Israel’s war on Gaza means Arab normalisation is ‘off the table’: Experts

Experts at Doha Forum say assault will impact Israel’s planned normalisation with Arab nations and downgrade US hegemony in the region.

Doha Forum
Panelists discuss the future of the Middle East at the Doha Forum in the Qatari capital [Urooba Jamal/Al Jazeera]

Doha, Qatar – Experts say the Israeli war on Gaza will force the Middle East to go into a “reset” and will impact the region’s normalisation process with Israel, creating a multipolar world away from the hegemony of the United States.

Prominent global experts spoke at the Doha Forum, which concluded in the Qatari capital on Monday, after two days of deliberations headlined by Israeli attacks on the besieged enclave, which has killed more than 18,000 people in just over two months.

The war, which several Arab nations have called a genocide of the Palestinian people, has triggered global calls for an immediate ceasefire and a probe into alleged war crimes committed by the Israeli forces.

However, a day before the Doha Forum began, the US vetoed a UN Security Council resolution pressing for a Gaza ceasefire – a move that caused significant indignation at the event in Qatar.

At the concluding session of the Doha Forum, Galip Dalay, a senior fellow at the Middle East Council on Global Affairs, said a growing discontent against the US will make it easier for China and Russia to gain more foothold in the Middle East.

“This war has not been regionalised in the form of state actors joining the war, but this war has been regionalised in the [way the region has been] emotionally, politically, and socially involved,” he said.

Israel normalisation ‘off the table’

Omar Rahman, also a fellow at the Middle East Council on Global Affairs, said Israel has reasserted itself as the “most hated country in the region by far”, making any normalisation process with it “off the table” in the near future.

Normalisation refers to a process endorsed by the Arab League in 2002 when it offered Israel normal relations with Arab nations in return for a full withdrawal from the lands it took in a 1967 war to allow the creation of an independent Palestinian state.

In 2020, former US President Donald Trump helped Israel secure formal relations with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco under agreements known as the Abraham Accords. Sudan also normalised relations with Israel as part of Trump’s push.

Meanwhile, Trump also angered the Palestinians when he recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The Palestinians seek occupied East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.

Doha Forum [Alma Milisic/Al Jazeera]
Some of the attendees at the two-day Doha Forum [Alma Milisic/Al Jazeera]

More recently, the Biden administration made a renewed push to normalise ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia. But the Gaza war has put Riyadh and other Arab nations who signed a peace deal with Israel in an awkward position.

Instead, experts at the Doha Forum predicted the Gaza assault will push regional rivals in the Middle East to “normalise” their relations – mainly Saudi Arabia and Iran.

“The normalisation processes between Arab states and other [nations] outside of Israel will likely continue because regional rivalries that emerged during the Arab Spring were self-destructive and economically costly,” said Rahman.

“No one would have emerged from this competition as the dominant force within the region,” he said.

Tehran as prime example

Sanam Vakil, director of the MENA Programme at Chatham House, said Iran is an “integral part of these normalisation processes in the region”.

Vakil said the China-brokered Saudi-Iran rapprochement earlier this year was a momentous example of fomenting multipolarity in the region.

She said Tehran’s regional relationships through what it calls the Axis of Resistance – which includes the Syrian government, Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthis in Yemen, and various Palestinian factions among others – help it “balance and pressure and hedge against what it sees as threats from the West’s sanctions”.

Europe’s unwillingness to support Iran’s nuclear ambitions due to human rights concerns also prompt Tehran to recognise the importance of regional ties, Vakil argued.

But analysts also warned that any regional escalation due to the Gaza war could be dangerous for Iran.

“At the same time, keeping low-level pressure on Israel, the United States and the broader region is very important to prevent a further escalation that they anticipate is going to come to Tehran, perhaps in 2024,” Vakil said.

Palestinian statehood

Alfredo Conte, a top Italian diplomat who also spoke at the Doha Forum, said the Gaza war has demonstrated how essential the Palestinian issue is for the region.

Conte said the Middle Eastern countries’ normalisation with Israel does not need to be an impossibility going forward and could be worked on alongside a solution of statehood with regard to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

“The whole region can be a part of shared stability and prosperity by addressing the Palestinian issue [and] by giving the Palestinian people a serious prospect of statehood,” he said.

Source: Al Jazeera