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The Art of the Peace Deal

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The Art of the Peace Deal

We love peace deals, don’t we folks? On Tuesday, Trump held a ceremonial signing to celebrate the normalization of relations between Israel and the UAE, as well as Israel and Bahrain.

As usual the Palestinians are on the outside looking in. They’re supposed to welcome these developments because Israel’s proposed annexation of the West Bank has allegedly been stopped, but that’s simply not true. In a recent televised address, Netanyahu said that annexation is “still on the table” and something he’s “committed to.” Beyond that, no one is even pretending that the deal does anything for Palestine. It certainly doesn’t threaten the occupation in any way or reverse any of the United States’s pro-Israel policies. “The UAE has come out in the open on its secret dealings/normalization with Israel. Please don’t do us a favor. We are nobody’s fig leaf!,” tweeted Palestinian Authority official Hanan Ashrawi in response to the deal.

There’s a lot of reciprocity at work here. Days after the UAE portion of the deal was announced, we learned that they are set to spend billions of dollars purchasing Reaper drones and fighter jets from the United States. It was originally reported that Israel was worried about this development, but we now know that was never true and that Netanyahu privately condoned the arms deal. Now it’s also being reported that Israel is looking to land $8 billion worth of weapons from Trump, on top of the $38 billion they already get from the United States every year.

How does Bahrain factor in? As Emad Moussa points out at Mondoweiss, the tiny island nation doesn’t exactly operate under its own authority. “Bahrain practically lives under the Saudi umbrella and hides behind Saudi muscles,” Moussa writes. “It’s almost a Saudi protectorate. So it’s highly unlikely that the Bahraini ruler decided to go ahead with the normalization without at least an implicit Saudi approval.”

Bahrain has been a participant in the war that Saudi Arabia and the UAE have carried out on Yemen. It’s a war that has killed 17,500 civilians and put the country on the brink of famine. It’s also being waged with U.S. weapons. In exchange for such support, the island can count on protection. When Bahrain’s monarchy faced a popular revolt during the Arab Spring, Saudi Arabia and the UAE were happy to send troops into the country to put down the uprising.

As Moussa writes, Saudi Arabia can exploit the deal for its own advantage. It provides them with a “backdoor to deal with Tel-Aviv unhindered, something of a Saudi embassy for normalization, if you will. This among other things will fulfill some of the Saudi strategic needs without the Kingdom necessarily abandoning its long-held positions, at least publicly.”

So Saudi Arabia helps give Trump a photo-op shortly before the election and why wouldn’t they be more than willing to? His administration openly provides the country with the weapons it uses to smash Yemen, among other things. According to Bob Woodward’s new book, Trump bragged about protecting Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman after the royal was accused of being behind the murder and dismemberment of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. “I saved his ass,” said Trump. “I was able to get Congress to leave him alone. I was able to stop them.”

In Woodward’s book, Trump also declares that Saudi Arabia is an important ally and good for the U.S. economy. “You know, they’re big. Because of their religious monuments, you know, they have real power,” he said. “They have oil, but they also have great monuments for religion. You know that, right? For that religion.”

A coalition of over 50 organizations (including US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, Jewish Voice for Peace, American Muslims for Palestine, and Jewish Voice for Peace) put out a statement opposing the deals. “While we condemn the actions of the UAE and Bahrain governments, we know that the Arab people of the UAE and Bahrain remain firm in their support for Palestine,” it reads. “Likewise, while we condemn the long role of the US government in pushing normalization while underwriting Israel’s violent occupation and settler-colonial project, we know that our fellow Americans want the US government to promote justice. The American people want their tax dollars spent on our crumbling education system, compromised infrastructure, and healthcare, not to prop up human rights abusers nor to fatten the bank accounts of weapons contractors.”

These aren’t peace deals, they’re war deals. The players might be different, but the outcome remains the same for Palestine.

Yemen Hearing

State Department Inspector General Steve Linick was fired by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in May, while his office was in the middle of probing an $8 billion “emergency arms sale” that the Trump administration made with Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Jordan. The office Inspector General put together a report on the arms sale and (surprise!) determined that the deal was not illegal. House lawmakers who have attempted to investigate this suspicious series of events have been predictably stonewalled, so the House Foreign Affairs Committee had a hearing on the issue this week.

Prior to the hearing, Rep. Eliot Engel (not often a fan favorite at Mondoweiss) released documents showing that the State Department asked the Inspector General’s office to classify a section of the report. A New York Times story from last month shows that the “heavily redacted” part of the report contained information on civilian casualties from the war on Yemen.

At the hearing, Engel accused Pompeo of firing Linick because he had raised questions about the civilian casualties. “In the mad rush to get weapons out the door after Mr. Pompeo made that emergency declaration, did those questions just fall by the wayside?” Engel asked. “Of course not. The emergency was declared specifically so that the department could avoid answering those questions.”

Undersecretary of State for Management Brian Bulatao effectively told the committee that this whole thing is just a massive coincidence. Linick, Bulatao claimed, was actually let go because he finished a State Department audit late and his office had low morale.

During her question time, Rep. Ilhan Omar brought up some of the atrocities that the Saudi-coalition has carried out during the war. In 2016, they launched airstrikes on a funeral in Sana’a that killed 155 people and wounded at least 525 others. In 2018, they destroyed a Doctor’s Without Borders facility in Abs that was used to treat cholera patients. That year they also bombed a school bus, killing 51 people. 40 of them were children.

Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs R. Clarke Cooper admitted that the United States could do a better job of preventing civilian casualties, but defended the government for being on “right side of history” when it comes to Yemen.

Members of the administration might think they’re on the right side of history, but they seem to be developing some anxiety nonetheless. The New York Times reports that U.S. officials are hiring private lawyers over concerns that they might be charged with war crimes as a result of the Trump administration arms-sales policies. Last week, the United Nations issued a report on atrocities in Yemen and called for the alleged war crimes to be referred to the International Criminal Court. It’s very hard to imagine that United States officials would ever actually be held accountable for such things. In 2009, a Spanish court attempted to prosecute Bush administration officials over their connections to torture at Guantánamo Bay, but the case was ultimately dismissed. The fact they’re scared certainly says something though.

Odds & Ends

💰  Israeli-American media producer and Democratic mega-donor Haim Saban raised $4.5 million for the Biden campaign at a fundraiser. Back when 23 candidates were running for the nomination last year, Saban said, “We love all 23 candidates. No, minus one. I profoundly dislike Bernie Sanders, and you can write it. I don’t give a hoot.”

🇮🇱 Jewish Insider reports that Trump had a call with Rabbis and Jewish leaders this week where he claimed Israel was in trouble if Biden wins: “Whatever you can do in terms of November 3rd, it’s going to be very important because if we don’t win, Israel is in big trouble..you are going to lose control of Israel. Israel will never be the same. I don’t know if it can recover from that.” 

🇰🇪 The Department of Defense wants to expand the drone war into parts of eastern Kenya.

 🇮🇱 An anti-BDS group called the Academic Engagement Network (AEN) has donated $25,000 to UC Berkeley’s Anti-Semitism Education Initiative.

🇨🇦 A new poll from EKOS Research Associates found that 84% of Canadians think the International Criminal Court should investigate alleged war crimes committed by Israeli officials.

🇵🇸 Rep. Betty McCollum was presented with an award at American Muslims for Palestine (AMP) annual Virtual Palestine Advocacy Days event. We reprinted McCollum’s acceptance speech at the website and it’s worth checking out. She’s one of the only elected officials who doesn’t hesitate to use the a-word when describing the situation in Palestine. “Apartheid is a system that the Palestinian people endure as they struggle every day under Israel’s military occupation,” she said. “An oppression that is sadly supported by U.S. taxpayer’s dollars, our dollars. I believe that the Palestinian people deserve dignity, respect, justice, and freedom. [They also deserve] a future in which their fate is decided by the Palestinians themselves.”

💸 CNBC reports that GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson is about to spend between $20 and $50 million trying to get Trump reelected.

💻 56 scholars who specialize in antisemitism and Jewish history have sent a letter to Facebook asking the company not to adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism, which equates it with some criticisms of Israel. “Fight all forms of hate speech on Facebook. But don’t do so by adopting and applying a politicized definition of antisemitism, which has been weaponized to undermine free speech, in order to shield the Israeli government and to silence Palestinian voices and their supporters,” reads the letter.

Stay safe out there,

Michael