During the Sept. 15 ceremony at the White House, representatives from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the Kingdom of Bahrain and Israel signed agreements normalizing relations between the two Gulf states and Israel.
Although U.S. President Donald Trump described the event in a tweet as an “historic day for peace in the Middle East,” these agreements are far from promoting any kind of reconciliation in the Middle East, as they are only a declaration of the long and quiet relationship between the three nations, which have never been in conflict or war with one another.
These normalization agreements make the existing relationship official and provide an opening for stronger economic ties and military coordination. Public to public engagement, however, cannot exist as long as the Palestinians are under occupation.
The previous 1979 Egypt-Israel and 1994 Israel-Jordan peace treaties did not witness people-to-people normalization, and relations remained quite cold until date.
As a result of the declaration of the Bahraini agreement with Israel, there were huge protests in the capital Manama against the government’s move alongside a joint statement by a group of the nation's political and civil society associations, including the Bahrain Bar Association, standing against the deal.
In Rabat, demonstrators protested outside the Parliament of Morocco to denounce Arab countries agreeing to normalize ties with Israel and others around the city waved Palestinian flags, decrying the deals as “treason” and chanting “Palestine is not for sale.”
In the Arab world, the opposition to normalization with Tel Aviv remains strong because the public sees Israel as an illegal occupying power. Despite this push, governments rush toward these deals, ignoring their nations’ demands.
In reference to the normalization agreement between Manama and Tel Aviv, Amnesty International highlighted that no diplomatic agreement could change the legal duties of Israel as an occupying power. It also posted on its Twitter page that “any process aimed at a just and lasting resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must constitute the removal of illegal Israeli settlements.”
The peace process should also include “putting an end to the systematic violations of human rights and ensure justice and compensation for victims of crimes under international law,” it added.
“No diplomatic agreement can change the legal duties of Israel as an occupying power under international humanitarian principles nor can it deprive Palestinians of their rights and protection by international law,” Amnesty pointed out.
By signing these agreements Israel did not make any concession. Tel Aviv did agree to suspend its plan to annex the West Bank just to calm down the uproar inside and outside the country. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, however, made it clear that the suspension is only temporary and on the ground, Tel Aviv is continuing to expand its settlements as evidenced by the approval of the establishment of 5,400 new settlements in the West Bank in early October.
On the other hand, the suspension declaration provided cover for the Gulf monarchs from their populations who are passionate about the Palestinian cause.
For its part, Israel is exploiting the normalization opportunity to annex more Palestinian lands and demolish more Palestinian homes.
For decades, the UAE and the Kingdom of Bahrain were similar to most of the Arab world. Each rejected official diplomatic ties with Israel, insisting that recognition is only to be implemented in return for giving the Palestinians their full rights in their own independent state based on 1967 borders with east Jerusalem as their capital. The new accords with Tel Aviv, however, break this long-held principle that was a crucial asset for Palestinians and weaken a longstanding pan-Arab position that calls for Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories.
On what peace?
Signaling an end to “land for peace," Netanyahu in a late-August news conference said that a deal to establish full diplomatic ties with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) proves that Israel doesn’t need to retreat from the occupied land demanded by Palestinians to achieve peace and normalization with Arab states.
“According to the Palestinians, and to many others in the world who agreed with them, peace can’t be reached without conceding to the Palestinians’ demands, including uprooting settlements, dividing Jerusalem and withdrawal to 1967 lines,” Netanyahu said in a video statement. “No more. This concept of peace through withdrawal and weaknesses has passed from the world.”
Netanyahu never wanted peace – a just peace, based on a just compromise for both sides. Over the years, he has moved away from even the aspiration of reconciliation, its place taken by collective anxieties that are systematically implanted by personal and private matters and lately, by the so-called normalization with some Arab states.
The overwhelming evidence of Netanyahu’s rejection of peace is, of course, the settlements project that expands systematically, consolidating the occupation and creating a new status quo on the ground.
If the Israeli prime minister really wanted to achieve peace, his first move should have been to unconditionally end all construction in the occupied territories.
As published in the Middle East Monitor, the former chief of Israel’s intelligence agency Mossad, Shabtai Shavit, said in late June of 2019 to Israeli daily Maariv that Tel Aviv does not want peace and that, if it had, it would have done so with the Palestinian Authority (PA) long ago.
Shavit, however, said that Netanyahu does not see the PA as a negotiating partner and therefore refuses to develop relations with the authority. “Do you know any other head of an Israeli government who did not talk with the Palestinians?” he asked.
Shavit also claimed that Netanyahu stopped speaking to the PA under pressure from the Israeli right, who he claimed “would lynch him in the city center” if he opened discussions today.
Shavit continued" “We (Israel) are the strongest in the Middle East ... At this time, no Arab coalition is likely to be formed that would endanger (Israel’s) existence like in the 1960s and 1970s."
“The strong can do for itself what the weak cannot do ... We can run over the other side if we want,” he added.
Regarding the Oslo Accords of the mid-1990s – the last substantial attempt at peace negotiations – Shavit said that the Israeli right has since painted this agreement as a “sin,” arguing that had they continued down this path, there could have been peace.
“This is not fantasy, because those who do not want peace succeeded in making large portions of the country believe that Oslo was the mother of all sins and the desire for peace is also a sin,” Shavit concluded.
The Netanyahu myth is that the status quo can be indefinitely sustained and that the international community, distracted by more immediate tragedies in the Middle East, is losing interest in the Palestinian issue.
A wrong thinking
For its part, Russia said that it would be a “mistake” to think about peace in the Middle East without resolving the Palestinian issue, noting that even if there is “progress” in the normalization of ties between Israel and several Arab countries, “the Palestinian problem remains acute,” and “it would be a mistake to think that without finding a solution to it that it will be possible to secure lasting stabilization in the Middle East.”
Moscow urged regional and global players to “ramp up coordinated efforts” to solve the issue adding, “Russia is ready for such joint work” included within the framework of the diplomatic Middle East Quartet peace negotiators and in close coordination with the Arab League, its Foreign Ministry said.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said early this month that only an Israeli withdrawal from its occupied territories could bring peace to the Middle East.
The war on Palestine has been raging for 72 years, and the current circumstances are more daunting than at any time since the 1948 Palestinian exodus “Nakba,’’ while Trump’s so-called “deal of the century” purportedly aims at a conclusive resolution to the conflict, denying all of Palestine's historical rights in their occupied lands.
Even his team member, Ambassador to Israel David Friedman demanded that the state department stop using the term “alleged occupation,” declaring that Israel has the “right” to annex “some, but unlikely all, of the West Bank.”
Besides, the envoy for Israel-Palestine negotiations Jason Greenblatt stated that the West Bank settlements “are not an obstacle to peace.” He rejected the use of the term “occupation” in a meeting with European Union representatives and endorsed Friedman’s views regarding annexation.
In this painful situation when a solution seems more difficult than ever, Tel Aviv needs to reexamine its actions that shape its peace illusions, admitting that by its normalization with Arab countries it cannot alienate the Palestinian cause because it is not only in the heart of the Middle East, but it is in the heart of Israel’s stability.
Tel Aviv must stop its settlement activities that include actions taken in that context against the Palestinians, such as forced transfers, evictions, demolitions and confiscations of homes, which are illegal under international law and constitute an obstacle to a just solution.
It is essential that to this end, meaningful negotiations on all final status issues must resume between Israelis and Palestinians. They need to built upon their agreed-to international parameters and international law with full respect and implementation of Resolution 2334 to ensure sustainable peace, security and stability in the Middle East.
* Palestinian author, researcher and freelance journalist; recipient of two prizes from the Palestinian Union of Writers