IN the past twenty years, West Asia has been relegated to a proxy region subject to the ebbs and flows of international interests.
It would be fair to characterize 21st century geopolitics, to an extent, as largely bipolar.
Since West Asia has become a proxy region, anything that happens on the international level is likewise taking place within West Asia itself. As such, West Asia has become a stage subject to the push and pulls of this dualism.
The two different poles in this neo-Cold War both have internationalist ambitions. On the one hand, there is the Western “liberal-democratic” internationalism. Many analysts, such as Tim Anderson, would call this a “US-led coalition” which would not be a mischaracterization, with the United States often setting the agenda for Western internationalism and even taking unilateral action under the guise of “internationalist” objectives to “protect democracy.”
On the other hand, there is the “Axis of Resistance”—an internationalist front vis-à-vis the “liberal-democratic” internationalism led by the United States.
The “Axis of Resistance” is not an unfamiliar phenomenon within the so-called “Eastern world.” Not dissimilar to the non-aligned movement and its supra-national approach against imperialism and colonialism, the Axis of Resistance maintains a powerful front to protect the right to self-determination.
This movement can theoretically include a plethora of nations, though in the context of West Asia particularly, it includes but is not limited to: Iran, Syria, Palestine, Russia as a key ally, as well as movements within nations such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Houthis in Yemen.
Of course, here I use the terms ‘West’ and ‘East’ loosely—insofar as there are nations within the ‘East’ (such as the UAE itself and other client states such as Israel and Saudi Arabia) which have allied with the Western “liberal-democratic” axis.
Thus, by no means do I mean to push a ‘Clash of Civilizations’ discourse in discussing this bipolar phenomenon in West Asia. This bipolarity in the region is not an atypical or exceptional phenomenon, nor is it a culturally or geographically contingent mode of warfare. Rather, the bipolar contention in West Asia is simply a confrontation between a growing counter-hegemonic force against the hegemony of Western internationalism and its oft-violent ambitions.
Western internationalism has legitimized the occupation of Palestine since the very inception of Israel in the Balfour Declaration of 1917 and this legitimization has increased exponentially since the Second-World War.
Often forgotten, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) followed a similar path to Israel—its very legitimization and protection has relied on Western internationalism.
The sheikhdoms within the UAE (including Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharja, Ajman, Umm al-Qaiwan, Fujairah, and Ras al-Khaimah) were all part of the British protectorate. When the British decided to abandon their commitment in 1968, the sheikhdoms were evidently vulnerable, and as such decided to consolidate into one state, and declared statehood similar to Bahrain and Qatar in 1971.
It goes without saying that the UAE has maintained this relationship with Western Internationalism, often acting as a key ally to the US-led coalition. As a result, the deal between the UAE and Israel is not particularly a surprise given the bipolar nature of geopolitics.
The UAE, similar to Saudi Arabia, picked a side.
What makes it shocking, however, is the shattering of any remaining illusion of a commitment to the Palestinian people.
Although some Arab nations would come to ally with Western internationalism (which maintains the legitimacy of Israel), they themselves would maintain a steadfast commitment to the “Palestinian people” as a token talking point for self-legitimization.
The illusion of “Arab solidarity” shatters in the very breath in which an Arab nation gives up on the Palestinian cause. The UAE has boldly removed its mask, and this is a cause for shock when even Saudi Arabia has not publicly succumbed to “peace with Israel.”
This legitimization by the UAE can be a slipping slope and is of course, a cause for celebration for the expansionist interests of the “liberal-democratic” axis.
The “liberal-democratic” axis, insofar as it has international objectives, must forge linkages between its allies to have a truly supra-national movement to suffocate its opponents demanding self-determination. As such, this simply doubles down on the suppression of Palestinian liberation, since the deal does not take the Palestinian cause into account other than the single factor of Netanyahu suspending further annexation of the West Bank.
The legitimization of Israel by an Arab nation means the legitimization of “liberal-democratic” internationalism as a presence in West Asia. More importantly, it strengthens it by giving it supra-national allies. It encourages it by suffocating calls for self-determination in the region. It congratulates it for its normalization of apartheid and annexation.
There is one silver lining of the deal between the UAE and Israel: when masks are off and illusions are shattered, the dialectic also sharpens.
This deal pushes aside the performativity of being “pro-Palestine”—there can be no more obfuscation of the interests and motivations of states like the UAE and Saudi Arabia. Henceforth, we have a clearer picture between the imperialist order vis-à-vis the states that not only speak in support of Palestinians but act in support of Palestinians.
With increasing concessions to Israel and the United States, leaders of these states provide clearer picture of their puppetry to the interests of the West. A clearer image of their puppetry means a greater threat to their legitimacy domestically, within West Asia at large, and even internationally among the diaspora. A sharpened dialectic can mean, optimistically, a more powerful force of negation.
Nazanin Zarepour is a graduate student and researcher at the University of Toronto. She is Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations at the University of Toronto, with the twelfth edition available here.
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