United Arab Emirate officials talked a tough game in Washington, warning Israel that peace with their countries at the end of the day came at the price of Palestinian statehood.
UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash went so far as to lead reporters to believe that the document it planned to sign with Israel referenced a two-state resolution to the conflict with the Palestinians.
“It does reference the two-states by references to previous agreements that were signed,” Gargash said.
He was correct about one thing. The normalization documents signed by Israel, the UAE and Bahrain in Washington on Tuesday, known as the Abraham Accords, do not ignore the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The one with Bahrain commits to a "negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that meets the legitimate needs and aspirations of both peoples.”
The UAE-Israel accord speaks of a "negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that meets the legitimate needs and aspirations of both peoples."
The words sound right, but are missing one essential and obvious phrase, a Palestinian state. After all, what solution is sought for the Palestinians if not that, so why not just state it.
The omission of any reference to Palestinian statehood is particularly strange at this stage in the game. The Trump administration had already committed to a two-state resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in its January peace plan. If Palestinian statehood can be put it in writing in January, why not do so in September?
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu already pledge his support for a two-state resolution to the conflict in his famous 2009 Bar-Ilan speech. Just in case there was any room for doubt Netanyahu has also committed to the Trump peace plan.
One speculative possibility is that the documents were designed to avoid any controversial topics, so they could easily be ratified by the Israeli government and Knesset, where there is strong opposition to Palestinian statehood.
What ever the reason, without a specific reference to a Palestinian state, a door is left open to the possibility that a resolution to the conflict might not involve such Palestinian sovereignty, even the demilitarized one that Netanyahu has envisioned.
To underscore this point, Netanyahu to not reference Palestinian statehood at the White House ceremony. Also absent from Netanyahu's rhetoric of a former soldier seeking to lay down the guns of war, was any mention of his extended hand to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas or in fact any plea for Palestinian peace.
Instead, Netanyahu spoke of ending the Israeli-Arab conflict, as if to swallow the suddenly silent Palestinian issue, within the larger regional unrest.
US President Donald Trump spoke of Palestinians coming to the negotiating table, but ignored Palestinian statehood.
What they didn’t put in writing, UAE and Bahrain foreign ministers stated publicly at the ceremony.
“A just comprehensive and enduring two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict will be the foundation and the bedrock of such peace,” said Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al Zayani.
“This accord will enable us to continue to stand by the Palestinian people and realize their hopes for an independent state within a stable and prosperous region,” United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed said.
True, some of the language was different. Gone was the automatic references to a two-state solution at the pre-1967 lines or of a future Palestinian capital in east Jerusalem.
The closest they came was a reference made by bin Zayed, in which he thanked Netanyahu for “halting the annexation of Palestinian territories.”
In other words, the very territory that Israel has planned to annex and to which the Right already believes must be an integral part of sovereign Israel, remains in their eyes, Palestinian territory.
But how important are the words here, either written or spoken. It would almost seem as if the words carried more weight.
The Abraham Accords make no mention of the suspension of Israeli plans to annex West Bank settlements, but US officials have made it clear that Israel has committed to halt that plan. The Abraham Accords does not speak of a freeze of settlement planing, yet the Higher Planing Council for Judea and Samaria has not met to advance or approve settler building in six months.
On paper the Accords read more like a premier in religious tolerance and cultural exchange. In reality they reflect a dramatic regional change that involve a new Israeli-Gulf alliance against Iran and a complex upgraded of military equipment for Gulf states that could threaten Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge. This includes the possible US sale to the sophisticated F-35 fighter jets to the UAE.
None of this is reflected in the brief public documents that were signed and yet such arrangements would by necessity involve some kind of a written understanding.
For hours Tuesday the limelight focused on the first ever ceremony between Israel and two Arab states simultaneously, and the first Israeli peace treaty ceremony in over 20 years.
Despite the very public pomp and circumstance, one was left with the feeling that the true nature of the event and the commitments made were never revealed.
If this true about Iran and military hardware, why not about Palestinian statehood as well, if so perhaps it is enough that the dialogue around the Abraham Accords has reunited talk of Palestinian statehood.
Twenty-six years ago, on September 13, on that same White House lawn, president Bill Clinton inaugurated the 1993 Oslo Accord together with prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian Authority chairman Yasser Arafat.
At the time, it seemed as if peace and Palestinian statehood were just around the corner. But the Oslo Accord never led to a peace deal; what followed instead was decades of terrorist attacks and diplomatic warfare.
For the last three years of the Trump administration, the Right had hoped that the very idea and feasibility of a Palestinian state had been shelved, if not buried.
On Tuesday, September 15, Israel signed not a promise of peace, but documents of peace. These were not plans that would begin years in the future, but already now.
Airlines flights have already been scheduled. Business and medical cooperation is already in the works.
Tuesday’s ceremony, in some ways, underscored the limits of the 1993 ceremony built on the hope of peace, rather than 2020 one that laid the foundation for actual peace.
But that one element of hope was not abandoned, and again on Tuesday there was an attempt to forge a path toward a two-state resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The Palestinians have spoken of their feeling of betrayal by the Arab states, which they hold should have refused to make peace with Israel until their conflict was resolved.
Perhaps they are correct, that they will be tossed aside by the tide of normalization.
Or perhaps, Tuesday’s ceremony was a renewed step that brought Palestinian statehood back into the limelight and opened once again the door of possibility toward a state of their own.
At his first press conference with Netanyahu, Trump spoke of “one-state” or “two-states,” saying he wanted what ever the parties wanted.
Three years later, that question is still very much up in the air.