What’s Really Behind Israel-UAE- “Peace Deal”


As I write this, the euphoric dust continues to hang low over Israel and America, following the announcement of the normalization agreement between Israel and the UAE. The superlatives (thrown about to distort the truth) were so overwhelming that even a veteran observer such as yours truly found it difficult to clear the fog of falsehood. Of course, none was bigger in this regard than President Trump’s tweet: “HUGE breakthrough today! Historic Peace Agreement between our two GREAT friends, Israel and the United Arab Emirates!”

Caught in the jubilation were—except the Palestinians, for obvious reasons—not only the major players themselves, but the media here and in Israel, including long time, astute observers of Trump, Netanyahu, and the Middle East. Who, feeling the urge to join in this intoxicated international Hora dance, lost momentarily their usually analytical observation power. And so I aim, in my limited capacity – though as always dedicated to the truth – to clear some of this stardust for your benefit. But before I do that, some important—indeed promising—developments of this deal (yet to be ironed out,) must be highlighted and commended.

This development is welcomed and, if successful, opens a wealth of opportunities for Israel, the UAE, and the entire Middle East. Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, crown prince of Abu Dhabi and the Emirati leader who brokered the deal, described it in a tweet (second to Trump, of course) this way: “During a call with President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu, an agreement was reached to stop further Israeli annexation of Palestinian territories. The UAE and Israel also agreed to cooperation and setting a roadmap toward establishing a bilateral relationship.”

Unlike Trump’s bombastic tweet, this one is rather clear and informative. It states first that the raison d’etre for the deal is to stop Netanyahu’s planned annexation, promised to his voters in the last election. Only secondly comes the promise of “cooperation and setting a roadmap toward establishing a bilateral relationship.” It’s worth pointing out here that Netanyahu, in his major speech to the nation, not only minimized the annexation issue and insisted it’s only a “temporary suspension,” but like Mr. Trump declared it a “done deal,” rather than a work in progress. Furthermore, it’s important to state here that Israel and the UAE have been engaged in economic, scientific, and intelligence cooperation for quite some years, indeed under the radar. In that sense, bringing it to light is also an important achievement.

I should acknowledge also that this ‘new deal’ opens the possibilities of similar such agreements in the near future with other Middle East countries, especially other oil-rich sheikhdoms such as Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, and Oman, small countries that share also a common enemy: Iran. Which is another factor in this equation, and a rather important one to Israel and America. It creates a buffer zone for the Iranian aspirations and adds the most powerful army in the Middle East—i.e. Israel’s IDF—permission to defend and possibly attack Iran. Of course, with the backing of America. What’s wrong with all that, you ask?

Let me tell you. First, this is not a peace deal. Nothing of the sort. A peace deal is an agreement made between enemies, most often after a long, protracted war. Israel and the UAE were never at war with each other. Not even close. Growing up in Israel, and serving in the IDF both in compulsory and reserve duties for many years, no one ever mentioned that sheikdom, let alone even knowing where it is. (Confession: I had to look at the map just to make sure.) Yes, it’s part of the larger Arab League, and as such it’s also a signatory to its peace proposal of 2002, which it now has betrayed, according to not just the Palestinians, but Saudi Arabia as well.

This is not a peace deal; rather, it’s a normalization agreement. Which brings me to my second point: Annexation. On the face of it, what a great deal. It stopped (or suspended) Israel’s annexation of a large part of the West Bank. Now, I ask you, if this is such a great deal, why the Palestinians are not happy about it? They should be celebrating in the streets, right? But no, they know better. And what they know is that, first, the threat of annexation is not gone. Second, they know that annexation de facto is still in progress, acre after acre, kilometer after kilometer, hill after hill. For them, the need for a united Arab League to stick with the 2002 peace plan, which Israel has done its best to disregard, is much more important.

Regarding this crucial element of the agreement, I’ll say one more thing: It’s mostly thanks to Benny Gantz and his Blue and White Party, on the receiving end of so much ridicule in Israel—but not from me, as I laid out in a previous post — The Lesser of Two Evils, from April 26 — because they joined the coalition with Netanyahu. But he and his party were the ones to actually prevent Netanyahu from going ahead with it on July 1st. They refused, unless America supports it, and unless it’s part of the overall ‘peace deal’ the Trump administration has suggested with the Palestinians. In a way, they are the ones who prevented it—if it’s indeed prevented—and not the agreement with UAE.

Lastly, I believe the real reason beyond this deal is Netanyahu and Trump’s way of escaping jail. Wait, let me explain. While the said deal is important on some levels (as pointed out above), it’s the political gains that the two of them are seeking, to ensure they stay in power and avoid prosecution. In Netanyahu’s case, his court proceeding will kick into high gear next January, where and when he’ll have to appear in court to defend himself three times a week. Imagine that. He cannot stop these proceedings, as they are underway already. His only chance to stay out of jail is to remain in power and to bend the rule of law—Belarus, Russia, China—his way. Had Trump not being president currently, he’d probably be in jail by now, that’s my belief. And should he lose the coming election—he better!—the democrats, justice, and law forces will go after him like a ‘huge’ fireball. His only salvation is to stay in power. Hence this deal.

Lastly: Comparing these so-called “Abraham Accords” to Israel’s peace treaty with its sworn enemy Egypt in 1979, and to the peace treaty with Jordan in 1994; comparing the major players of this deal to Sadat, Begin, Hussain, and Rabin is at best misleading, and at worst an outright lie. So befitting this marriage-of-convenience of Netanyahu and Trump.

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Friendship in Time of Conflict

goldsborobooks.com

Let me tell you a story. A story about friendship, a story about war and peace, a story about a book. I’ll start with the friendship: When I arrived here in Sacramento almost twenty-four years ago, right away I got involved with a small group of people from different backgrounds (but mostly Jews), who called their group ‘The Middle East Peace Project,’ and who were dedicated on educating the public at large about all aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and more so even, on spreading the word that peace was possible to achieve.

Among the group activists was a Palestinian named Akef Shihabi, who was a mild-mannered, middle-aged man, educated and very pleasant to be around. We struck friendship soon after I joined the group, I visited his house and he mine, and though his family was expelled from East-Jerusalem in 1948; and though my parents arrived to then the British Mandate of Palestine in 1946, refugees and survivals of the Holocaust, we not only fast became friends, but on behalf of our group we began appearing together around the city and county, universities, congregations, Jewish and Christians and Muslims, where we shared our different experiences but common belief in the possibility of peace.

At some point we drifted apart, due to life’s other obligations, necessities, and misfortunes. Also, due to my realization that at some point we were just treading water, and had exhausted all the open venues in this area. Still, on occasions I would think of him. None more so than nowadays, when for the last three weeks I was consumed by a new book—’Apeirogon,’ by Colum McCann—which was published last month to great acclaim and much interest. So much so that one book reviewer I’ve read, in ‘The Guardian’ of London, concluded by saying that if ever a book can bring peace to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, this is the book.

I was immediately intrigued: Can a book bring peace? Not only that: At the center of the book—the author is calling it a novel, yet it’s really a novel in name only since it’s mostly a nonfiction, biographical, historical book using real people, real names, and real incidents—are an Israeli and a Palestinian, from Jerusalem and Jericho, who both lost young daughters to the conflict. They form an everlasting friendship, first through an organization called ‘The Parents Circle,’ and then through an organization called ’Combatants for Peace.’ Both organizations are also real and active presently.

At the core of the book is the story of these two men. How their daughters were killed—the Palestinian man, Bassam, ten-year old daughter, Abir, was shot in the back of her head by a rubber bullet from an Israeli soldier riding in a Jeep, just as she came out of a small shop on a break from school, a candy in her hand; the Israeli man, Rami, his daughter Smadar, only fourteen, was walking with her two best friends on Ben Yehuda Street in Jerusalem when three suicide bombers exploded themselves one afternoon. The book tells their stories, their families’ and daughters’ stories, how they deal with the constant grief and loss, how they became friends and active in peace and reconciliation efforts, appearing and lecturing together not only in Israel-Palestine, but in Europe and America.

This ancient conflict, they believe, won’t end until we talk. (A side bumper-sticker on Rami’s motorbike says just that in Hebrew : (זה לא ייגמר עד שנדבר. And the book indeed talk. And talk for long about them and about other things. It’s all those other things, unrelated to their friendship, peace activities and personal stories that obscure and dull the effect of the book somewhat. They hold our attention, the two men; their stories original and painful enough for the book to sustain interest and emotional resonance throughout. The author though, it seems, wanted to write the “ultimate” book about the Middle East at large, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in particular. Which takes away from the impact at the core of his book.

Nonetheless, it’s an admirable effort. But can it bring peace? No, it cannot. Still, it’s an important book. And it’s important not only because it shows the historical depth, and current magnitude of the conflict—as other books had done already (not to mention the Bible)—but also because it gives voice to the possibility of friendship in time of conflict. The possibility of shared experiences and shared humanity and efforts working, united, for the common good. And it makes clear that peace is possible to attain.

Therefore, in conclusion, I suggest that anyone who’s connected to this conflict in any way, to the ‘land of milk and honey’ and to its people, whether closely or remotely, would surely find this book of great interest. As Rami thinks to himself when he first joins ‘The Parents Circle’—an organization of bereaved parents from both sides—“It is not a decree of faith that we should live forever with a sword in our hands.” And equally so Bassam (who experienced seven years of humiliation and torture in an Israeli prison) thinks that “The only revenge is making peace.” So ultimately, and persuasively, their story renews the hope that someday in the future, sooner rather than later, driven by the people more than by their leaders, a peaceful resolution to this endless war would be found.

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