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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The Lesser of Two Evils

timesofisrael.com

The announcement and signing of the agreement to form a unity government in Israel early this week, between interim Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu and his main rival, the leader of the Blue and White party Benny Gantz, did not surprise me. Since Gantz’s speech to the nation the previous Thursday, which I found—unlike many observers and pundits—to be truthful and inspiring, I expected the result of that speech to bring home to Netanyahu the inevitability and urgency of such a deal. A deal that, with all its shortcomings and dangerous elements, I support.

Now how a ‘leftist/peacenik’ like me, you may ask, who detests everything Bibi Netanyahu’s stands for, and sees in him a real and present danger to Israel’s democracy and future; a longtime supporter of the Two-State solution such as myself, in opposition to the settlers movement since its inception following the Six-Day War, is now breaking ranks with his camp and supports Benny Bantz’s move in forming this unity government? In one word: Realpolitik. But of course, that’s not enough of an answer, and demands a further explanation. So allow me to elaborate.

I’ll start with what could have happened, or the ‘evil’ that was about to take a firm hold in Israel had Gantz not agree, and indeed pushed for the successful completion to this broad coalition deal. But before that even, one thing must be said at the outset: The unforeseen outburst of the coronavirus pandemic, and the grave danger to life and livelihood had dramatically changed the equation. Count me among those who believe that an emergency government WAS necessary in Israel in order to properly deal with it. And that to leave it all at the hands of Netanyahu and his cronies WAS a grave danger to the health of Israel’s citizens, and its democracy and freedom.

Following the signing of the agreement Gantz tweeted this (that’s the world we live in, ain’t it?): “We prevented fourth elections. We’ll safeguard democracy. We’ll fight the coronavirus and look out for all Israeli citizens. We have a national emergency government.” Again, I support these goals. And I believe he is sincere in his wish to achieve them. Of course, opposite him stands a fierce rival, a political animal like no other in Israel’s modern history, much more experienced and unprincipled than him. Also, against this tide, there exists a reality with strong currents that can topple this ship before it can sail into clear waters. But Gantz, who was the IDF chief-of-staff, is a fighter first and foremost. And he already achieved, entering Israeli politics a little over a year ago, more than most who spend a lifetime in it.

Now let’s examine the first evil: i.e. what would’ve happened had Gantz not soldierly marched on into this ‘lion’s den’ that is Netanyahu’s government. Netanyahu became the longest serving Israeli Prime Minister while serving as a caretaker, which is longer than a your now, following three inconclusive general elections. Sans a deal, he would be primed to continue serving in this capacity as PM. It thus provides him with the power to rule unopposed. There was a proposal, from the opposition actually, to freeze all political process and elections for six month in order to fight the pandemic. And so, it’s entirely possible that he would’ve remained in power for another year or so, even without forming a new government.

In that period of time, who knows what more he could’ve done in order to prevent his day in court, on bribery and breach of trust, and to subvert the fragile democracy and the rule of law to his will and dictatorial ambitions. (Remember, his mentor and teacher is not Trump, but Putin. And just like Putin, Netanyahu may use Gantz to stay in power for the long run.) Furthermore, the latest polls indicate he’s gaining ground significantly, with projection of 40 Knesset Members to his Likud party in the next election. This is a real threat. And it’s the result of what is called ‘rally round the flag’ effect in a moment of crisis. And Netanyahu, mind you—unlike Trump—is a real master-of-manipulation, taking full advantage of this terrible pandemic situation. Another six months or so with him alone in power, alone at the TV podium, and 40 seats in the Knesset might become 50 seats. In short, the chances of Netanyahu escaping justice and solidifying his rule over Israel for many years to come, were much larger without this deal.

Now let’s look briefly at this deal, the other ‘evil.’ It safeguards, enshrined by law, a transition of power. In 18 months, Gantz would become the next prime minister. It gives his party and block (together with two small fractions) hardly 19 Knesset members—Netanyahu has 59!—half the ministers in the new government (no doubt too large of a government). Including in that are the three most important ministers, to my mind, other than the PM: Defense, Foreign and Justice. It safeguards a transition of power, and it ensures that Netanyahu will go to court, once the courts are opened soon (his trial is scheduled now for May 24th). And, should the Israeli High Court prevent Netanyahu from holding office, Gantz automatically will become the interim PM, until new elections.

True, the deal also mandates that in July the decision to enforce annexation of large parts of the West Bank will be put in front of the Knesset. How can Gantz (and I) support that disastrous decision? Here’s how: real politics again. As I pointed many times before here, the settlers movement had won the battle. Hands down. There is no going back. The Two-State solution is dead. Gantz in fact, following his visit to the White House, endorsed the ‘Deal of the Century,’ and so are the majority of Israeli citizens. That’s doesn’t make this wrong right, of course not, but rather inevitable. It is the reality on the ground. (What the Palestinians should do, you ask? What they should’ve done long ago: Throw the keys at Israel and demand to be Israeli citizen in a ‘One-State solution.’)

Again, it’s true also that Netanyahu safeguarded in this deal his ability to remain in power for the next 18 months (at least, since the possibility he might not relinquish it still exists). He has control, and veto—but so is Gantz—over appointments of judges and other important positions in the legal system. But not without obstacles, with the Justice ministry in the hands of an astute Gantz’s appointee, and with time running out on him fast.

There are many who oppose this deal who are saying Gantz had the chance to lead. Had the chance to enact laws that would’ve prevented Netanyahu from subverting the law of the land to his will, and prevent him from staying Prime Minister. Not so. Two members of his party were opposed to these moves, and so is another member of the closely attached Labor Party (that expect to disappear in the next elections). I don’t believe this opposition had a real chance to unitedly do so. It was fragile at best, impossible at worst.

Finally this: Netanyahu threats of ‘masses in the streets’ (blood in the streets is how I see it) in case the High Court or the Knesset would to prevent him from staying as PM were very, very real. Remember the murdered PM Yitzhak Rabin? And all that in the midst of a severe pandemic. The conclusion therefore is: Tough situations demand tough decisions. And in this tough, dangerous days, the ‘evil’ of this unity government—fragile and unpredictable as is—was, still is, a much lesser evil than the alternative.

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