Normalization is a four letter word

Actually it’s a thirteen-letter word, but you know what I mean.  It’s not, for the most part, something you want to be associated with in the Arab world.  So I took note when I read a recent article by Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi in this week’s Bitter Lemons.  Qassemi says it’s an “open secret” that Gulf states have normalized at least economic relations with Israel.

We now know that these ties exist thanks to the internet, the ultimate taboo- and myth-breaker of the Arab world. For instance, I have over the past few years received via email photographs of former and current Gulf foreign ministers with Israeli officials, mostly Shimon Peres during his time as foreign minister of Israel. There is also a popular YouTube video of a Gulf ruler and his foreign minister meeting with then Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni; the Gulf ruler gestures to the TV crew accompanying her to stop filming. As recently as a few years ago such a video would have not been seen at all, now it has thousands of viewers.

Der Spiegel uncovered the clearest example of Israeli rapprochement with the Arab Gulf states in early July when it reported that Israel voted for the UAE to host the International Renewable Energy Agency headquarters. The German journal attributed this to Israel wanting to build closer relations with the Gulf States. That strategy could be working: recently, five Bahraini citizens who were caught by Israel on board a ship were promptly handed over to an official visiting delegation from the island kingdom.

So it’s not a secret.  Will people be outraged? Perhaps.  But is this significant? Hardly. Gulf Arab cooperation with Israel has nothing to do with politics or policy.  This normalization is fueled completely by capitalism.  Of course some people would object to that.  But I say, “What the hell? Who cares?”  It’s not as though the Gulf states’ supposed “solidarity” with the Palestinians ever did anything for their humanitarian or political needs.  And it clearly wasn’t successful in putting pressure on the Israelis.  So let them make money off each other.

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