The news was startling and in some respects very exciting:
On Thursday, first President Trump and then Prime Minister Netanyahu made the announcement: United Arab Emirates (a Sunni Gulf state that is a federation of seven sheikdoms) has agreed to normalize ties with Israel. In coming weeks, delegations will be meeting to sign bilateral agreements regarding investment, tourism, direct flights, security and the establishment of reciprocal embassies.
UAE will also provide Israel with funds to treat coronavirus patients here and enhance development of a vaccine.
Prior to the announcement, a three-way phone conversation was held with President Trump, Prime Minister Netanyahu, and Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed (pictured).
When Trump made the announcement he called it HUGE.
A jubilant Netanyahu exclaimed: “Together we can bring a wonderful future. It is an incomparably exciting moment.”
Praise then followed from many quarters.
Following this announcement, Trump advisor Jared Kushner, who had headed the team that produced the Trump peace plan, announced that agreements with other Arab countries were certain to follow.
Other US-brokered talks had been put on hold because the UAE had said they wanted to be first. Already Bahrain has praised the deal; it is likely to be the next to sign.
I will note here that this is what I expected back when the peace team first began their work, and spent considerable time with Arab Sunni states. It looked as if “peace” would have nothing to do with a plan for an agreement between Israel and the PA, but rather Israel and those states. Then when the plan was released and it appeared to concern only Israel and the PA, I tabled those thoughts. And now, here we are again. Reportedly this deal was in the works for months.
It is not surprising that the UAE was first to come forward, as they already have had informal ties and cordial interactions with Israel in several respects. For example, when Israel won a judo competition in Abu Dhabi it was permitted for Hatikva to be played – a mark of approaching normalization.
This all sounds pretty fantastic. But there is a catch. The Joint Statement of the US, Israel, and the UAE declares that:
“As a result of this diplomatic breakthrough and at the request of President Trump with the support of the United Arab Emirates, Israel will suspend declaring sovereignty over areas outlined in the President’s Vision for Peace and focus its efforts now on expanding ties with other countries in the Arab and Muslim World.”
Uh oh! That’s also huge. And yes, it has the feel of a sell-out.
One unnamed Israeli official declared that “The Trump administration asked [Israel] to temporarily suspend the announcement [of applying sovereignty] in order to first implement the historic peace agreement with the UAE.”
Temporarily? Is this so? The argument has been made that the term “suspend” implies something temporary. And Jared Kushner later confirmed this. However he provided no time frame.
His coy statement: “Somewhere between a long time and a short time, that’s what temporary means.”
“I believe that they [Israeli officials] will not take action to move forward unless we have an understanding between American and Israel that this is the right action at the right time,” he further clarified.
“I imagine that this is something that will be discussed in the future.
“For the time being people will focus on this.”
As we try to wrap our heads around this, it’s important to be clear on what UAE officials are saying in this regard.
Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash, said “I think we used our political chips right.” He said the deal dealt a “death blow” to plans for Israeli sovereignty. “Most countries will see this as a bold step to secure a two-state solution, allowing time for negotiations.”
Emratis are speaking of the Arab peace plan, which is based on the “67 border” and totally unacceptable to Israel.
Gargash recently projected that “in fifteen years’ time, discussion will revolve around equal rights in one state [Israel-Palestine].
While none of this is remotely comforting, Gargash does speak about “allowing time for negotiations,” which also implies a time frame. A tough tone would be necessary if this deal is to be accepted in the Arab/Muslim world. Note that he speaks about how other countries will perceive this.
It could be that the UAE understands quite well that Israeli sovereignty will follow in time.
Netanyahu insists that he has not given up on application of sovereignty. “I will never give up to our right to our land.”
To which I respond that talk is cheap.
He made a number of promises in months past about his firm intention to proceed with sovereignty. Whether over the full 30% of Judaea & Samaria as allocated in the Vision for Peace or less was never clear because the prime minister never brought his thoughts to the Cabinet for discussion.
His claim was that the US never gave approval (it would now appear because they were working on this deal), but the flip side of this is that Israel never presented clear intentions for moving forward. There was just a lot of talk and not much more.
My own personal projection here:
While Jared Kushner deserves credit for bringing UAE around, once again his thinking going forward is “pie in the sky.” We are hoping,” he said, “that if Israel doesn’t push here, the PA will come to the table.”
The UAE has similar thoughts.
But the Palestinian Arabs are up in arms about this deal and call it treason. The Arab states were supposed to have nothing to do with Israel until “the occupation” was over.
Someday, down the road, Israel will have solid relations with a group of Sunni Arab states, to the benefit of all. And it will dawn on these states that the PA, if it still exists, is never going to be forthcoming in a constructive way. And then they will agree to look the other way as Israel begins to apply sovereignty. We are likely not looking at months here, but years.
Will we attain sovereignty? I firmly believe so. It is our land. If I didn’t feel confident that we will in time be able to claim our land, I would call this a tragic sell-out.
Whatever Kushner says about “not pushing,” for now we need to keep our rights to sovereignty on the public agenda.
And it behoves the Israeli government to put a stop to illegal encroachment by Arabs, funded by the EU, on Area C. This is a matter of some urgency if Netanyahu is serious about the land being ours.
The Sovereignty Movement posted that it: “…expresses its deep concern over the Prime Minister’s policy to turn sovereignty in Judea and Samaria into a political bargaining chip.”
Naftali Bennett praised the deal but said it was regrettable that it included a freezing of sovereignty. In this regard, Netanyahu has failed and application of sovereignty will come from someone else. (On this I suspect he is correct.)
Many settler leaders saw what Netanyahu had done as a betrayal, for he had made promises to them that will not be kept now. And some analysts lament a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that has been squandered now.
From my vantage point it is difficult to simply condemn what has happened, as deeply as I regret the suspension of application of sovereignty. Perhaps I can take the long view because I truly do believe it will come. Not because I trust Netanyahu’s promises, but because I trust Heaven above.
In fact, I think it was easier to accept that suspension because I have been dubious that sovereignty was going to happen now in any event, and at least this way there is something to be gained in return. (This is a point that Herb Keinon, below, also makes.)
One of the first things that has occurred to me, in terms of the good that can come of this, is the enormous boost it gives to President Trump at this critical time. Should he lose the election, it would be a disaster for the US, and a major crisis for Israel and the Western world. And so I find it impossible not to be glad at least for this. We should note that if Biden were to win, he would block all our movement towards sovereignty, anyway. Perhaps this is a process that must unfold in its own time.
I close with an analysis by Herb Keinon regarding the benefits for various players in this deal. There is much here to consider, including implications for Iran. It is worry about Iran, and the need to share intelligence and more with Israel that has been a big factor in bringing the Sunni states closer to Israel.
I extend wishes for a Shabbat Shalom, knowing I will be posting again very soon.