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Bahbah: The Israel-UAE Agreement and the Palestine Question

posted on: Aug 19, 2020

The Israel-UAE Agreement and the Palestine Question

By: Bishara Bahbah/Arab America Featured Columnist

The most debatable topic these days is who won and who lost, especially in reference to the Palestinians, from the recently announced diplomatic agreement between Israel and the UAE.

The answer to that question, if one is to be truthful and somewhat objective, is it depends on whether one sees the glass as half full or half empty. With that in mind, I am going to present in this article the two perspectives on the matter.

The highly acclaimed former chief of Israel’s military intelligence and the current director of Tel Aviv University’ Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), General Amos Yadlin, best described the impact of the agreement on the Palestine question and the Trump peace plan. 

He stated, in a virtual meeting this past Monday, that Benjamin Netanyahu’s acquiescence to “put off the table,” the annexation of any parts of the West Bank as part of the quid pro quo for normalizing relations with the UAE,” meant the following:  that the U.S. “peace plan,” which had gone “nowhere” would have been buried by annexation in any case.

Yadlin added that Netanyahu “understood that with annexation he had an asset with a negative return and an expiration date very soon in January 2021.”  Netanyahu exchanged a move that had “risks and costs” with something that had “only benefits.” 

To paraphrase Yadlin, he believed that the Trump “peace plan” was dead and “annexation” would have only accelerated its demise.  On the positive side, taking annexation “off the table” relieved Jordan from the consequences of having to deal with Israel’s annexation of the Jordan Valley which would have infuriated the majority of his citizens who are of Palestinian origin.  Jordan was also fearful that the annexation could have led to the collapse of the Palestinian Authority which would have led to violence and chaos in the West Bank.

Some analysts have argued that because Jordan and Egypt have had diplomatic ties with Israel, they have been able to influence and, at times, moderate Israeli behavior toward the Palestinians including those in Gaza.  Similarly, now that the UAE has ties with Israel, it would be able to influence or pressure Israel on behalf of the Palestinians should negotiations between Israel and the PA resume at some point, possibly if Joe Biden is elected as the new US president.  And, presumably the Trump “peace plan” is relegated to the wastebaskets of history.

There is a point of view that President Trump is now desirous of an Israel-Palestine peace agreement prior to the November 5thpresidential election date.  Such an agreement, Trump believes could help boost his chances of getting reelected.  Having delivered to Netanyahu diplomatic prizes that no Israeli prime minister would have imagined, President Trump has tremendous leverage over Netanyahu.  Consequently, Trump would be able to use that leverage to force Netanyahu to accept a peace deal with significant concessions to the Palestinians that meets their national aspirations for a state but only if they come to the negotiating table.

From a practical perspective, had Netanyahu gone ahead with annexation, it might have made a two-state solution a far-fetched goal.  Palestinians still view that settlement expansion and land expropriation as reversible.

If we now look at the negative aspects of the Israeli-UAE normalization agreement, one can point out the fact that it broke the Arab consensus of adhering to the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative (API) which promised Arab and Muslim recognition of Israel in return of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders with minor modifications.

Clearly, other Arab states will now monitor closely Arab, Palestinian, and world reaction and assess whether they can afford to follow in the footsteps of the UAE and establish relations with Israel with minimal diplomatic consequences.  There is currently talk that Bahrain, Oman, Sudan, and Morocco might follow suit in the foreseeable future and establish ties with Israel.

Some analysts have pointed out that the Israel-UAE agreement did not call for an end to the occupation but rather an end to the annexation and as such, it was what Netanyahu termed as “peace for peace” and not “land for peace.”  The agreement did not call for the cessation of settlement expansion and continued land confiscation of Palestinian lands.

If the status quo continues in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Israeli settlements will continue to grow and in 20 years or so, more and more of the West Bank will be swallowed by those settlements. 

And, one day, everyone will realize that Israel and Palestine have become one state – in all but name.  And the fight could then become not over borders but over rights.  Will it be a bi-national state with equal rights?  Or, will it be an apartheid state, as most Palestinians would expect to be?

At that point, who the hell would have cared that Netanyahu “shelved” his plans for annexation in return for establishing ties with the UAE?

Prof. Bishara Bahbah was the editor-in-chief of the Jerusalem based “Al-Fajr” newspaper between 1983-84. He was a member of the Palestinian delegation to the Peace Talks on Arms Control and Regional Security. He taught at Harvard and was the associate director of its Kennedy School’s Institute for Social and Economic Policy in the Middle East.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Arab America.

The reproduction of this article is permissible with proper credit to Arab America and the author.

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