UAE-Israel agreement leaves the Palestinians behind

No portion of the Trump plan has been implemented. No step toward annexation has been taken. Trump and Netanyahu triumphantly announce that they have achieved peace. With Abu Dhabi.

Palestinians take part in a protest against the United Arab Emirates' deal with Israel to normalise relations, in Nablus in the Israeli-occupied West Bank August 14, 2020 (photo credit: REUTERS/RANEEN SAWAFTA)
Palestinians take part in a protest against the United Arab Emirates' deal with Israel to normalise relations, in Nablus in the Israeli-occupied West Bank August 14, 2020
(photo credit: REUTERS/RANEEN SAWAFTA)
In a month or so, there will be a historic signing ceremony in Washington, DC. The US president will congratulate the parties (and himself) for advancing peace in the Middle East. The Israeli prime minister will talk about regional cooperation. The crown prince of the UAE will take credit for halting annexation, but there will be no Palestinians in the room.
Four years ago, president-elect Donald Trump was already eyeing “the ultimate deal” brokering a peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians. Less than three years later, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced plans to unilaterally apply sovereignty to settlements in the West Bank.
Trump’s commitment to make peace and Netanyahu’s vow to apply sovereignty have always been in direct tension. Although there have been many implausible arguments made by the Israeli Right in favor of annexation, its palliative effect on Palestinian-Israeli relations has never been one of them.
Skip forward to August 13, 2020. No portion of the Trump plan has been implemented. No step toward annexation has been taken. Trump and Netanyahu triumphantly announce that they have achieved peace. With Abu Dhabi.
Naturally, the Israeli author of this article rejoices over her country’s normalization of relations with a powerful Arab state. Just as naturally, the Palestinian author condemns the step as a betrayal of his people’s interests and future. However, we both agree that this diplomatic development has very little to do with the core issue preventing peace in the Middle East.
Israel setting up diplomatic relations with the UAE is akin to inviting a cousin’s brother-in-law to tea at your house right in the middle of a deadly feud with that cousin over who inherits the property next door. Tea is lovely. New friendships are admirable. But you’re still fighting. Deciding to extend a tea invitation to a remotely connected relation instead of invading the contested property does not mean that you deserve a Nobel Peace Prize.
You have simply made a rational choice that tea is better than circumventing legal norms, alienating all of the neighbors, and enraging your relatives. The next rational step, of course, is to solve your family issues.
You will need the cousin for that.
THE REAL conflict today in the Middle East is no longer between Israel and a pan-Arab front led by Egypt, and it is certainly not between Israel and the UAE. It is between Israelis and Palestinians, but every diplomatic policy decision that Netanyahu and Trump have promoted in the last few years seems calculated to erase Palestinians from the equation.
Moving the embassy to Jerusalem, championing unilateral annexation, creating a “peace plan” after copious input from the Israeli government but no consultation with the Palestinian Authority; the premise of all of these actions is that the Palestinians, as the weaker side in the conflict, should accept whatever terms the stronger side offers them.
The problem (aside from the ethical implications) is that Palestinians do not accept this premise. And so the conflict continues.
Israel can establish diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Sudan, Qatar and Indonesia. No number of treaties or consulates will make five million Palestinians disappear from the map or convince them to give up any and all nationalist aspirations toward their homeland.
Ultimately, peace is made with the enemy, but you have to talk to the enemy. You have to sit down with him and understand what he wants, where he is willing to compromise and what he cannot accept. You have to believe in the humanity of the other side, acknowledge that they have rights, grievances and dreams. You must overcome decades of institutionalized hate and fear, in accepting that the average Palestinian does not want to see the destruction of all Israelis any more than the average Israeli wants to control the lives of all Palestinians.
While our lives would have been much easier if “we” or “they” had never taken root here, the uncomfortable and irreversible reality is that today we have no choice but to live side by side. Every single one of us chooses how to do so: whether to promote a culture of violence and misunderstanding, or to work towards reconciliation and a just, viable solution that answers the needs, rights, and aspirations of both our peoples.

Tehila Wenger works for Education for Peace-Geneva Initiative. Ayed Atmawi works for the Palestinian Peace Coalition-Geneva Initiative.