Ignore Netanyahu's Salesmanship: UAE Agreement Was Another Land-for-peace Deal

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement on proposed West Bank annexation in Ramat Gan, near Tel Aviv, September 10, 2019.
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

Some Israelis’ attitude toward the peace agreement being worked out with the United Arab Emirates is like that of kibitzers who look at a bride and groom and wash their hands of the whole affair with scorn, even disgust. “What the devil did she see in him? What kind of prize did she catch? And what on earth is all the rejoicing about?”

After all, this couple has been living together for many years. Moreover, the UAE isn’t an enemy that’s suddenly changed its spots, like Egypt or Jordan.

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Lest anyone has forgotten, similar things could have been written in 1994, when the peace treaty with Jordan was signed. The kingdom next door had also maintained close ties and military cooperation with Israel long before signing the agreement. And yet, such true rejoicing took place then. And how pleasant it was to recall – until Jordan turned into a battered woman.

Alas, if only Saudi Arabia or Lebanon were the ones ready for ties with Israel, we would be dancing in the streets. But to make a big deal about a small country whose name is reminiscent of a business conglomerate or a trade union?

All of a sudden, the longing for peace agreements with Arab countries has been forgotten, and the excitement over secret meetings with “a state that doesn’t have relations with Israel” has died away. All of a sudden, every agreement has become trivial, as if a long list of Arab suitors were standing in line to make peace with Israel, and all it had to do was choose.

Who still remembers the flood of verbiage written after the UAE’s ambassador to Washington, Yousef al-Otaiba, published his astounding op-ed in the daily Yedioth Ahronoth? Or the emotional articles urging the Israeli government to take the bull by the horns and change its policy, lest the chance for peace with an Arab state be lost?

One can understand the frustration that this “prize” has fallen to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But why is it necessary to be angry at Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed as if he were to blame for Israel’s unwillingness to negotiate with the Palestinians?

Israelis and Palestinians ought to remove the obstacles to negotiations themselves, rather than complaining about the crown prince, who did to the Palestinians exactly what Benny Gantz and his Kahol Lavan party did to their voters.

The irony is that the prince of an Arab country actually succeeded where Kahol Lavan and the left-wing parties failed. It was he, not they – even though they did do their bit to stop annexation – who placed the spiked barrier in the path of those racing toward a formal takeover of parts of the West Bank.

Netanyahu can scream from every balcony that this was “peace for peace, not peace for land,” but Bin Zayed ripped this slogan to shreds by making it clear that this was peace for no-annexation. It was peace for land with a capital L.

Bin Zayed succeeded where all Netanyahu’s partners in the government failed. He snuck into Israel’s political den and laid a honey trap in front of Netanyahu. One could argue that Netanyahu had already backed away from annexation in any case, that Washington is the one that forced his hand, or that the right had put up a flashing red light before he made a U-turn. But this peace agreement is what sealed annexation’s fate.

Moreover, the agreement enhances the Arab states’ relevance in shaping Israeli policy, and all the more so if other Arab countries join it. It’s hard to count all the times when Israel adjusted its position, capitulated or made concessions so as not to undermine its peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, or all the times when these countries bolstered Israel’s security.

Granted, Bin Zayed has turned the Arab Peace Initiative – which, back in 2002, offered normalization and an Arab safety net for Israel in exchange for its withdrawal from the territories – upside down by handing over the payment before he has received the goods. But he hasn’t given up on the goods. Rather, he’s assuming, or at least hoping, that this path will lead to better results.

This is an exceptional, courageous experiment by an Arab leader who, instead of being held prisoner by the consensus, is willing to break new ground and forge a new Arab paradigm.

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