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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New Year; Old Hope

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As we welcome the new Jewish year, 5780, I’d like to wish you all a healthy, happy, meaningful year. And as we look ahead to the new year, there’s a new—old, in my opinion—hope of renewal in Israel. The elections of September 17 are still fresh and far from settled. Many questions still remain. But it is safe to say that a new wind is blowing. And that maybe—just maybe—the rule of Bibi Netanyahu, a rule that was based on incitement, on subversion of democracy, on extremism and racism, on undermining the rule of law, and on solidifying the occupation and the endless conflict with the Palestinians, might finally be over.

This new wind is, in many ways, an old wind. It brings with it the smell of Eretz Israel of old. Of principles of justice for all, of separation of state and religion, of equal rights before the law. Of the essence of the declaration of independence. There’s chance of going to seed; to the old seed that gave birth to the state of Israel as we knew it and loved it. There is an opportunity now, even if a narrow one, to go back to what made the country so great in its first years of existence.

Don’t get me wrong, though; I’m not so naïve as to believe that all of Israel’s problems can now, suddenly and miraculously, be solved. Far from it: I’m well aware that the leaders of the Blue and White party, which had a narrow win – as indeed I predicted in my talk in Davis—in the elections, are not knights with shiny armor, riding on white horses. They have their faults, like all of us, and in term of the chances for peace, and a way to resolve the eternal conflict with the Palestinians, they are not so different from Mr. Netanyahu and his Likud party.

But I do believe that the probable successor—whether in this round or the next one—to the current Crime Minister, Benny Gantz, the leader of the Blue and While party, is a principled, old-time Rabin-like Israeli. (On the second night after Election Day he was in the audience at the Cultural Hall in Tel Aviv, at a concert by Israeli singers, and was invited on the stage to sing one of these good-old Israeli songs.) His immediate fight—what caused him to throw his hat into the ring in the first place—was to save Israel’s democracy. It seems safe to say that this battle, at the essence of these two rapid elections, is still going on. Maybe far from over. But for now, Israel survived the gravest threat since independence of turning into an autocracy. And that, in and of itself, is a major win.

The other threat, to be followed soon had Netanyahu won the elections, was the promised annexation of the West Bank, an end to any chance of peace-agreement with the Palestinians, and thereafter Israel turning not only into dictatorship, but an Apartheid state as well. This threat is still very real, make no mistake, but at least the new leader, together with his co-leaders, has a chance to change direction. Whether they will take this road; whether they will even have the chance to go this way, still remains to be seen. But the possibility is there.

On the ground things have changed so much since the 67 war, especially during the last twenty years or so, that it seems very unlikely that the Two-State solution—which I declared dead in another talk I gave in Davis seven years ago—can be resurrected. Yet one can still believe in miracles. In old Israel itself. Believe so even though the gap between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv; between the fanatic, religious Israel and the secular, liberal Israel, has widened so dramatically lately. So much so that the ‘War between the Jews’ is again a real threat and possibility. The gap between the haves and have nots has also widened. These problems and others must be addressed by the new government, however shape it’s going to take. The job ahead of that government is real, and not easy, but doable.

Of course, as I write this, it’s not clear at all—after the attempt at unity government has failed, it’s Netanyahu who is getting a first crack at building a coalition—whether Benny Gantz and his Blue-and-White party will be given the chance to build a coalition, should Netanyahu, as expected, fail. And yet, one can hope. One can hope that—again, in this round or the next—the wind of old Israel would take over and bring a change in government and direction. Because Israel and its citizens, and with them Jews the world over, have a lot to be thankful for. And be proud of, too. And be able to believe again that corruption can be replaced by hard and principled work. That occupation can be replaced, for both sides, by liberation. And that glory days might be in sight again. Shana Tova!

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