It’s hard to swallow this peace with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. Tuesday’s signing ceremony at the White House seemed like nothing less than the left’s Yom Kippur. What happened here? We signed an agreement with horrible dictatorships, corrupt rulers, countries that aren’t enemy states, and even after all that, we weren’t able to get rid of the Palestinian gum stuck to the soles of our shoes.
Why couldn’t we find more democratic countries and more enlightened leaders with which to sign peace agreements, like former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, former Jordanian King Hussein or former PLO leader Yasser Arafat – or at least like current Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi, current PLO leader Mahmoud Abbas or current Jordanian King Abdullah? How did we fall into this trap, in which an honest, decent Israeli leader, a paragon of ethical behavior, humility and modesty, agreed to shake hands with the regional symbols of corruption and tyranny?
The critics’ lamentations create the feeling that it wasn’t the Palestinians who were betrayed by these Arab instigators of peace. Rather, it feels like they sent their poisoned arrow straight into the soft heart of the Israeli left, which is apparently willing to give up on all this unnecessary ceremony because it fell into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s benighted lap.
“Yes, this is an important, historic peace, the first in 26 years ... but why Bibi?” they say. And if it has to be Bibi, then what has he paid them behind our backs? How did he manage to deceive us without our noticing? And even more importantly, how is it possible that the Arab states have destroyed the paradigm that faithfully served the left’s arguments for generations – that there won’t be peace with the Arab states until the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has ended?
Both leftists and rightists have forgotten that the peace with Egypt created the first crack in this view. But that seemed like a one-time event, which resulted in Egypt paying the heavy price of being boycotted for years by the other Arab states.
Then came the agreement with Jordan, the embassy in Mauritania and the interest offices in Morocco, Tunisia and Qatar. Even Syria conducted negotiations with Israel. And all this happened without Israel withdrawing from even one inch of the territories and without any compensation to the Palestinians.
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But now? It’s a disaster. One after another, the Gulf States are falling into the Israeli right’s “trap.”
One can understand this frustration, but there’s no need to adopt it. The Gulf States that have signed or will sign peace agreements with Israel aren’t negating the existence of the Palestinian issue. However, they are abolishing the linkage between pan-Arab peace with Israel and a solution to its conflict with the Palestinians.
Through this brave step, they have announced that the Palestinian problem is Israel’s problem. They’re willing to help solve it, but they are no longer willing to serve as an excuse for Israel’s unwillingness to negotiate with the Palestinian leadership.
These states have interests of their own that converged in the U.S. capital. On the map of the new Middle East, in which the very term “Middle East” is gradually being dismantled into its component parts, a superpower’s backing is essential. And if the road to obtaining it requires making peace with Israel to please an unstable American president – or to ensure that any president who replaces him will uphold their interests – then so be it.
The critics of the new peace agreements, who argue that they undermine the chances of peace with the Palestinians, should calm down. The chances of such a peace weren’t high to begin with.
Moreover, the reason they have decreased even further is that the left and center didn’t manage to form a government. On the contrary, some of its representatives were pulled into Netanyahu’s government and even supported annexing parts of the West Bank. Emirati Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed and Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa aren’t to blame for that.
But all is not lost. The Palestinian issue, the occupation and the settlements aren’t going anywhere. They’ll continue to shape Israel’s character, feed its racism, nurture its violence and warp its culture.
Thus instead of criticizing the agreements with Arab states, the left and center should reformulate their positions on the conflict, present a courageous diplomatic plan, convince the public and prepare thoroughly for the next election.