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Welcoming the August 13 US-brokered peace deal that has already begun the process of “complete normalisation” of relations between Israel and the UAE, India has called the West Asian region its “extended neighbourhood.” This underscores its desire to be part of changing dynamics in the region and beyond and play its cards to its advantage in an era where each country is working for itself.

That means sacrificing old ideals and principles that evolved in the past. The wheels of history are turning inexorably. Truth be told, this effectively ends the Palestinian ‘cause’ and its much-talked ‘intifada’ (uprising) of the last century—and not just in India. This is the new reality.

The Indian response has certainly referred to the Palestinian issue that it champions. Its intensity, however, has reduced with time as the Cold War ended towards the end of the last century.  It endorsed the two-state solution – its default position – exhorting Israel and the Palestinians to work for a comprehensive peace deal. But India, like everyone else, knows that this is homily.

India has in the past done what the Gulf nations are doing now, in gradually normalizing ties with Israel. Way back in the late 1970s, General Moshe Dayan, the Israeli military hero and long-time defence minister had secretly called on Prime Minister Morarji Desai. However, it was P V Narasimha Rao who resumed the process of recognising Israel.

Of the August 13 deal, former Indian diplomat Pinak Ranjan Chakravarty says: “The fog over the emerging re-alignments in the region has officially lifted. India’s strategic partnership with Israel, Saudi Arabia and UAE is a major pillar of India’s relationship with the West Asian region. This partnership will be strengthened.”

India’s statement on the agreement is not surprising as all the three nations signing the statement have become close partners of the Modi government.

India has close strategic ties with both Israel, its key supplier of military hardware and software, and with the UAE. The Emiratis have huge stakes in India and 30 lakh Indians who have helped build their economy.

Saudi Arabia, the biggest player in the Gulf region, has opposed the deal, for now at least. India has developed close ties with this largest oil suppler ties over the last 15 years, the most recent being a big stake in India’s oil refinery. The Saudi opposition to the Israeli-UAE deal may last only till Mohammed bin Salman takes full charge from his ailing father, King Salman. The powerful Crown Prince is a close friend and business partner of Jared Kushner, US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, who has brokered the deal.

The immediate advantage could go to Trump who is seeking a second term in the elections due November 3. The Saudi Crown prince and Israel’s Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu want Trump to win and Saudis would not be averse.

Globally, it’s advantage USA, gained by Trump, ironically, by building on the deal with Iran signed by his predecessor, Barack Obama, even though Trump rejected that deal and is now trying hard during the run-up to the November polls by imposing economic sanctions on Tehran. 

Irrespective of who rules in Washington, the US influence over West Asia is overwhelming. The Democratic presidential candidate, Joe Biden, who had been vice-president in the Obama administration, has welcomed the agreement as a “historic step to bridge the deep divides of the Middle East”.

Regionally, it’s advantage Israel. Trump hopes to consolidate the powerful Jewish vote in the elections. By the way, the Jewish vote outnumbers the Indian-American vote that Prime Minister Modi sought to ensure during Trump’s February visit.

 Whether all this helps Trump, hit by his mismanagement of Covid-19, a ‘jobless’ economy, an avalanche of protests by the Blacks and a resurged Joe-Biden/Kamala Harris Democratic campaign remains to be seen.   

As per the dominant global trend, ‘nationalists’ all, the fittest and the mightiest are playing for bigger advantage over a perennially quarrelling and divided Muslim world. Except crying ‘betrayal’, Palestinians have nothing left. The Palestinian leadership were quick to condemn the agreement as a “betrayal”, with Palestine president Mahmoud Abbas recalling the ambassador to UAE.

Truth be told, the Palestinians cannot be helped by a world that has left behind its non-alignment resolves with the end of the cold war. The Muslim world stands to get further divided in times to come.  

The West that created the State of Israel at the expense of Palestine has reinforced its superiority and supremacy in the global firmament.  

The Israeli-UAE agreement is based on the understanding that in return for normalisation of relations, Israel will forgo its plan of annexing Palestinian territories, although Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu announced that the ‘annexation’ of some Palestinian territories in the Judea and Samaria [West Bank] has been put on ‘hold’ but will remain on the table.

Corruption scandal-hit Netanyahu has to appease his right-wing constituency which will protest any halt to annexation. The threat of annexation retains Israeli leverage and continues to be a pressure point on the Palestinians and Arab countries. Israel’s military superiority, the Western support and its past record of aggression indicate that it can annexe those territories at will.

Iran is another factor that drives many Arab states to side with Israel. Tehran’s aggressive use of proxies to gain support across the Middle East has angered many. Tehran’s apparent determination to produce nuclear bombs causes the greatest concern, especially in Saudi Arabia.

Pakistan is on horns of a dilemma that will increase further as its ties with Saudi Arabia are troubled over Islamabad’s impatience and Riyadh’s reluctance to be proactive in attacking India on the Kashmir issue. After Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi’s diplomatic outburst, Army Chief Gen. Bajwa’s Saudi visit did not help control the damage. Both Saudi Arabia and UAE have ignored Pakistan’s request to convene meetings of the OIC to discuss the Kashmir issue.

Riding piggy-back on China, Pakistan has shifted closer to Iran and Turkey, as strategic rivalry between Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey has led to geopolitical re-alignments.

In sum, each state has its own reasons for moving on. When a deadlock occurs, it is usually the stronger party that imposes change. There is no morality or justice in this politico-military diplomatic game.

Mahendra Ved
Mahendra Ved is a veteran journalist who has served with the Times of India, Hindustan Times and United News of India. The writer can be reached at mahendraved07@gmail.com

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