Did the Emirates turn its back on the Palestinians?

In their view, the current Palestinian old-guard leadership in the West Bank belongs to those who look back and are stuck in the past.

PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY President Mahmoud Abbas attends a virtual meeting about Israel and the UAE normalizing ties, in Ramallah on September 3. (photo credit: ALAA BADARNEH/POOL VIA REUTERS)
PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY President Mahmoud Abbas attends a virtual meeting about Israel and the UAE normalizing ties, in Ramallah on September 3.
(photo credit: ALAA BADARNEH/POOL VIA REUTERS)
I have no doubt that the Abraham Accords recently signed on the White House lawn, between the State of Israel, the United Arab Emirates and the Kingdom of Bahrain, is nothing short of a significant breakthrough in the region. As UAE Ambassador to Washington Yosef Oteiba well described, it is a matter of “breaking the barrier of legitimacy” and “buying more time for both sides – the Israeli and the Palestinian – by removing the option of annexation from the table” (at least for the time being). Thereafter, he said, it is up to the parties in the conflict to make a wise use of their time and resolve their disputes bilaterally.
One should not be misled. The Emiratis did not turn their back on the Palestinians. Not officially and not at all. They were simply not willing to belong to the people of the region who had linked their destiny to their past. Instead, they courageously preferred to lead by example while galloping forward toward the next 50 years.
In their view, the current Palestinian old-guard leadership in the West Bank belongs to those who look back and are stuck in the past. Even if things are not stated explicitly, given that they are not precisely politically correct, they are quite clear.
It is also perhaps important to note that while the leadership of the UAE has taken the brave and groundbreaking step toward full normalization with Israel, its tweeters chirp day and night in praise of the State of Israel and Judaism. Mutually beneficial micro-agreements and projects are being forwarded in a wide variety of fields.
The Emirati population has been educated for years in accepting the “other” and living in a very multicultural, international and generally very tolerant environment. Hence, as soon as normalization became kosher, or halal, it was relatively easy for the population to embrace this new reality.
Other current or potentially future regional partners in normalization with Israel may find it a tad more difficult. Even in the tiny Kingdom of Bahrain, in which most inhabitants are Shi’ites who have been educated in a much less heterogeneous manner, the new reality will take time to set.
Both the UAE and Bahrain continue to maintain contact with the US administration, and especially with Jerold Kushner, aspiring to advance a long-term geo-strategic move that would bring an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is not clear if it will succeed, but what is certain is that it is completely on the agenda, albeit in low profile.
Given the euphoria surrounding the first full normalization accord between Arab entities in the region and Israel, it is almost too easy to forget that we are still in the same challenging neighborhood. Any slight sneeze in the region can instantly turn into a real explosion. Literally.
Egypt, for instance, has recently erroneously shot two Gazan fishermen, and the lack of stability that followed threatens to trickle through the border and into the State of Israel. As it is, the situation in Gaza has been explosive for years, and the recent additional pressure applied on Hamas by the COVID-19 plague threatens to deteriorate the situation into a full war, a war of despair, mixed with a decades-long education for hatred of Israel and Israelis.
AGAINST THIS background, tensions between Egypt, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and its protégés and Qatar, Turkey and Iran remain unchanged. The hatred between them is not less significant than the hostility cultivated in the latter three against Israel. Within this current “roadmap” of international and regional players, newly-created camps are visible.
Israel naturally belongs to the “pro-Western camp.” The Palestinian leadership in the West Bank, on the other hand, continues – as it has for far too long – to dangerously swing between camps. It is closer than ever to associating itself with the “evil” axis. Feeling betrayed and humiliated in the international arena, and recently also on the regional level, within the very corridors of the Arab League, they are once more flirting with their sworn enemy, Hamas, in another attempt at national reconciliation.
So far, the string of attempts at such national reconciliation has failed, but this may not be the case this time. If the blatant attempts by the Turkish sultan to intervene bear fruit, Abbas will march the West Bank directly into the arms of Hamas. The big losers from the move will be the Palestinians, who have for years been held hostage by fate and their leadership. However, the Palestinians will not remain alone in this lose-lose scenario. Israel, too, shall be dealt a serious blow.
The Israeli interest is clearly to “save” the Palestinian people living in the West Bank from Turkish President Recep Erdogan, the Ayatollahs’ regime in Iran, and from Hamas. As the ancient Hebrew phrase notes, “If not for the love of Mordechai, then for the hate of Evil Haman.”
If such a reality materializes, the players of this axis will know how to leverage the emotions and pro-Palestinian sentiments in the Arab street, emotions that for decades have been nurtured in the educational systems and in the media. Thus, they will relatively easily gain legitimacy for their “bear hug” of the Palestinians in the West Bank, if and when the latter will decide to fully abandon the West.
While Israel is engaged in the longest leadership crisis it has ever known, alongside a severe health and economic crisis, and while the US leadership is busy with the upcoming elections, it is easy to forget – even if just for a moment – the current Palestinian leadership. This is precisely the vacuum into which the Palestinian leadership might fall with unbearable ease, and slip into the very “honey trap” Erdogan is mindfully preparing.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas now only awaits the results of the US presidential elections before choosing which camp to belong to. Meanwhile, the terrain is deteriorating, and fast. We must not allow this deterioration.
In the new regional constellation, which grants Israel a strategic advantage in the form of a strong and pro-Western alliance of like-minded countries, and with normalization with regional partners no longer being conditioned by a green light from the Palestinians, this is precisely the time for courageous leadership on the part of Israel. Such leadership may maximize the benefits inherent in the new regional order in favor of significant progress in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The writer is CEO of Ruth-Global Innovative Advisory and a former adviser to president Shimon Peres.