Israel’s diplomatic normalization efforts with Arab countries has accompanied growing authoritarianism and there might be more to come.
By Peter Beinart | Jewish Currents | Oct 26, 2020
To implement normalization agreements, therefore, Netanyahu and Trump need their Arab partners to quash domestic dissent.
On October 23rd, Donald Trump announced that Sudan would begin the process of normalizing relations with Israel. The declaration, which was part of a deal to remove Sudan from the US list of state sponsors of terror, follows last month’s pledges by the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain to recognize the Jewish state. Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu have claimed that those peace deals—dubbed “The Abraham Accords”—will promote “human dignity and freedom” in the Middle East.
Twelve days after the Abraham Accords were signed, a poet named Dhabiya Khamis tried to exercise her freedom to leave the UAE. Her government barred her from boarding the plane. “The ban is probably because of my announced opinion against Zionism and normalization,” Khamis declared. “I fear for my freedom and life from being threatened and arrested.” Those fears were well-founded. According to a report in Middle East Monitor, “scores of Emiratis, Palestinians and Jordanians living in the UAE” had already been jailed “for opposing Abu-Dhabi’s peace deal with Israel.”
Khamis’s experience illustrates a harsh truth: Although Israel’s diplomatic breakthroughs in the Persian Gulf have elicited bipartisan praise in Washington, they rely on—and contribute to—brutal repression. In Sudan, which is undergoing a fragile transition after three decades of dictatorial rule, normalization imperils democracy too. The reason is simple. In a region where sympathy for the Palestinian cause still runs deep, recognizing Israel elicits fierce popular opposition. To implement normalization agreements, therefore, Netanyahu and Trump need their Arab partners to quash domestic dissent. For years, Israel’s boosters have bemoaned the lack of democracy in the Middle East. Ironically, it is that lack of democracy on which Israel’s peace diplomacy largely depends.