Palestinians are out in the cold but not forgotten in Israel-UAE deal?

To achieve UAE peace, Israel was not required to make territorial concessions as it had with the 1979 Egyptian deal.

President Mahmoud Abbas gestures during a meeting with the Palestinian leadership to discuss the United Arab Emirates' deal with Israel to normalize relations, in Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank August 18, 2020 (photo credit: REUTERS/MOHAMAD TOROKMAN/POOL)
President Mahmoud Abbas gestures during a meeting with the Palestinian leadership to discuss the United Arab Emirates' deal with Israel to normalize relations, in Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank August 18, 2020
(photo credit: REUTERS/MOHAMAD TOROKMAN/POOL)
The Mediterranean waves broke for history Monday, as the first ever cargo ship to arrive in Israel from the United Arab Emirates pulled into Haifa’s port.
With its Israeli and UAE flags, it was a physical symbol of the written peace deal the Israeli government gave an initial nod to in Jerusalem, before sending the document to the Knesset for a vote.
The fact that it is only the third such existing deal between Israel and a Middle Eastern Arab state made it a moment in history and a moment of personal victory for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
It was not just that such a rare event occurred on his watch. The details of the agreement matched Netanyahu’s personal doctrine and thus reflected a philosophical victory for his diplomatic style.
To achieve UAE peace, Israel was not required to make territorial concessions as it had with the 1979 Egyptian deal, where Israel withdrew from Sinai, and the 1994 Jordanian deal, where Israel ceded land rights at Naharayim and Tzofar.
The UAE agreement did not even involve the explicit possibility of West Bank land withdrawal or Palestinian statehood as had the 1993 and 1995 Oslo Accords. It also reversed the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, which had held such normalization deals hostage to an Israeli agreement to the creation of a Palestinian state based on the pre-1967 lines.
The United States-brokered Israeli-UAE peace deal, which will be followed by a normalization agreement with Bahrain and possibly other such deals, has therefore appeared to divorce Israelis from the Palestinians when it comes to Middle Eastern affairs.
Netanyahu touted the victory of his peace by strength doctrine Monday at the government meeting, when he explained that already a quarter of a century ago he had written of this new type of peace.
“I wrote that the widespread concept that we would achieve peace with the Arab states only if we appease the Arabs with far-reaching concessions that would weaken us was mistaken,” he said. “On the contrary, we need to achieve peace and we can achieve peace by convincing the Arabs that our being here is an existing fact, based on our strength which is undisputed.”
But for an event with philosophical underpinnings that were designed to cement a new era of solo Israeli diplomacy, the Palestinians were strangely present.
Rather than ignoring them altogether, a move which would have pleased Netanyahu’s right-wing base, the prime minister linked the UAE agreement with Palestinian peace.
He told the government he hoped that the “broad reconciliation between Israel and the Arab world would lead to the advancement of a realistic peace between us and the Palestinians.”
In this way, he appeared to reference the well-trodden philosophy that at the end of the day, true Israeli-Middle East peace would have to include the Palestinians.
Their inclusion in the Israel-UAE deal was not limited to Netanyahu’s words. They were also written into the text of the agreement in two specific ways.
First, the document references US President Donald Trump’s peace plan, which Palestinians have rejected because it ignores the pre-1967 lines. The Trump “Vision for Peace,” known by its moniker as the Deal of the Century, speaks instead of eventual Israeli sovereignty over 30% of the West Bank and recognition of Israeli sovereignty over a majority of Jerusalem.
Many on the Israeli Right have also spoken out against it because it calls for a two-state resolution to the conflict, a move that could lead to the creation of a Palestinian state, albeit a demilitarized one.
The Israel-UAE agreement referenced the Trump plan, but skipped over any of its controversial aspects. It spoke of it his way: “Recalling the reception held on January 28, 2020, at which President Trump presented his Vision for Peace, and committing to continuing their efforts to achieve a just, comprehensive, realistic and enduring solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
Its inclusion in Monday’s text meant that the government vote also marked the first formal Israeli vote on the Trump deal, albeit a de facto one.
This would, by extension, include the Vision for Peace’s controversial elements on annexation and Palestinian statehood. It was a nod both to the Trump administration and those in Israel who oppose two states at the pre-1967 lines.
That was not, however, the only reference. The Israel-UAE deal also formally linked itself to both the Egyptian and the Jordanian deals by stating the following:
“Recalling the Treaties of Peace between the State of Israel and the Arab Republic of Egypt and between the State of Israel and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, and committed to working together to realize a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that meets the legitimate needs and aspirations of both peoples, and to advance comprehensive Middle East peace, stability and prosperity.”
This was a nod to the UAE, which has assured the Palestinians it has not forgotten their cause and that it stands firm on two states at the pre-1967 lines. The language “legitimate needs and aspirations” could be interpreted by the UAE to stand for those principled Palestinian believes.
Far from divorcing itself from the conflict, the Israel-UAE deal links itself in writing and with a vote of the Israeli government to the plight of the Palestinians, even if it falls far short of any minimal demand from Ramallah.
But it does it in a way that is just vague enough to allow for the necessary broad range of support for the UAE deal to move forward.
In the end, only time will tell if the historic waves of this deal will help propel Israelis and Palestinians to a peaceful shore, or leave the Palestinians alone and adrift out at sea.