of poisoning.

Palestinians do maintain that they know Israeli leaders better than anybody else and that Israel’s only interest is to seek a military and economic foothold in areas close to Iran while using Arab countries as a doorstep and an Israeli launchpad.

Nowadays powerful forces are pushing Fatah into the arms of Hamas as Fatah's Abu Mazen feels personally insulted by the Americans and the Israelis and by the fact that there was a decision by the Arab League to bypass the Palestinian Authority and make peace with Israel.

According to Palestinians US foreign policy will not change with the change of the President. US foreign policy is an institutional, not an individual matter.

The normalization of relations between Israel and UAE, Bahrain and Sudan indicates that the Middle East is undergoing a strategic paradigm shift with the Palestinians left out in the cold. But anyone who thinks that the region's oldest ongoing conflict has been laid to rest should think again.