The Middle East peace deals are welcome news in what has been a bad year

There is no doubt that the agreements are another small step forward toward a change in the balance of powers in the Middle East to Israel’s benefit.

Palestinians protest the recent peace deals struck between Israel, the UAE and Bahrain.  (photo credit: FLASH90)
Palestinians protest the recent peace deals struck between Israel, the UAE and Bahrain.
(photo credit: FLASH90)
The only good news we have had as the New Year of 5781 sets in are the two agreements signed by Israel with the UAE and Bahrain at the White House last week. I say this without any cynicism. There is very little we can rejoice about during these grim days. My only disappointment is that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was unwilling, or incapable of using it as a rallying point for reconciliation in the divided Israeli society.
There is no doubt that the agreements are another small step forward toward a change in the balance of powers in the Middle East to Israel’s benefit, though at this point there is no guarantee that much more progress can be made in this direction without parallel progress on the Palestinian front. The bad news of the last few days is a report published in The Wall Street Journal to the effect that King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia did not support the behind-the-scenes moves of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to facilitate the agreements and sticks to the Saudi Peace Plan of 2002, which places a settlement of the Palestinian problem before normalization between the Arab world and Israel.
The reactions of Israelis to the agreements vary greatly. Some of my acquaintances who traditionally voted for the Labor Party actually believe that in his willingness to put off any annexation plans he might have had in return for normalization of relations with two additional Arab states, Netanyahu has proven that he is a realistic pragmatist and worthy of support. I am not sure that this is an accurate reading of the situation.
I very much doubt whether Netanyahu really believed that he would get away with annexation at this juncture, so that he didn’t really give up something tangible in return for the agreements. I shall believe that he is “one of us” when he will concede, as Yitzhak Rabin did after several months of fighting the first Intifada, which broke out in December 1987, that the Arab-Israeli conflict in general, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in particular, cannot be decided by the force of arms only. I would add that they also cannot be ended by making peace with states we never fought on the ground, whose inhabitants were never thrown out of their homes, never lost the plots of land they once owned and cultivated, and never experienced being refugees.
Don’t get me wrong – the Palestinians are largely to blame for their plight, and for playing their cards badly. But even if Netanyahu has converted to “our” perception of the conflict and the means to resolve it, I say to my Laborite acquaintances that we are still speaking of Netanyahu who has been served with three indictments; whose promises cannot be taken at face value; who distorts facts and blurts out lies without account; who has no problem delegitimizing Israel’s Arab citizens, the Israeli Center and Left and human rights organizations if it serves his personal interests; and doesn’t understand (or doesn’t care) what damage he inflicts on Israel’s democratic institutions in his effort to avoid standing trial.
NEVERTHELESS, THERE is no doubt that Netanyahu took the relations with the Gulf States a step forward, even though it is not he who initiated the warming up of relations in the first place. The process started in the mid-1990s, following the Oslo Accords, which were undoubtedly a failure in terms of resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, but created a new atmosphere that enabled a significant improvement in the relations between Israel and Arab states in the Gulf region, North Africa and elsewhere. Let us also not forget that if it hadn’t been for the Oslo Accords, the peace treaty with Jordan would never have been signed.
An elderly family member of mine, a LEHI veteran and hero (Eliezer Ben-Ami), said to me just before the New Year, that he hadn’t believed that his dream would come true in his lifetime, as it has these days. What is the dream? I asked. That peace with the Arab world would take place without the establishment of a Palestinian state, he answered. Eliezer is not the only Israeli who continues to argue that a Palestinian people does not exist, and that it is the Israeli Left that is responsible for the creation of a semblance of such a people.
There is no doubt that if it hadn’t been for Zionism, a separate Palestinian people – as opposed to a Greater Syrian people, for example – would never have emerged. However, the Palestinian sense of peoplehood today is a fact, and to deny this is as futile as the denial in the past by many in the world that Judaism was anything more than a religion and that states are not bestowed on religions. The Palestinian people aren’t going to forget their history of the past 130 years, or turn into thin air just because two (or more) Arab states agreed to tie formal relations with Israel before, rather than after the Palestinian problem is resolved.
Incidentally, I am not one of those who believe that the only reason the UAE and Bahrain agreed to sign agreements with Israel was that US President Donald Trump conditioned the sale of certain sophisticated arms systems, and American support in their confrontation with Iran, on their formalizing relations with Israel, as was recently suggested by former British Ambassador to the US Nigel Kim Darroch, in an interview with CNN.
However, there is no doubt that without Trump’s involvement, the breakthrough would never have been achieved. It is also clear that Trump is more concerned at the moment with winning the November presidential election than with the establishment of peace between states that were never at war with each other, even though he claims that he deserves to receive the Nobel Prize for Peace for his efforts.
I SHALL not deny that despite the importance of the event, in my eyes the ceremony in Washington last week lacked a feeling of history in the making. The facts that Trump was visibly using the event as part of his approaching presidential campaign (“sleepy Joe”), that Netanyahu seemed more concerned with his heritage than with grappling with the real issue (i.e. the Palestinian issue), and that the UAE and Bahrain were not represented by their leaders, could not be ignored.
If Netanyahu had at least used the event to promote a spirit of reconciliation within the Israeli society by simply thanking all those in Israel who over the years had contributed to the development of some form of cooperation between Israel and parts of the Arab world – including the Gulf states – and had invited some of the figures involved, including political rivals, to attend the ceremony in Washington, it would have been easier for many of us to rally around the event with greater enthusiasm.
But Netanyahu didn’t sign the agreements with the UAE and Bahrain for the sake of reconciliation inside Israel. Besides, he thrives on the divisions in the Israeli society, and the signing ceremony of last week will undoubtedly serve him in the next general elections to impress his political base, and to infuriate his political rivals.