Knesset Endorses UAE Deal by Large Majority; Netanyahu: Palestinians Will 'Sober Up'

Lawmakers endorse accord, with Joint List MKs opposing 'blood-soaked agreement'

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Netanyahu speaking at the Knesset plenum, October 12, 2020
Netanyahu speaking at the Knesset plenum, October 12, 2020Credit: Yaniv Nadav / Knesset Spokesperson
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

Israeli lawmakers endorsed on Thursday the normalization agreement with the United Arab Emirates by a large majority, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tells Knesset he "still believe that the Palestinians will one day sober up."

The 80-13 vote took place at the end of a lengthy debate, where the prime minister, leader of the opposition Yair Lapid, and other lawmakers spoke. 

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Presenting the agreement, Netanyahu reiterated it had no secret annexes. According to him, responding to criticism from the Israeli right, "The agreement does not give up on any territory. This is peace between nations, with a tremendous economic component."

Netanyahu used his speech to take aim at lawmakers of the Joint List of predominantly Arab parties, who announced they will oppose the agreement. "You do not want a true peace. You want a mirage of peace where Israel falls apart and disappears," he said. On top of the agreements with the UAE and Bahrain, Netanyahu added that “we will do this with further nations, strengthen the covenant of moderates."

Speaking again before the vote, Netanyahu added: "Those who truly support peace should back this agreement... We can get peace by enhancing Israel’s force. It will bring Middle Eastern countries closer to us."

"This force brought many countries around the world closer to us,"  he said, "including Arab and Muslim states, which stand with us against the dangerous Iranian aggression.

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In his speech, Defense Minister Benny Gantz also praised the agreement, and congratulated Netanyahu for "choosing to walk the right path." He also called to strengthen ties with Jordan and Egypt, and on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to "join in the journey of peace,” which “presents an opportunity to renew the efforts [to reach] a diplomatic agreement with our Palestinian neighbors." 

Turning again to Netanyahu, Gantz called on the prime minister to stop treating law enforcement and the justice system as places that "harbor enemies of the people," and to cease his "obsession" with them.

The signing of the agreements between Israel and the UAE in Washington, September 2020.
The signing of the agreements between Israel and the UAE in Washington, September 2020.Credit: Tom Brenner/Reuters

Lapid also harnessed his platform to come down on Netanyahu. “You delivered a good agreement, but you have failed with the economic crisis. You’ve imprisoned the citizens of Israel instead of leading them. Millions of people have become unemployed.”

According to him, Netanyahu “complains when he is not congratulated, but he is shirking away from his responsibilities and turning himself into the victim.” The leader of the opposition also added that “we live here and not in the Persian Gulf, and we are facing a crisis here and not there. The time has come for you to go.”

His Yesh Atid-Telem colleague and former Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon said he would shun the vote in protest of the sale of U.S. F-35 fighter jets to the UAE that seemed to have been attached to the deal. "Israel's security is not Netanyahu's private business," Ya'alon, a former IDF chief of staff, said.

Netanyahu also faced criticism from the chairman of the right-wing, religious-Zionist Yamina political alliance, Naftali Bennett, for giving up on annexation of the West Bank in exchange for the UAE deal, swearing he will see to it being carried out. "We will apply sovereignty over Jewish settlements," Bennett, who has seen his popularity rise in the polls in the last few weeks, said, "because the love between the people of Israel and the Land of Israel is eternal."  

Lawmakers from the Joint List have already strongly condemned the deal, announcing that they will vote against it. “The agreement with the UAE is part of the ‘deal of the century’ which aims to derail the struggle against the occupation and to end the prospects for founding a Palestinian state,” MK Aida Touma-Sliman said.

“The alliance between Israel and the UAE, under American auspices, is not good news – not for Palestinians, not for Israelis and not for the region. Peace will only come when the occupation ends.” Fellow Joint List MK concurred: “An agreement that perpetuates the occupation is not a peace agreement; it is a blood-soaked agreement that will bring more war.”

About a week ago, Cabinet Secretary Tzachi Braverman officially updated the cabinet secretariat on the intention to use a clause in the government's work regulations and bring the document to the Knesset for approval, "given the importance of the peace treaty," before forwarding a copy of the agreements to MKs.

The vote comes after the Israeli government voted to endorse the normalization accord with the United Arab Emirates on Monday. Ahead of the cabinet vote, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan held a phone call to discuss strengthening bilateral ties and the prospects for peace in the region.

Zvi Hauser, The chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, requested that the committee discuss the security aspects and other details of the agreement prior to its approval in the plenum, but the request did not receive a response and this discussion is only set to take place following the vote. 

Netanyahu also said that Israel expects to welcome the UAE delegation on October 20. The Emirati finance and economy ministers will attend the delegation with their professional teams to promote investment, aviation arrangements, science and technology agreements and embassy exchanges with Israel.

The UAE crown prince is not expected to be part of this delegation. This will be a reciprocal visit following the Israeli delegation's visit to Abu Dhabi in August.

The agreement includes a commitment to continuing efforts to achieve a just, comprehensive, realistic and enduring solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, alongside understandings in other spheres such as finance and investment, civil aviation, trade and economic relations. The sale of American F-35 fighter jets to the UAE is not mentioned in the agreement, an issue that has stirred controversy as it might jeopardize Israel's air superiority and qualitative military edge in the Middle East.

The normalization deals with the UAE and Bahrain are known as the Abraham Accords. Netanyahu flew to Washington last month for an official signing ceremony with the foreign ministers of the two Gulf states, as well as U.S. President Donald Trump, whose administration brokered the deal.

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