Middle East: Elation in Washington, Indignation in the West Bank

Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu, signing a peace agreement with the UAE and Bahrain in Washington in the presence of US President Donald Trump, ecstatically made the demagogic announcement: “This day is a turning point in history. This heralds a new dawn for peace.” And, no less bombastically, the American President stated: “We are here today to change the course of history.”

It is true, though, that the “new dawn for peace” was first marked by two missiles launched from the Palestinian Gaza Strip, followed by a retaliatory strike from Israeli military personnel, and then 13 missiles from the Palestinians; this forced dozens of thousands of panicked Israelis to seek refuge in bomb shelters out of fear.  Hamas spokesman Hazem Qasim declared that the missiles were in response to an attack by the Israeli Defense Forces.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu, after successfully signing the peace accords with two Arab countries, proclaimed that the artillery barrage from the Gaza Strip was not something unexpected. But, if Bibi knew full well that there would be an angry reaction from the Palestinians beforehand, he is also well aware that his actions as of late are hardly leading to any kind of equitable solution for the long-standing, complex problem involving the Arabs in Palestine. And, apparently, nobody will have to count on the “political dawn” occurring in the Middle East that Washington spoke about – this is all simple, nickel-and-dime, soapbox oratory.

Incidentally, the Israeli Prime Minster did not have the official authority to sign the peace accords with the United Arab Emirates, reports Arutz Sheva.  According to the media network, only Minister of Foreign Affairs Gabriel Ashkenazi, who stayed back in Israel, had the right to do that, while Benjamin Netanyahu headed off to Washington for the signing ceremony.  It further specified that the deal will be ratified, and then enter into force, only after it receives approval from the Israeli government.

It is worth noting that analyzing the signed agreements reveals the fact that their wording is very vague and abstruse. The agreement between the UAE and Israel urges both countries to continue “their efforts to achieve an equitable, far-reaching, realistic, and long-lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”   The agreement between Bahrain and Israel states that the countries will continue to work towards “achieving an equitable, far-reaching, and long-lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” However, at the same time, the bilateral agreements between the UAE and Israel, and Bahrain and Israel, divulge the details of the cooperation at greater length, emphasizing joint efforts on issues such as “finance and investment, innovation, trade and economic relations, health, science, technology… tourism, cultural events and sports, energy, the environment, and education”.

The Washington accords are a setback for Palestinian leaders, who are demanding that Arab countries refrain from recognizing the Jewish state until they are guaranteed an independent state themselves, which was something that they were offered, and then rejected, in recent US peace proposals.  The Palestinians were also offered about $ 50 billion in an economic stimulus package in the proposal, but they responded by almost completely boycotting relations with the White House. The Palestinians have witnessed a once united front of Arab support, one of the few cards that they still held as leverage against Israel, erode relentlessly since Donald Trump embarked on an aggressive, unconventional approach toward peace in the region.  So far, the push by Donald Trump has led to two peace agreements, with Sudan and Oman also reportedly thinking about opening up diplomatic relations with Israel.  The Iranian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the Bahraini government, and others that support its government, will be held accountable for any actions taken by Israel that lead to instability in the Persian Gulf region.

The agreements between Israel, the UAE, and Bahrain have led most observers to emphasize the need for a comprehensive peace agreement in the Middle East that is not only founded on Israel’s complete suspension of its annexation plan, but also on rapprochement between Persian Gulf countries and Israel, thus representing a major change toward a far-reaching settlement. This kind of step might wind up being impossible if the League of Arab States does not become involved in this process. The League of Arab States needs to become a platform where points of view and positions can be debated, and not to trade accusations of treason back and forth, or to initiate media campaigns geared toward finding spurious reports of success on the streets of Arab countries. Collective debate is the only way to put the issue of the lawful rights possessed by Palestinians on the table. The region’s development should stem from the current rapprochement, with each country retaining the right to occupy positions it deems viable in the face of various regional threats, be it Iran’s regional policy, Turkey’s ambitious plan to exercise power in Sunni countries, or other propositions.

Although the UAE and Bahrain agreed to normalize relations only if Benjamin Netanyahu pledges to stop preparing to annex the West Bank, both the Prime Minister and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz declare that they intend to officially annex a significant part of the West Bank at a later time. The current Israeli occupation authorities have ramped up their activities demolishing Palestinian houses on the West Bank and in East Jerusalem. These houses are constructed without permission from the Israeli authorities, since no building permits are being issued now. Over the first eight months of 2020, Israel demolished about 500 buildings. The Haaretz newspaper reported on a new initiative put forth by the Israeli government to further step up the pace of demolishing Palestinian homes in West Bank’s Area C. More than 5,000 Palestinians have been displaced over the past five years in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. These actions are cruel and absolutely unnecessary, and do nothing except incite outrage and animosity, and hurt the prospects for peace even more.

It is quite understandable that normalizing relations with the Arab world is desirable, but not as a tool to normalize the process of occupation and engaging in conflict with the Palestinians, and at the expense of this particular people.  It can, and should, be used to help pave the way for a definitive solution to a conflict in a region as turbulent as the Middle East has been for many decades. The world wants to savor the moment, and rejoice in the formalization of relations between Israel and the UAE, Bahrain, and other Arab states, yet the same very world bewails the consequences of Israel’s unresolved, long-standing conflict with the Palestinians. Frankly speaking, for now the world does not see any particular reason to celebrate the triumph that the “father” of these agreements, Donald Trump, wants to portray.  It would be better if the Americans themselves mobilized their current enthusiasm for peace in the region, and worked on a diplomatic initiative that would bring not just “normalization” but true peace to Israel and all of its neighbors. These kinds of efforts should include, and not replace, an agreement with the Palestinians and an end to the occupation.

Israel can enter into its own bilateral agreements that guarantee both that it is granted recognition and that efforts are coordinated with countries in the region. However, over the longer term ignoring the rights of the Palestinians will prevent rapprochement between Israel and the Arab world, increase the degree of hatred, and keep the conflict going indefinitely. The Middle East can no longer afford that. Making peace means making compromises to help create a better future. This does not mean that a fait accompli should be imposed by taking advantage of preferential conditions, or relying on a global superpower.

But how can different points of view be reconciled that are located at different ends of the spectrum? For example, Benjamin Netanyahu stated: “History has taught us that strength brings security, strength brings allies and ultimately… strength brings peace”. Apparently that is why the Israelis, until recently, have been relying solely on strength, trying to force the Palestinians to accept only the point of view that is advantageous for Israel. But there is another opinion that dictates that “God is not in strength, but in truth”: God is on the side of the one who is right, and not the one who is stronger (Russian proverb), and strength lies in the truth.  Most likely the meaning of this phrase is that the truth is paramount, since Truth is a synonym for the term righteousness. And the question remains – how can these different points of view be compatible?

By Victor Mikhin
Source: New Eastern Outlook

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