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Palestinian Myths: Building a National History (A)

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The Palestinians demand the entire territory of Palestine, “from the Sea to the River.” They have never abandoned their claim, and they are not ready to get any compromise and to reach to any agreement that gives them less than the entire territory.

One of the important strategies is their claim that they are an ancient and indigenous people in the territory of the Land or the Land of Israel. However, the claim is a total fabrication, and fails to stand up with any historic scientific scrutiny. Before the British Mandate, during the 400 years of the Ottoman Empire rule, this territory was an administrative one, divided into several Sanjaks (sub-provinces) under the Vilayet (province) of al-Sham (Damascus) that has neither a political unit nor a national entity.

All scientific and governmental German and British data and surveys clearly show an underdeveloped deserted land composed mainly of primitive hamlets. These including French historian Constantine Volney (Travels through Syria and Egypt, 1798); the mid-19th-century writings of Alphonse de Lamartine (Recollections of the East, 1835); Mark Twain (Innocents Abroad, 1867); reports from the British Consul in Jerusalem (1857), and many others.

The Ottoman’s census of 1882 recorded only 141,000 Muslims in all the historic Land of Israel, although the real number is probably double, since many hid to avoid taxes. The British census in 1922 reported 650,000 Muslims. Family names of many inhabitants attest to their origins: Elmisri, Misr, Masarweh (Egyptian), Chalabi, Horani (Syrian), Mughrabi (North Africa), Ajami (Persian), Halabi (Aleppan), Kurdi (Kurdish), and many more. Yet, the most comprised of Bedouin tribes from Jordan and Sinai.

The multifarious origins of these “Palestinians” involve family, tribal, and sectarian rivalries. They were attracted to the relative economic prosperity brought about by the Zionist Movement and the British. In 1934 alone, 30,000 Syrian Arabs from the Hauran region moved across the northern frontier into Mandatory Palestine. They even dubbed Haifa Um el-Amal (‘the city of work’). As for Nablus, based on the number of buildings in photos taken from Mount Gerizim, the population in 1909 could not have been greater than 2,000 residents.

‘Palestine’ has never been a territorial-cultural and political unit. The same refers for “Palestinians”. There were no people or a nation in history called by that name. The word “Palestine” was born only in the 20th century by the British. The land was officially named “Palestine” in English, “Filastin” in Arabic, and “Palestina (E.I.: the Land of Israel)” in Hebrew. The British could have chosen the name “The Holy Land” or other name, or even the Land of Israel, or other name with no historic relevance. In that case, there could have been no “Palestine” and no “Palestinian People.”

Consider the possibility the British have chosen the name “Jupiter.” In that case one would have hearing of a Jupiterian people fighting to liberate its Jupiterian land from the Jews, which have a four thousand documented written and proven history.

The fact is that all over the Mandatory period, Arab inhabitants avoided using the Arabic name Filastin, but the name “Arabs.” They considered themselves as Syrians, and the land was for them Southern Syria, part of the Syrian country. Only the Christian elite did make formal use of the name “Palestine.” This was the case almost till the middle of the 40ies of the 20th Century.  

Even the Palestinians themselves, leaders and the common people, had not considered themselves “Palestinians,” and had not referred to the territory as “Palestine,” and did not dream to establish a Palestinian State. The fictitious Palestinian people consists of an aggregation of clans and tribes drawn from the far-flung areas of the Middle East and North Africa.

An important episode is understanding the origin of the Arabic word “Nakbah,” disaster. The Palestinians refer to the name, after the book written by Constantine Zureiq, Ma’na al-Nakbah, as related to their disaster in the 1948 war. However, the original use of “Nakbah” was in 1920, the San-Remo Conference that confirmed the Mandatory system and the division of “Palestine” from “Greater Syria” (Antonius, the Emergence of Arab Nationalism). That is the Nakbah, disaster, of what was later on recognized as Palestinians was not the establishment of the State of Israel, but the partition of the territory known as Southern Syria (Suriya al-Janubiyah) taken out from its country origin, Syria, to become a separate territory by the British and French (Meinerzhagen, Middle East Diary).    

In 1945, the renowned Arab historian Philip Hitti vehemently claimed before the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry that no Palestine had ever existed in history and there were no such Palestinian people. This was also the official position of the Palestinian and Arab representatives themselves to all international committees in the 1940’s. During the 1950’s, in all international conventions and the Arab leaders’ declarations, there was no “Palestinian people” nor “Palestinian refugees” problem but “Arab refugees.” Even as late as the UN Resolution 242 of November 1967, it mentions only “Arab refugees,” not “Palestinian refugees,” or a “Palestinian people.” One has also to recall that the Partition Plan of November 1947, mentions on an Arab state.

Indeed, contrary to the Palestinian’s propaganda and the “peace activists” lies in Europe, the small amount of people gathered from many places of the area around and consisted mainly by Bedouins never had a state and have never comprised a nation. Therefore, the later-on called Palestinians never “gave up in 1948 of 78% of Western Palestine, and they are ready to accept only 22% of the land,” as they claim in their fraud propaganda. This is sheer fabrication.

The later-on called Palestinians were not a political player in 1948; they were in a status of refugees under the control of Jordan and Egypt, until 1967, and they continued demanding the entire territory, and they have never given up the demand on every inch of it. They have never recognized the Jewish rights and they continue to demand Israel’s annihilation. It is only on them to prove, whether they are willing to reach a compromise. Since they discovered that they cannot achieve this by war, they work to implement the political course and are assisted by Europe to obliterate Israel from within (the “right of return” of the refugees) and by de-legitimization of Israel by the image and precedent of South-Africa (“Israel is an apartheid state”; “Israel is a racist state”).    

The Palestinian Authority propagation provides fabricated answers to the questions of national identity; historical roots of the Palestinians; and the nationality of the country called Palestine. If there is no Palestinian historical record to satisfy that need, myths and lies are concocted, and the education system is to serve as the most effective tool to mold and to shape the new generations and to create out of nothing a Palestinian history over the territory called Palestine.

This is the information the Palestinians get by propagation by all the social media:

a) To the question, who the Palestinians are? The answer is: the Palestinians are descended of the seven peoples of Cana’an. The educational and the communication media praise the Cana’anite origins. Palestinian academics explain in total fraud and twisted historical facts that even Israeli archaeological finds bolster the claim of the Palestinian-Cana’anites origin in the land, without any reliable sources.

Contrary to the numerous references in the Qur’an of the history of Banu Isra’il, the Children of Israel, the righteous side, and their victories over their Cana’anite enemies, the evil side. It also contradicts Allah’s Covenant with Jews, being the chosen people, the only people who deserve to inherit the land (5:21; 7:137; 17:104), to be known al-Ard al-Mubarakah (the blessed land); al-Ard al-Muqaddasah (the Holy Land); Ard Bani Isra’il (the Land of Israel).

b) To the question concerning the historical rights of the Arabs over Palestine, the answer is that they are ever since the dawn of history, and it is totally only theirs. They reiterate the following, in the educational system and the media: “Palestine is our country… through Jihad our country shall be liberated… Jihad and sacrifice become a personal duty on all the Palestinians… Draw your sword and let us gather for war with blazing fire for slaughter. go forward crying: Allahu Akbar.”

c) To the question concerning Jerusalem, the answer is that it is an ancient Arab city, built by the Jebusite Arabs before Islam. It is thousands of years old, its most ancient name, Jebus, is derived from the ancient Arabs, the Jebusites. Muslims must wage a Jihad war to liberate al-Aqsa Mosque from the Zionist conquest.

This ideological propaganda is accompanied by a sophisticated strategy in Western public opinion. The Palestinians initiated a highly successful campaign to assimilate into the European consciousness that Israel is the last remnant of colonialism implanted in the Middle East by European imperialism, so as to intensify the European guilt remorse: a) Israel occupies the land belonging solely to the Palestinians; b) Israel has uprooted the Palestinians as a nation, and scattered them out of their land; c) Israel continues to liquidating the Palestinians’ national and social heritage, by implanting a phony foreign culture.

The repeated stress of the Palestinian educational system on the ancient Arab identity of the land is obviously geared to posit Palestinian antiquity, absolutely imagined and fabricated without any need to produce scientific historical evidence to sustain the claim, is the main of Arab cultures. They need no proofs. However, these lies succeed internationally out of ignorance and lack of scientific historical knowledge.

All the educational system and the PA media, mainly TV, use these daily repeated variety of claims by showing a map of the Middle East in which Israel does not exist and is replaced in its entirety by a country called Palestine. Under the words “our country Palestine”, the map replaces all Israel, which does not exist at all. The entire territory is Palestine. A map entitled “Map of Palestine before and after the war of 1967” defines the area of the State of Israel as the Arab lands conquered before 1967, while the West Bank and the Gaza Strip are defined as the Arab lands conquered in 1967. Maps of the Middle East in which Israel does not exist and its area is marked as “Palestine”, appear in all textbooks.

A map which accompanies the lesson which is compulsory to all pupils: “Palestine is our Homeland”, encompasses the entire State of Israel and specifies Israeli cities and villages as Arab even though most of them date from biblical times: Safed, Acre, Haifa, Tiberias, Nazareth, Beit She’an, Jaffa, Jerusalem and Beersheba, and other Israeli cities. A drawing shows a woman waving the Palestinian flag while in the background is the map of Palestine in the place of all Israel. All the geography books mark the entire territory of Israel as Palestine.

The Palestinian Television shows the same map, many times on a daily basis, at the beginning and the end of every news report. This substitution of Palestine for anything Israeli, and official Palestinian media even mark all Israeli technological scientific achievements as Palestinian origin.

These passages, and there is a huge amount of material, point to the tenacity in which the PA instill into the minds of its children, from the early ages of childhood the necessity and inevitability of a prolonged Jihad to liberate all Palestine. The insistent demand that the children should be prepared to fight and die in the service of this dream. Rejection of Israel, Zionists and Jews, which is based on moral, political, nationalistic as well as religious considerations, is absolute and total.

This whole historical structure that has been invented and fabricated by the Palestinians exposes the real traits of Arab-Islamic culture, and they instill it into the minds of children as an irrefutable truth, without any evidence or scientific sources. In so doing, they omit, refute and deny other’s heritage and existence. There is no mentioning of the Jews and acceptance of their historical claims. Unfortunately, because Western ignorance is so pervasive and there is also the human Western belief that in every issue there is truth, the Free World yields to these atrocious hideous blames of Israel.

The Zionist ideology which nurtures the Jewish State is the paradigm of racism, apartheid, imperialism and ethnic cleansing, and doomed to failure. Jewish qualitative characters are notorious, for they are treacherous, disloyal, and corrupt. They are plagued with racist beliefs and racial discrimination like Nazism, and the construct of Satan. Israel is brutal, fascist and genocidal. The best is Arieh Stav, Peace – Arab Cartoon, Shaarei-Tiqva, Ariel Center for policy research, 1999. From that time on, one can fill many huge volumes of this material.

The scientific and political truth is that there has never been a Palestinian history; never been a historical Palestinian country and sovereignty; never been a historical Palestinian nationalism, let alone an independent nation; never been a Palestinian ethnicity, a Palestinian language, and a Palestinian societal groupings and institutions. There was no Palestinian archaeology, no Palestinian population or settlements, and nobody knew historically and accepted politically a Palestinian state and a nation. What we see now is a new creation of a distinct Palestinian national identity only from the last seventy years. The Palestinian identity has been emerged and created because of the Israeli creation as a state in 1948, and the Israeli military victory in the 1967 war.

Palestinian nationalism is an entity negatively defined, by its opposition to Zionism, and not by its national aspirations due to historical and political facts. What unites Palestinians has been their opposition to the Jewish state and the desire to destroy it.

Along all the first half of the 20th century, the local inhabitants consisted of diverse individuals, several tribes and clans, some prominent families in cities, mainly a nomadic tribes, and new migrants from Syria, Egypt and Trans-Jordan and other places. The important issue is that they certainly did not consider themselves as a nation, and they were not considered by anyone as such, and their focus of identity was parochial – tribal and Hanulah, city dwellers, Ottoman subjects and later on Syrian residents.

They lived in the geographic area that historically belonged to Syria, and politically called under the British Mandate as “Palestine” in English. However, the concept of a ‘stateless Palestinian people’ is a fabrication, the big lie of the Middle East contemporary politics. The Palestinians have received billions of dollars from the international community tunneled directly to terrorism and corruption.

In fact, the so-called patriotism of indigenous Arabs has flourished only when non-Muslim entities (the Crusaders, the British, and the Jews) have taken control of the area called the Land of Israel. Not amazingly, when political control returns to the Arab-Muslim hands, this ardent patriotism magically wanes and the territory went into a political oblivion. This is the historical proven fact for 1400 years.

Arab representative government has never been established in Palestine, either in 1948 or during the next 19 years of Arab rule until 1967. Because other Arabs co-opted the Palestinian cause as a rallying point that would advance their political interests. The real change came only after 1967, with the inspiration of Arafat, the creator of the Palestinian people and identity and the establisher of its political center.

He who really wishes to get good reliable knowledge about the Palestinian situation, it is highly recommended to separate the sophisticated propaganda from the real issues and situations.

It is highly important to compare the Palestinians’ socio-economic and political situation and at least 80 countries from the third world, including some Arab states. At the same time one has to recall that this relatively high Palestinians standard of living is out of international money donation and not their work. They received money much higher than the monies given to recover Europe after WW2 with “Marshall Plan.”

It is no less important to have good knowledge how that is the Palestinians have received billions and billions of dollars, while taking perhaps the lion’s share of world humanitarian support, putting aside and neglecting at least one billion people around the world who get nothing and are literally dying.

It is easy to have pictures of the Palestinians cities and villages to really understand the relatively high standard of living as compare to the Third World countries, including Arabs, and again to recall they were all out of the international generosity that stops there and very scant poor donation given to other peoples.

When one gets the reliable information and discard the propaganda, he understands that the continuation of the conflict with Israel is a must for the Palestinians. This is a highly profitable industry they don’t want to stop. Without it they will have to get up tomorrow and start working for their living.    

Professor Fuad Ajami, of John’s Hopkins University (NYT, June 19, 2007) sees this as sheer fantasy. An accommodation with Israel is imperative, but the Palestinian leaders still demanding to have it all “from the River to the Sea.” The Arab states have compounded the Palestinian radicalism, granted them everything and nothing at the same time, and there was thus no need for the Palestinians to moderation and realism. The Palestinians should know better, Ajami continues, no Arabs wait for Palestine anymore, and aside from a handful of the most romantic messianic Israelis, there is a recognition that the Palestinians must come to term with reason and live in peace with Israel, or to drop off the history.

Today, As Israel celebrates 68 years of independence, new publications appear by the Palestinian Authority that actively disseminates its ideology that denies Israel’s fundamental right to exist in any borders. The PA regularly proclaims and actively teaches Palestinian children that all of Israel is an illegitimate “occupation,” and that all Israeli territory is occupied. Palestinians are regularly and intensively taught to anticipate a future without Israel when all of its territory will be part of the “State of Palestine.” These are also Abu Mazen’s declarations, for example on October 28, 2015, and March 11, 2016, in the official PA TV.

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The Forgotten African Slaves of Lebanon

Funmilola Ajala

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Photo Credit: Amnesty International

In April 2020, authorities in Lebanon arrested one Wael Jerro after posting an advertisement to sell a Nigerian lady, Peace Busari, for a $1,000 on a popular ‘Buy & Sell in Lebanon’ Facebook group. In the post which had a screenshot of the 30-year-old lady’s international passport, Wael described Peace as “…very active and very neat.”  He was subsequently charged to court for human trafficking while his victim was repatriated by the Nigerian authority.

Peace may be considered a lucky soul if her case is compared to other African migrants, who mainly work as maids, in the gulf country. For instance, back in March 2020, 23-year-old Faustina Tay from Ghana committed suicide after weeks of sending out several voice notes complaining of being molested by her employers. Her body was found in a car park in her employers’ storey building in Beruit. Faustina’s search for the proverbial greener pastures to Lebanon only lasted 10months during which she shared pictures of her bruised face and audios of her ordeal with family members back home. In an investigation by media outfit Aljazeera, her employer, Hussein Dia, whom Faustina had accused of beating her, refuted such claims. Ali Kamal, the man whose recruitment agency facilitated Faustina’s journey to Lebanon, also denied the lady was ever physically abused.

In 2018, the body of a 26-year-old Ethiopian was discovered drowned in a swimming pool within the premises of her agent in the town of Dweir only days after a baby delivered of her died due to birth complications. These cases represent a fraction of what many of the estimated quarter of a million Migrant Domestic Workers (MDWs) in Lebanon often experience and the story may, unfortunately, not change for the better anytime soon as highlighted by recent happenings.

Social Media to the Rescue

One of the incidents pushed to the front burner in the aftermath of the August 4 massive explosion which claimed 200 lives at a Beirut seaport storage facility is the maltreatment of foreign maids. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), an approximate eight percent of the 300,000 people affected by the incident are MDWs. Before the cataclysmic occurrence, the 6million Lebanese population had come under severe living conditions occasioned by a strained economy (with an estimated 25% inflation rate) compounded by the stringent measures of the Covid-19 pandemic. The dire situation is said to have equally taken a toll on employers of MDWs many of whom were reportedly sent parking from their temporary homes with nowhere to go. Reports claim many of the stranded aliens resorted to passing the nights on the sidewalks in the Lebanese capital.

Kafala System

One of the 5,000 wounded in the devastating blast is Nkiru Obasi from Ebonyi in Nigeria. While getting ready to be evacuated to Nigeria alongside others on August 12, she and four others were stopped from embarking on a Lagos-bound airplane after her ‘madam’ interjected unmindful of the fact that the young lady was nursing wounds. The demeaning lifestyle of most migrant workers in Lebanon is bundled into an archaic tradition known as the ‘Kafala system that allows a domestic worker’s wholesome subjugation by his/her ‘masters.’ The practice is traced to the era of slave trading in many parts of Arab land, and – perhaps – explains the reason why it is largely sustained till date in Middle Eastern nations like Saudi Arabia, Yemen, the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.), and so on. Human rights abuses such as sexual molestation, denial of movement, working long hours, and physical assaults are some of the trademarks of the physical-cum-psychological trauma which foreign domestic employees are subjected to by their employers with no legal reprieve. It is a system that has continued to consume generations of young, unsuspecting souls from Sub-Sahara Africa – and parts of Asia – lured with the prospect of a non-existing rosy life far beyond their abode.

Bureaucratic Impediments

For most non-Lebanese migrant workers, the harrowing experience of suffering neglect, abuse, and ill-treatment by unsympathetic employers is rather endured if the other available option of approaching the authority is taken into consideration. Amnesty International says in trying to enforce the extant laws of the land, undocumented MDWs are intermittently rounded up and herded into detention by Lebanese General Security. Few days before the ratification of the UN’s Adoption of the Global Compact on Migration in November 2018, the Lebanese government released 35 foreigners from prolonged detention for lack of residency papers. This is the treatment likely to be faced by any daring migrant worker who attempts to unilaterally exit his/her Lebanese employer as he/she may lose the legal residency status which makes their stay valid in the first instance. The Human Rights Watch (HRW), in a September 2020 report titled “Without Protection: How the Lebanese Justice System Fails Migrant Domestic Workers,” criticized the exemption of MDWs from Lebanese labor law despite the huge economic importance of these individuals to their original and host societies. While calling for the abolishment of the kafala system, the HRW reveals that more than $90million was sent overseas by MDWs from Lebanon in the first six months of 2009, hence the imperative of providing legal cover for these individuals.

The First Bold Step Towards a Lasting Reform?

Despite the ongoing social unrest on the local scene since August 4 which had forced the political leadership in the country to resign its appointment, the implication of the plight of MDWs in Lebanon on the image of the country abroad seems not lost on Beirut and its government is responding to the challenge.

In what is seen as a cheering development, the Lebanese Caretaker Labour Minister, Lamine Yammine, recently announced the launch of a new standard unified labour law which “enshrines the rights” of foreign employees in the country. Yammine adds that, with the new contract law, MDWs would be able to “obtain all their contractual rights and benefit from the broadest social protections.” Similarly, while hosting top officials from the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM) last June, in Abuja, the Lebanese Ambassador to Nigeria, Houssam Diab, claims that his government has suspended the issuance of working visas to Nigerians seeking to work as domestic workers in Lebanon to rid the current system of exploitation and abuse.

However, many activists accused the government of cheery picking and opine that the new labour law appears to have fallen short of expected cancellation of the Kafala system which they view as the major stack against the MDWs. Nonetheless, one can applaud the initiative as a positive step (albeit trifling) towards guaranteeing a better future for foreigners working as domestic employees in Lebanon.

Going forward, one key area which authority should not overlook is the role being played by recruiting agents like Ali Kamal who told Aljazeera that his firm accounts for the entrance of 1,000 foreign workers into Lebanon, each year. A constant searchlight must be beamed into the activities of such companies if the life of the enrollees is, indeed, fancied beyond lip service as worth more than that of mere ‘slaves’.

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Israel and its Image After the 1967 War

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The war of 1967, or the Six Day War as it has come to be known, was a war which came with immense, geo-strategic and political consequences. The Middle East, was the arena where it played out and fifty years later the reverberations continue to be felt in the region and beyond. This is reflected in the words of, the then Israeli Prime Minister, Levi Eshkol, who said, “Nothing will be settled by a military victory. The Arabs will still be here” (Colonel Stephen S. Evans, 2008 ). His words have proved to be prophetic, for Israel has metamorphosed in this timespan, and the Arabs are still there though they are a house divided and peace is still elusive. The conflict between, Arab and Jewish identities over Palestinian land now has a regional as well as an international dimension. In this rite of passage, Israel’s relations with many nation-states have matured from nascency to maturity and much of this finds its origins in the aftermath of the 1967 war between Israel and the three states of Egypt, Syria and Jordan. It is this transformation in Israel’s stature in International Relations, that is to be examined.

 In the run up to the war of 1967, the events were moving in a manner that can best be described as fast and furious. With the Syrians being routed by the Israelis in April 1967, Nasser was under pressure to restore Arab prestige, when he was warned by the Soviets in May, that Israel was planning to invade Syria. In spite of having half his forces entrenched in a conflict with Yemen, Nasser reacted by asking UN peacekeepers to leave the Sinai Peninsula, and began massing troops in to the Sinai Desert. With no Israeli reaction forthcoming, Nasser then closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping, on May 22, and challenged Israel to engage in conflict. The Iraqi President Abdel Rahman joined this tirade of threats against Israel and it was under these extenuating circumstances, Israel launched a pre-emptive strike on the morning of June 5, 1967, with ‘Operation Focus’. It simply had no choice but to do so.

Six days later, Israel emerged victorious, against the defence forces of Egypt, Jordan and Syria, and surprisingly enough, its territorial gains included, the Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank of the Jordan River (including East Jerusalem) and the Golan Heights. Clearly, this was not an act of pre-meditation as this operation was supposed to be have been a “48-hour surgical strike” to neutralise Egypt and nothing more(Oren, 2005). Israel’s geographic spread now, was three times what it was before the war. Both Israel and Egypt were quick to approach the UN in quick succession, at the outbreak of the war and UN Resolution 242 resulted many weeks after the war, in November. In the aftermath of the war, it is really not possible to analyse Israel’s international relations in a linear manner as events and relationships tend to dovetail, converge and diverge at the same time. Clearly, Israel as a country went through a transformative experience from within and without after this war. It transcended the stage from where it was struggling to maintain it its territorial integrity in 1948, to a stage where it had won a decisive victory, albeit with American aid and French armaments. With control over the Sinai Peninsula, which overlooked the Suez Canal, and the Soviets stepping in reinforce their support to the Egyptians, Israel, now unwittingly became a player in the Cold War. In this context, from being in a situation where it was viewed as a burden by the U.S., Israel had now became an “imperative significant asset”(Kardo Karim Rached Mohammad, The Six-Day War and Its Impact on Arab and Israeli Conflict, 2017). Having proven its military might, U.S.-Israeli relations underwent a sea change, for now this relationship was of potential benefit. This was a far cry from 1956 when America had called Israel an aggressor when it had attacked Egypt as part of a secret pact with Britain and France.   

The symbiotic relationship between the U.S. and Israel, consequently assumed an overall upward trajectory with some periods of lull. Even the retributive oil embargo against the west, by the Arab world after the Yom Kippur war, did not derail this relationship and Reagan named Israel as a strategic asset, in 1979. Israel was now the beneficiary of considerable military supplies and treated as a proxy for the U.S. in the region. After the end of the Cold War, Israel was no longer a U.S. proxy but a strategic partner nevertheless and a “democratic anchor”. Since then, starting with the Clinton Administration, support for Israel has been unequivocal, with Trump’s presidency going beyond mere re-affirmation.  One noteworthy, pattern till now, is the implicit understanding of faith between the two countries, that Israel’s nuclear armament cache would never be a subject of discussion and there would not be any talk of signing the Non- Proliferation Treaty(Entous, 2018).

Another key relationship affecting Israel’s very existence, in the same time frame, was one of extreme challenges and continues to be so, till now. At the time of the 1967 war, sponsored by the Arab League, the Palestinian Liberation Organisation was already in existence, and destruction of Israel, was one of its goals. After the war, Yasser Arafat and the Fatah, gained dominance within the PLO and led attacks against Israel which were to turn more and more violent over the years. It was only in1993, with the Oslo Accord, that PLO recognized Israel’s right to exist and accepted, UN resolutions 242 and 338, Israel in turn was to withdraw from key territories and PLO was to govern parts of Gaza, Jericho and the West Bank. The fragility of this peace process gave rise to the Second Intifada and Hamas now came to control the Gaza strip in 2007, leaving Fatah with the West Bank. Though the Fatah and Hamas  have since reconciled, Israel views Hamas as a “hostile entity” for its acts of terror (Encyclopedia Britannica , n.d.). As a corollary, there is the issue of continuing build-up of Israeli settlements on the West bank which have been deemed illegal by the United Nations (UNSC 446). This notion of “creeping annexation” in the West Bank, is in defiance of all international laws and opinion (Cohen, 2019). Clearly, this was a manner of securing Israel’s boundaries, leaving the Palestinians, subjects, of an occupying force. There are an estimated,141 Jewish settlements, in the West Bank and upwards of 300,000 Palestinians are said to have been displaced. President Rivlin, in this context, even said belligerently, “it was their land that they were building” (Remnick, 2014).Undoubtedly, Palestine’s inability to eschew violence and its inability to embrace the two state solution, have repeatedly made peace elusive. Matters have now come to a head and the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, has rendered all agreements with the U.S. and Israel, void, in view of the threatened West Bank annexation, by Israel. Clearly, this may be another chapter in this uneasy relationship (Holmes, 2020). 

 In this entire flow of events, the paradoxical endurance of UNSC 242, as a “pivotal point of reference”, at first looks, is puzzling and intriguing at the same time (Mazur, 2012). Israel was seen to accept the resolution because it called upon the Arab states to acknowledge Israel’s right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force. Egypt, Jordan (from the outset) and the other Arab states (eventually) accepted it because it had a clause which called upon Israel to withdraw from territories occupied in the recent conflict. With this UN resolution, the equation had changed overnight, Israel became an ‘occupying force’, with the burden of withdrawal subject to its being able to attain “secure and recognized boundaries” (United Nations , 1967). Deliberately incorporated phraseology, by Lord Caradon, meant that Israel would not be required to vacate all territories. Palestinians were just a refugee problem to be resolved, with no status of nationality or nationhood being discussed, they were left to be ‘generic’ refugees.

With the passing of years after UN 242, Israel and the Arabs, clashed repeatedly, including the War of Attrition and the Yom Kippur War, but it was as if the Arabs were coming off weaker, each time. Egypt was the first to make peace with Israel in 1979 under the land for peace initiative, and the return of the Sinai Peninsula was the key deal maker. This was followed long after with the Jordan peace settlement in 1994, wherein, the international boundary was delimited and waters from Jordan River and Yarmouk River were now to be allocated between the two countries. Thereafter, the Arab League has been rendered increasingly ineffectual due its own internal contradictions and issues like the Hamas are no more than a thorn in Israel’s flesh, while its engagements with Syria have been no more than border skirmishes. Palestine, the biggest loser in this development, stands marginalised by both.

Interestingly enough, in this changed Arab-Israeli equation, as a first responder, Israel under Netanyahu is now moving bilaterally within the Arab states, in a bid to find “peace out of strength” (TOI STAFF, The Times of Israel ). Clearly this strikes a common chord with the Arab states whose needs for Israel’s offerings of security and surveillance platforms align with the overriding need for security in the region due to America’s fading hegemony. So much so, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the recent past has been quoted as saying, “Palestinians and the Israelis have the right to have their own land” (Goldberg, 2018). Until now this is one threshold, which had not been crossed by Saudi Arabia, the second largest Arab nation. The reason is not far to seek, as the Crown Prince and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have a common enemy in Iran and of just as much importance, are the common security interests that are shared by the trio of, Israel, U.S. and the Arab States. In fact, recently Bahrain’s Foreign Minister, admittedly said, “We do believe that Israel is a country to stay, and we want better relations with it, and we want peace with it” (Ragson, 2019). On the other hand, the opening of new synagogues in Dubai and Abu Dhabi is another indicator of this ‘Arab Thaw’, if one were to invent a phrase. Interestingly, an added dimension to these initiatives, is the pursuit of public diplomacy by Israel, where the Foreign Ministry is using digital platforms to connect with Arabs, the goal being to showcase the shared common values and similarities, of two ancient cultures (Eglash, 2019 ).

Moving back to matters of nation states, Israel has all along been moving ahead in affairs of political economy and knitting ties, which are strategic, political, military and economic. With its expertise in high technology extending even beyond conventional areas to armaments, Israel is globally the eighth largest exporter of armaments and its ties with India have deepened measurably, as it has contributed to India’s military modernisation needs, especially in times of conflict. On the other hand, Israel’s ties with its largest trading partner, EU, are a mixed bag, as Europe is wary of its Palestine policies. With Anti -Semitism rearing its head in Europe, EU is trying to ensure that its funds do not reach the ‘settlement areas’ and has threatened to escalate diplomatic initiatives if Israel goes ahead with its West Bank takeover initiatives. In parallel, Israel is constantly exploring new relationships, and recently it has tied up an energy partnership with Greece and Cyprus, for the ‘Energy Triangle’, in a bid for ensuring Energy Security. From the kibbutz configured economy in 1967, Israel is now avowedly, a technological powerhouse for the world, where GDP per capita is twice that of the Saudi Arabia. Even with China, Israel enjoys a significantly strong economic relationship, though differences have started to surface off late.

In conclusion, it may be said that, many have spoken of this briefest of wars as a pivot or a turning point but it might be more correct and accurate to term it as a fulcrum, for it is Israel which now forms the lever that turns the geo-politics of the region that it inhabits. Even as Israel preserves the geo-strategic strengths of its gains from the Six Day War, the Arabs are disempowered in this Arab-Israeli conflict and the Palestinians are dis-enfranchised, like never before. As a nation it has worked like a true realist, giving credence to the realist credo that, “it is important not only to have a substantial amount of power, but also to make sure that no other state sharply shifts the balance of power in its favour”(Mearsheimer, 2013). Clearly, Israel has succeeded, in this objective.

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Middle East

UAE and Israel: Nothing to See Here

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Across the world, the August agreement between the UAE and Israel, signed in September in Washington, to normalize their bilateral relations has been hailed as revolutionary. Certainly, it is a diplomatic triumph for the administration of US President Donald Trump which, in the face of criticism, continued with its “Deal of a Century” settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict despite its absolute rejection by all Palestinian parties. Then, Trump’s son-in-law and special advisor on Middle Eastern affairs Jared Kushner continued to claim that like-minded Arab states would seek to cooperate with the Israelis, support the administration’s proposal, and ultimately normalize their relations with Israel.

Now, that the UAE has agreed to just that, Kushner has certainly been vindicated. Already the UAE’s decision has precipitated Bahrain’s normalization of relations with Israel with Oman likely to follow. But was this as decisive a decision as Abu Dhabi has led many to believe? Supposedly, the UAE finally agreed to normalize its bilateral relations with Israel as the first Arab country to do so since the Oslo Accords in order to halt Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plans to annex the West Bank and specifically the western banks of the Jordan Valley. However, that later claim that the UAE somehow prevented annexation seems unlikely to have been a real motivation, and rather a means of justifying the UAE’s decision as acting on the behalf of the Palestinians. In fact, Netanyahu quickly responded to criticism by Israeli settler groups of the deal declaring that annexation remains on the table, clearly negating this as a possible justification by the UAE for normalization. In fact, recent reporting suggests the US only promised the UAE it would not support unilateral annexation until 2024, only long enough for the UAE to save face. 

There are better theories that explain the UAE’s normalization than the looming West Bank annexation. Over the past few weeks many have argued that this is just the next logical step by the states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) an organization of six oil-rich Sunni Arab monarchies, Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), to ally with Israel and deter the mutual threat of Iran. Indeed, the United States has openly supported the creation of an “Arab NATO” that would align the Sunni Arab states and Israel against Iran’s “Shia Crescent” of allied militias and states across the Levant. Iran and its ally in the Lebanese Hezbollah are staunch advocates of the Palestinian cause and military and financial allies of the Gaza based Hamas. Yet, the UAE in particular has always taken a more conciliatory stance towards Iranian expansionism, as demonstrated by its overtures to Tehran as tensions heated up in the Persian Gulf region over the safe passage of oil tankers in the summer of 2019.

Others have pointed out (more convincingly) that this is about deterring Turkey.  Both the UAE and Israel now feel threatened by Turkey’s projection of power across the Middle East’s maritime environs. Since the 2011 Arab Spring, Turkey has become a close ally of the UAE’s arch-nemesis Qatar, and deployed thousands of troops to defend the microstate after Saudi Arabia and the UAE blockaded it in 2017. Recently, Turkey is now facing off against a coalition of Greece, (Greek) Cyprus, Israel, Egypt and France in the Eastern Mediterranean as it looks to secure its own zone of military and economic influence in the region. It has also intervened directly in the Libyan Civil War, saving the Tripoli based government from the warlord General Khalifa Haftar and his Russian, French, Egyptian, and UAE backed forces. Moreover, Turkey is now fast becoming the leading advocate for the Palestinian cause in the Sunni Muslim world, a role that has worried Israeli policymakers for some time.

Yet, the UAE’s security collaboration with Israel (let alone Saudi Arabia’s) is well documented to have been occurring covertly for some time now. Israel’s intelligence services have cooperated with the UAE in Syria, Libya, and now Sudan. Infamously, the UAE hired ex-Israeli and American special forces operatives to assassinate its opponents in the Yemeni Islah Party, an affiliate of the Muslim Brotherhood and the two states may have a joint intelligence base on the Yemeni island of Socotra. Emirati diplomats are in close collaboration with pro-Israel think tanks and lobbyists in Washington, and the UAE (along with Saudi Arabia)personally pressured Palestinian factions to support the US “Deal of a Century” –and that is only what is public. So, is this decision so surprising or shocking?

A simple metaphor is useful. If two lovers sneak off together every night for months, is anyone surprised when they announce their engagement? Not especially. The UAE and many other Arab-Muslim nations have flirted with recognizing Israel for years, if not decades. Initially, support for the Palestinian cause was an enticing prospect to unite Arab countries morally and politically in the quest for Palestinian liberation and resistance to the West. But the power and prestige invested in any country that could lead the Arab World by taking upon itself the mantle of defender of Palestine quickly evaporated with the end of the Arab Cold War and the beginning of the Oslo Peace process. Now, the mantle of “peacemaker” is more profitable and more powerful for any country in the Arab World seeking to lead the reshaped post-Arab Spring Middle East.

A Cause Abandoned Long Ago

Frankly, it is the Egyptian decision to normalize relations with Israel that began this inevitable trend in the Arab World. After watching its military destroyed in detail and the Sinai Peninsula occupied by Israel during the 1967 war, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat rebuilt his nation’s armed forces and fought the Israelis to the negotiating table in 1973. Once Egypt agreed to the Camp David Accords, that year the most capable advocate for the Palestinian cause was removed from the game. The Palestinians were also expelled from Jordan in 1971 during the events of Black September into Lebanon, where they were received not with open arms. Internationally, without Egypt, the only possible defenders of Palestine left were Iraq and Syria.

Iraq under Saddam Hussein took upon this role with relish, but instead of using Palestine to rally the other Arab states, its invasion of Kuwait left Iraq devastated and isolated by American bombings and sanctions. The fall of Saddam in 2003 and the collapse of the country into civil war ended its role as a patron of the Palestinians. Finally, Syria under the then youthful President Bashar al-Assad was the only major supporter of the Palestinians left standing, and it soon became the external location for the Hamas political bureau, that is, until the outbreak of the Syrian Civil War in 2011.The explosion of Syria into a sectarian conflict split both the nation and the Palestinians between pro-Assad nationalists and leftists in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and pro-opposition Islamists in Hamas. With Syria devastated and now an international pariah, Palestinians were left without a leading Arab state to take on their cause.

With the Iraq and the Levant in ruin, the Palestinians turned towards the GCC. The GCC has always offered an economic lifeline to Palestinian parties and militant organizations, both overtly and covertly, in their resistance struggle against the Israelis. This is not to mention the millions in remittances sent back to Palestine by diaspora workers in Kuwait, Riyadh, Doha, and Dubai sent back home to those living in Gaza and the West Bank. In the 1970’s Saudi Arabia in particular rallied the Islamic World to support the Palestinian cause after the al-Aqsa mosque fire, when a Jewish extremist attempted to burn down the Muslim holy site in Jerusalem. Then, the inveterate anti-communist King Fahad led Muslim countries from across the world to form the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in 1978, dedicated firstly to the support of the Palestinians and the preservation of the al-Aqsa Mosque, and other Islamic causes more broadly.

But despite this support, the GCC states have always been a natural partner of Israel. A collection of small states, if not micro-states, threatened by larger powers on every side, the impetus for normalization with Israel has always existed. Just consider the entire citizen population of the GCC (thus not including foreign guest-workers) is on par with that of pre-civil war Yemen at approximately 26 million people. Since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the kingdoms of the Persian Gulf have relied heavily on external powers, like the United States, Great Britain, the Shah’s Iran, and even Pakistan, in order to provide for their national defense and the protection of their oil and gas reserves. The list of threats is long, and includes at various times, the Soviet Union, Egypt, Iraq, South Yemen, Syria, and since 1979 the Islamic Republic of Iran, whose regional power and ambition to dominate would lead to the creation of the GCC in 1981.

Moreover, the economic impetus for normalization remains strong, especially as the world faces the possibility of permanently low oil prices. As such, all of the GCC states are facing the difficult question of how to diversify their oil and gas economies. Although GCC states like Kuwait, Qatar, and the UAE now rely more on the income generated from investing their oil and gas revenues abroad rather than the extraction of natural resources itself, the GCC nations’ best hope for diversification lies in the development of high technology sectors. Such industries can utilize their small affluent societies and provide employment for a well-educated youth population. Israel, as a technology leader and with a robust financial sector, offers to be a strong economic partner of the GCC states, that is if they commit to normalization, and abandon the Palestinians.

A Battle for Prestige

Hence the practical rationale of current political normalization has been building up since the 1970’s, but why has the UAE in particular chosen this path? The answer is not in Abu Dhabi but Doha. In the 1990’s a new phenomenon emerged in the Middle East with the rise of Qatar. In 1991 Hamid bin Khalifa al-Thani overthrew his father to become the county’s emir. Al-Thani looked to assert Qatar as the first of the smaller GCC states with a foreign policy in the region independent of its larger neighbor Saudi Arabia. With a population of little more than a quarter-of-a-million citizens, Qatar could not deploy the military implements of its national power to gain influence and prestige.

Instead, Qatar used its financial wealth to raise its stature as a regional peacemaker. It mediated conflicts between local actors and nation states in Lebanon, Yemen, Sudan, Eritrea, and Libya, and famously offered the Taliban an “embassy” in Doha, at America’s request, to begin peace talks in 2014. Most of all, Qatar quickly provided US Central Command the al-Udeid airbase in 1996 to maintain thousands of forces in the region after the post-Gulf War withdrawal from Saudi Arabia. Notably, Qatar was also the first Arab Gulf state to begin normalizing its relationship with Israel when it opened a trade office in Doha in 1994, although it was soon closed with the al-Aqsa Intifada. Instead, it captured the 1990’s explosion in Arab media with the state-supported Aljazeera network, and later the political tsunami of the Arab Spring by allying and supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and associated Islamist political forces across the region.

In this sense, the UAE is really playing catch up to its regional competitor Qatar. In the 1990’s the UAE, like Bahrain today, closely followed the foreign policy of Saudi Arabia. This was since the UAE, as a small confederation of seven rival states, was historically threatened by its larger neighbor. From 1952-1955 Saudi attempts to assert their control over the oil rich Buraimi Oasis led the British to militarily intervene to secure the borders of the Trucial States (now the UAE) and Oman. This border dispute would last after the British withdrawal from its engagements East of Suez and the independence of the UAE in 1971. Although the two countries concluded a treaty in 1974, it was never confirmed until 1995, and never completely ratified by the UAE.But the UAE still looked to placate Saudi Arabia by following its foreign policy leadership. For example, the UAE joined Saudi Arabia and regional states Pakistan and Turkmenistan as the only countries to ever recognize the Taliban government in Afghanistan in 1996.

However, the development of the UAE into the modern financial center it is today began to change this historic power dynamic. The UAE first began asserting its independence with the expansion of Dubai into an international center of business and commerce, but while the emirate of Dubai grew to become an internationally respected state let in its own right, the UAE’s largest emirate, Abu Dhabi, was overshadowed by its gaudier, although less economically stable sister. As much as UAE foreign policy is national, it still remains a hotly contested union of microstates. 

This changed with the rise of Abu Dhabi’s influential crown prince Muhammad bin Zayed, the infamous “MBZ.” Prince Zayed attempted to raise the stature of Abu Dhabi using the political and military tools under the control of Abu Dhabi as the state chiefly responsible for the governance, administration, and foreign policy of the UAE. He quickly brought the UAE in as a major leader and financer of the Arab counterrevolutions against the 2011 Arab Spring, bankrolling the government of President Abdul Fatah el-Sisi in Egypt, and anti-Islamist parties and forces from Mauritania to Jordan, along with Saudi Arabia and its ally Bahrain.

The war on the Muslim Brotherhood is both a personal crusade by MBZ and an attempt to undercut Qatar’s regional sphere of influence. The UAE has always felt al-Udeid would be better located in their country and was particularly incensed after it was passed up by the US to host the Taliban “embassy.”Yet, the UAE has had success in denting Qatar’s influence. Not only did it remove Qatari allies from power across the region, it has successfully raised the suspicion in Washington of Qatar as a state-sponsor of terrorism in the region and as a destabilizing force. This attempt to weaken Qatar’s influence in the region culminated in the UAE and Saudi Arabia leading a coalition of states to blockade Qatar in summer 2017 unless it agreed to abandon its independent foreign policy, including the Aljazeera network and its location as a haven for Hamas. While Qatar has survived the blockade, the UAE did succeed in dislodging its position as a regional power.

What has changed in the past three years is that the UAE has begun to strike out and pursue its own foreign policy goals separate from that of Saudi Arabia. Although the UAE originally entered the war in Yemen against the Houthi rebels as another ally of Saudi Arabia, it quickly looked to carve out its own sphere of influence. Beginning by reemphasizing historic ties with the tribes of South Yemen, it came to patronize and support the South Yemen separatists that provided the UAE an ally but undermined Saudi Arabia’s support of the internationally recognized government of President Abdul Mansour Hadi. In fact, the UAE’s support for the dramatic rise of Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman (MBS) is itself a sign of the UAE’s outsized diplomatic influence over the kingdom and the changing nature of their bilateral relationship.

Moreover, the UAE took the unprecedented step of deploying its own military forces to obtain its strategic objectives. The UAE suffered a relatively large amount of battlefield casualties in Yemen that helped united the country around a national cause and propelled the further modernization of the armed forces, with the support of western officers and American and Israeli security firms. It also allowed Abu Dhabi to bring the other emirates in line behind its policies, exiling opposition princes, and thus bringing the country closer towards internal political unity. Now a veritable nation in war, deploying forces, cultivating allies, and building bases in Yemen allowed the UAE to construct its own, distinct security architecture to control the Yemeni coast, the port of Aden, and the strategic island of Socotra that commands the entrance of the Bab el-Mandab strait. In addition, it has looked to construct bases and invest in strategic ports along the East African coast in the port of Berbera in Somaliland, and Bosaso in Puntland, and has shown interest in acquiring the management of Massawa and Assab in Eritrea for Dubai Ports World.

A New Leader?

After consolidating its position in the Arabian Peninsula, the UAE has moved up one more logical step to try to become a regional power. Although its military forces are probably the most professional in the GCC, the UAE is still too small to compete militarily with the likes of Turkey let alone Iran. This became all too clear when tensions exploded in the Persian Gulf in Sumer 2019 between Iran and the US after Iran began targeting international shipping in the Straits of Hormuz and possibly coordinated a missile attack with the Houthis on a Saudi oil-refinery that cut the kingdom’s oil production in half. Among the incidents was a most-likely Iranian bombing in May on tankers stationed at the major Emirati port of Fujairah in the Gulf of Oman. After this direct threat to its critical infrastructure, the UAE quickly dropped its aggressive rhetoric towards the Iranians and secretly sent its national security advisor to Tehran. The UAE is still a microstate, Abu Dhabi, let alone Dubai, would not survive a regional war as any larger country could. Thus, the maritime tensions of 2019 were as a rude awakening to the UAE as the blockade of 2017 was to Qatar.

It is in part and for this reason that the UAE has now scaled back its aggressive military deployments. It now looksto displace Qatar, Kuwait, and Oman for the favor of the United States as a regional “peacemaker.” Therefore, the UAE has billed itself as America’s greatest ally in the region as a patron of “Moderate Islam.” It has cultivated a diverse group of supportive Muslim scholars internationally whose unifying theme is a generic message of tolerance. The UAE has also implicitly contrasted itself with the “Qatari” or “Turkish” Islam as political and “Saudi Wahhabi Islam” as ultra-conservative. Of course, this is political semantics, intellectually all modern Sunnism in the Persian Gulf region derives from a similar (Wahhabi) source.

Regardless, the UAE has received international acclaim for this Islamic role around the world. It has been recognized for its leadership in the Muslim world by the likes of former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and, importantly, Pope Francis. The later conducted the first papal mass ever to Christian migrant workers in the Arabian Peninsula in 2019. The UAE has further leaned into the image as a “tolerant” country domestically through a “Ministry of Tolerance” and the construction of the first Hindu, Sikh, and Mormon temples in the Middle East. It has leveraged this image bilaterally to develop bilateral ties with China, India, and now with Israel.

Therefore, the UAE’s normalization of relations with Israel is the logical conclusion of that groundwork built over the past few years. Normalization allows the UAE to unambiguously and unilaterally claim its role as a leader in the Middle East and moreover the Islamic World. It can position itself to be a bridge between the United States, the West, and other Arab Muslim countries, by demonstrating a vision of peace, cooperation, and harmony between all religions. It fits well into its narrative as a collection of cosmopolitan, high-technology city states. It’s the culmination of its regional ambitions, and probably signals its new hopes to escape the Earth and explore space.

In other words, there was nothing surprising about the UAE’s normalization of relations with Israel. The only question that remains is “Will it matter?” Even if every state in the world recognizes Israel, it is unlikely the Arab Muslim street will ever totally abandon the Palestinian cause. The UAE may be part of a diplomatic coup that will sustain its rising international status, but as long as Muslim populations themselves remain committed to the Palestinian cause it will not disappear. It remains to be seen whether the “Deal of the Century” can change that fact.

 As for the UAE’s regional ambitions, it still remains a small state. The UAE has effectively used the diplomatic tools at its disposal to become a regional power in the Persian Gulf region. But there is little precedent in history for small states outliving large empires. Many have affectionally called the UAE “Little Sparta” in recognition of its power. But while Sparta may have overcome Athens during the Peloponnesian War, it could never match the power of Macedon. While the UAE’s recognition of Israel may be significant, it is still a small state in a world of some 450 million Arabs and 1.7 billion Muslims. Can it really hope to become the political leader of an entire region in the international system, let alone a civilization?

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