Theater of Cruelty

It is not about peace, but about smart business

Francesca Borri
Francesca Borri
Borri is a war correspondent and writes regularly for Ny Tid.
MIDDLE EAST / While other countries were preoccupied with covid-19, Arabs and Israelis could, without outside interference, concentrate on peace. And business.


Everything else drowned in the news of the corona pandemic. But in August, 41 years after Egypt's recognition, and 26's after Jordan's, Israel was recognized by a third Arab country: the United Arab Emirates (UAE). As the world stopped, everything changed for Israelis and Palestinians – whose situation has remained unchanged for the past 70 years.

At my hotel in Dubai, the receptionist was from Manila. She had heard about the agreement, but knew little about Palestine. "Where do you live?" She asked. «In Gaza? Where is it? Is it near Milan? »

The UAE has 10 million inhabitants, but foreign workers and immigrants make up 88,5 percent of the population. "We are talking about 0,03 percent of the 442 million Arabs in the world," said Mahmoud Abbas. "The agreement makes no difference."

But is that true?

Between Arabs and Israelis, the principle has always been: "peace in exchange for land". This is how it worked for Egypt, which regained Sinai in 1979, and for Jordan, which in 1994 recognized Israel within the framework of the Oslo process and the establishment of the Palestinian Authority. But that agreement is only peace for peace. And nothing more.

Affected by the pandemic

The Arabs are not only moving closer to the Israelis, but moving away from the Palestinians. In a way, 2020 has been like any other year for Israelis and Palestinians. The first covid-19 case was discovered in the West in March last year [later it is believed that the first case of infection occurred in China in November 2019, editor's note]. In March 2020, no cases were detected in Bethlehem. Bethlehem, the hybrid city, the city that reminds you of artificial boundaries, useless barriers and walls. For the city is neither Jewish nor Muslim, it is a Christian city, and although it is technically under Palestinian jurisdiction, it is actually located in Jerusalem, a city that lives off tourism. From Bethlehem you can walk in both directions: to both sides of the wall.

In the Gulf, the real challenge is neither Israel nor Iran – it is the desert.

In the beginning, when the virus battle was a fumble in the dark, Israelis and Palestinians shared information, medical equipment and doctors. Also because – and this science will shed light on later – for many months they were hit by the pandemic about as hard, despite having only a low average age in common: Israel had at one time about 3500 deaths in a population of 9 million , one per 2600 people, Palestinians one per 3300, about 1500 deaths in a population of 5 million. But then came the vaccines. And Netanyahu went his own way.

The collaboration disappeared

As soon as the fear disappeared, the willingness to cooperate also disappeared. There is only one freezer on Vestbanken that is suitable for storing the Pfizer vaccine. In Gaza, the main problem is not to keep the vaccine cool enough, but to have a secure power supply.

Pursuant to Article 4 of the 56th Geneva Convention, Israel combat the spread of epidemics in the territory during the occupation. And in fact, not only would it be legally and morally right to vaccinate the Palestinians – it would also be rational. The best choice is not necessarily to vaccinate their own citizens first, but to prioritize risk groups, and then, step by step, vaccinate everyone else. Whatever the boundaries. Oxfam has calculated this: Vaccinating the poorest, all of them, worldwide, will cost $ 25 billion. Not vaccinating them will cost over ten times more – up to $ 340 billion.

Several countries have secured enough vaccine doses to protect the population several times.

Despite this calculation, the richest countries secured 96 percent of Pfizer's vaccine supplies and 100 percent of Modernas. We stood together to criticize Israel. And rightly so. But what about us? Several countries have secured enough vaccine doses to protect the population several times.

Flour his own cake

While other countries were busy Covid-19, Arabs and Israelis, without outside interference, could finally concentrate on peace. For many analysts, it was really about business rather than peace. It's about a cynical prince who grinds his own cake. After all, Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, son of the emir, comes in Abu Dhabi, to profit from a normalized relationship with Israel.

He leads one of the world's top economies, with a GDP per capita greater than Israel's, $ 43 versus $ 000, and above all, he has the largest fund in the Middle East: $ 41 billion. When it comes to investing in something other than oil, which is now the source of 000 percent of government revenue, what better way to invest in Israel, one of the most technologically advanced economies – and a country that produces some of the world's most advanced weapons.

The latest # F-35 fighter jets are compared to today's F-16 jets what smartphones are for old desktops. The planes will be a significant resource in Libya, in Yemen and in any war. For Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the significance of this agreement is obvious: Overnight, he moves up from being a full-back to becoming a key player on the pitch.


In reality, this normalization between Palestine and Israel has been created by the context, not just by the brokers on each side. An international context, first and foremost. Nothing is black and white anymore. Today it is about rivalry between Sunnis and Shiites, and most of all between Islamists, that is, Turkey and Iran, and the pro-Western conservatives in Saudi Arabia, supported by Abu Dhabi.

In fact, cooperation between the UAE and Israel has been going on for many years.

Everyone uses Israel: They are all for or against Israel, depending on what pays to retain power, because no one has legitimacy in the people. The most telling example is Hezbollah, probably the Palestinians' most important fighters. In Lebanon, there were 450 of them. According to a census done in 000, they are only 2018.

Many of the workers in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) come from countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Yemen. They are fleeing a life that has often been tougher than that of the Palestinians. Bloody conflicts. If I mention Gaza to them, they have no idea where it is or what it is. Earlier, during the intifada, the Palestinians were at the forefront of the struggle for freedom. Now it's the other way around: the Arab Spring is everywhere, but not in Ramallah. Not because of Israel, but because of Hamas and Fatah.

How many people in the Middle East still wear kefije ["Palestinian scarves", editor's note]?

In addition, has FAE always seen more to the east than to the west. They traded in pearls, which reached Europe through India via the British Empire. Exports are still mainly directed towards Asia. Against Japan, India, Iran and South Korea.

Built by immigrants

We must remember that in 1948, the year it all started – the year of the founding of Israel and the Palestinians nakbah (disaster), the UAE did not exist: they were not established until 1971. Before they found oil, they were extremely poor. The United Arab Emirates has been built up, literally, from scratch with the help of migrant workers. The FAE is not just an open-minded federation, but a down-to-earth country, always ready to invent something new. Be aware that in the Gulf, the real challenge is neither Israel nor Iran – it is the desert.

A highly developed, well-organized and prosperous country like the UAE, where everything works, and where the average age is 33 years – what relationship can they ever have with the other Arab countries? Countries like Lebanon, where Beirut ended up in ruins in August, a country that not only Palestinians long to leave, but also Lebanese want to leave.

In fact, cooperation between the UAE and Israel has been going on for many years. It started with renewable energy, a key industry for both parties. Summits on sustainability and development are held in Abu Dhabi, where the UN has also established an office.

It may not be so poetic, but something similar happened between two other countries: France and Germany. This is how peace began in Europe – with coal and steel. While the world was otherwise preoccupied with the Cold War. Or something else.

Vaccination in Gaza has since this article was written stopped
due to the bombing. (ed.)

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