Activists and political figures gathered in Kuwait City earlier this month for the first regional conference dedicated to combating normalization with Israel.
“The Zionist entity is taking advantage of regional circumstances and normalizing relations with some Arab Gulf countries. That is what necessitated holding this conference,” said Saad Akasheh, chairman of Kuwait Catalyst Company, in one of the opening speeches.
The conference was organized by BDS Gulf, a group that backs the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement for Palestinian rights, under the patronage of Marzouq al-Ghanim, the current speaker of the Kuwaiti parliament.
Participants focused on strategies to divest from firms complicit in Israel’s military occupation, such as security company G4S, technology giant Hewlett-Packard, French engineering multinational Alstom and South Korea’s Hyundai.
There were also calls for laws and regulations in Gulf countries to actively exclude corporations involved in Israeli crimes.
It also took a big hit in Kuwait last year, where the country’s public pension and social security fund divested from G4S shares.
Omar Barghouti, one of the founders of the BDS movement, told participants in a recorded address that normalization is one of Israel’s strongest weapons to counteract the isolation it is experiencing because of boycotts.
Barghouti said that normalizing ties with Israel – which can include trade, cultural, sporting, political and military relations – is not only “a threat to the cause of Palestine, the central cause in the Arab region, but also to all the peoples of the region, as the Zionist colonial and racist project works against the region’s stability and prosperity.”
Despite domestic resistance movements, Arab states’ relations with Israel have never been more overt.
Normalization in Jordan
In contrast to Kuwait’s anti-normalization conference, the invite-only World Science Forum, held at the Dead Sea in Jordan earlier this month under the patronage of King Abdullah, included 10 Israeli academics and scientists.
Jordan signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994, but it remains deeply unpopular in a country with close historic and social ties to Palestine, and Jordanian society has generally resisted official efforts to promote relations with Israel.
“At a time when normalization conferences are bombarding Jordan and the Jordanians and exploiting Jordanians’ interest in scientific forums by receiving academics of the Zionist entity and imposing their presence in an attempt to force Jordanian individuals and institutions into normalization, there is a need for a movement of academics and intellectuals to address this massive wave of normalization,” BDS Jordan stated.
The group added that since its founding, Israel has “always expressed colonial ambitions on Jordanian territory and has occupied some of them and stolen their resources.” BDS Jordan also urged the Jordanian government to “boycott the Zionist entity academically, culturally and scientifically.”
Jordanian news website 7iber also denounced normalization at the conference.
Last summer, an Israeli security guard shot and killed two Jordanian nationals at a building used by the Israeli embassy in Amman. Amid a popular outcry that the gunman was spirited back to Israel where he was given a hero’s welcome, Jordan has since refused to reopen the embassy.
Israel has also threatened to withdraw from the Red Sea-Dead Sea Water Conveyance Project if the embassy does not reopen.
The Jordanian government said the project, which would generate hydroelectric power using a canal from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea, will continue regardless of Israeli participation.
Activists and environmentalists would see an Israeli withdrawal as a victory; the mega-project has long been criticized for potentially devastating ecological effects, as well as helping Israel to further dispossess Palestinians of their water resources.
Gulf “brotherhood” with the US and Israel
Muhammad bin Abdul Karim Issa, former Saudi justice minister and close ally of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, reportedly told Israeli media that violence against Israel is “un-Islamic” – in all its forms.
Israeli officials have also been welcome to speak to Saudi media as well.
He boasted about the two countries’ “many shared interests” and the readiness to share intelligence – likely a tacit admission that this has already been going on.
Eizenkot also bragged about the Israeli military, saying its status has never been better.
The United Arab Emirates is also taking steps towards a normalized relationship with Israel.
In an interview with the American news agency Defense & Aerospace Report, Abdullah al-Hashmi, an Emirati general, affirmed that Israel and his country do not pose any danger to one another.
“The UAE is a strategic partner of the United States. The UAE is not going to go and fight any of the United States allies, we’re going to fight in the same line and we’re going to defeat the same enemy,” the general said.
He also talked about the US as the “big brother” to the Emirates and Israel, acting as a broker between the two smaller siblings as the three allies jointly face off against Iran.
Earlier this year, the Israeli air force, which has killed and injured thousands of Palestinian and Lebanese civilians, and the United Arab Emirates air force, which has done the same in Yemen, participated in joint military exercises.