Opinion

Arab States Need the Palestinians if They Want Real Peace With Israel

We know Arab states are under pressure to normalize Israel’s violent occupation. But they should challenge that bullying - and back Palestinian rights

Benjamin Netanyahu,UAE FM Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan and Bahrain FM Abdullatif al-Zayani before the signing of the Abraham Accords, the White House in Washington, D.C., September 15, 2020.
Alex Brandon,AP

Whatever the motives behind the accords signed Tuesday between Israel and two Gulf countries, progress on peace between Israel and us, the Palestinian people, is not one of them. On the contrary, this is a major setback to hopes of peace. 

But then peace was never the point. For the White House, Tuesday’s pageantry was a desperate attempt to show some success, any success, on foreign policy two months before the U.S. presidential election. 

The Trump administration will thus present the pictures of Israelis, Bahrainis and Emiratis establishing diplomatic relations as a breakthrough for peace in the Middle East, even though, of course, Israel was never at war with either country. The accords are also a domestic boost to Benjamin Netanyahu, who is facing weekly protests against his corruption-tainted leadership. 

All the time, and far away from the White House glitz, Israel continues to undermine chances for a just and equitable peace at every turn. Israel’s plans for formal annexation aside, the reality on the ground is this: Israel is slowly but surely annexing, in concrete, mortars and stone, any part of occupied territory it sees fit. 

This creeping annexation that is happening before our very eyes has been ongoing since 1967 and shows no sign of abating. The fact that Israel has been allowed to continue its illegal settlement construction in occupied territory over so many decades is the single most important reason why peacemaking efforts have failed, time and again. 

A demonstrator waves a Palestinian flag in front of Israeli forces during a protest against Bahrain's workshop for U.S. peace plan in the West Bank, June 25, 2019.
Mohamad Torokman/Reuters

The accords Israel has signed with Bahrain and the UAE do not address this question. They do nothing for peace. There is no mention of international resolutions. There is not even mention of the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative. These accords only serve to normalize Israel’s violations of international law, the occupation’s daily violence against the Palestinian people and the continued denial of the Palestinian right to self-determination. 

The declaration announcing the intent to normalize ties in mid-August treated occupied East Jerusalem and its holy places as if they were part of Israel. They thus violate international law that defines East Jerusalem as an occupied city and threaten the historical and legal status quo at Al Aqsa Mosque and the many other Christian and Muslim sites in the occupied city, while undermining Jordanian custodianship. 

And they do more. They undercut Arab consensus and undermine the land-for-peace premise of the international resolutions and the Arab peace initiative and every other serious effort to forge peace. 

Some argue that the "old ways" have failed, that it is time to try something new. But as a matter of basic logic, it is clear that Israel will not end its occupation out of the kindness of its heart – after all, it has had plenty of opportunities. 

It might have done so given proper incentives, but these incentives are less now that the UAE and Bahrain have rewarded Israel for nothing. We realize the pressures these countries were under. We have had to withstand these pressures ourselves. 

A Palestinian demonstrator holds a sign during a protest against the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain's deal with Israel to normalize relations, in Ramallah, September 15, 2020.
Mohamad Torokman/Reuters

The U.S. administration cut all funding to the Palestinian government and UNRWA, moved its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, and even closed our mission in Washington, when I was the Palestinian Ambassador to the U.S. Their blackmail went as far as revoking the visas of my five and seven-year-olds in the middle of the school year. 

But we refused to be bullied into accepting an act that was detrimental to our cause and the legitimate rights of our people. We stood tall, despite the consequences and the sheer pressure. We did what was right, not what was easy. 

And these latest accords are in fact a perfect example of what has been wrong with all prior peace attempts. Once again, Israel gets something for nothing. Israel has never faced any repercussions for breaking its commitments under previous agreements or for transgressing international law. There was never a stick, and Israel has never had a problem taking a carrot only to violate the terms of agreements, like it did with the EU-Israel Association Agreement. 

Now Netanyahu can boast of "peace for peace" deals, another carrot with no stick. For Palestinians, "peace for peace" simply means a continuation of the status quo, more military occupation, more violence and the continued denial of our individual and national rights. 

Palestinians wave national flags during a protest against normalization ties between the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain with the Israel, in Ramallah, September 15, 2020.
AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed

It is a bleak picture. However, it is also worth remembering that no accord and no number of normalization deals will change the content of international law, the basic tenets that underpin that law or the fact that we, the Palestinian people, are still here, on our land. 

We remain committed to the principles of international law in the face of Israeli apartheid and American unilateralism. Are we alone? Do we, as a global community of states and nations stand up for a rules-based global order? Or do we let it slip away, so as not to confront Israel and its backers in Washington? 

Peace – real peace, a peace to truly celebrate – will only happen between us and Israel. And that will only happen when Palestinians can finally enjoy our rights, equal to every other nation on earth.

Ambassador Husam Zomlot is the Head of the Palestine Mission to the UK. Previously he was head of the PLO General Delegation to the U.S. and Strategic Affairs Adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Twitter: @hzomlot