I read the op-eds by Odeh Bisharat (“And if I lived in Gaza, Aluf Benn?” September 17, Haaretz Hebrew edition) and Avner Gvaryahu (“Israel’s deals with Gulf states normalize immorality,” September 23), and I was taken back to November 19, 1977, when Egyptian President Anwar Sadat landed in Jerusalem. We sat in the living room and watched our black and white TV excitedly, as the door of the plane opened and Sadat emerged. I was in eighth grade, and I was intensely jealous of my friend, Roli Arad, whose father was Yad Vashem chairman and who the next day hosted the enemy who had come to make peace.
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And then I imagined the reception line, and in my mind’s eye I saw Bisharat and Gvaryahu standing off to the side holding signs that said, “Traitor, Go Home,” and “Get Out of Here, Dictator.” A few policemen separated them from the extreme right-wing demonstrators, who were holding similar posters. Together they sought to halt the peace initiative. I imagined what would have happened had they succeeded – a second Yom Kippur War, and then a third, and a fourth. I saw rows and rows of gravestones in military cemeteries, and I shook myself out of this daydream with a sigh of relief.
I don’t know if the new agreements with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain will intensify the occupation and oppression in the territories. In the case of Sadat, the result is clear: Menachem Begin leveraged the peace with Egypt to build “a hundred Elon Morehs” in the West Bank, as he promised. Ariel Sharon, Ze’ev Hever of Amana, the settlement arm of Gush Emunim, and settler leader Benny Katzover filled the hills with settlers, and the West was silent – and granted Nobel peace prizes to Sadat and Begin.
Was peace with Egypt a mistake? Would it have been better to continue the wars until the occupation ended and justice was achieved for the Palestinians? What about peace with Jordan, which deprived the Palestinians of the Temple Mount? That’s the question that’s at the root of the current debate.
According to Bisharat and Gvaryahu, there is only one legitimate response to the occupation – an international boycott and the constant threat of war on Israel. And they are demanding solidarity from Arab countries. What’s with this Orientalism? Why is it okay for Holland or Russia to have diplomatic relations with Israel but not Bahrain? If the agreements with the Gulf countries are destructive to our society’s values, as Gvaryahu argues, why doesn’t he call on the entire world to sever its relations with Israel until the occupation ends? Or is this a hidden message, a whitewashed criticism of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, aimed at the audience that hates the prime minister but doesn’t want to live in a pariah state?
Bisharat is correct: I don’t live in Gaza or Ramallah. Perhaps that’s why I’m having trouble understanding Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar, who are sacrificing the opportunity for change on grounds of “national honor.” What did they achieve with the rockets that were fired from Gaza on the night of the signing in Washington? Or Abbas’ ire? After all, these new agreements showed that contrary to all the claims, the Trump administration is not a partner to the annexation policies of the Israeli right. Why not challenge both him and Netanyahu by making suggestions for an arrangement?
That’s what the Gulf rulers did. When Netanyahu declared that he planned to annex a third of the West Bank, they could have responded by booting out all the Israeli weapons firms and high-tech companies, halting all dealings with Israel and donating billions to the PA and even to Hamas. Would this have delayed the annexation? Or would it have instead pushed Israel to annex more, and more quickly? They chose the opposite path. They gave Israel a diplomatic and economic payoff, and the annexation was shelved.
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But this wasn’t enough for Bisharat and Gvaryahu. They prefer to stand alongside the settlers in their struggle against the Trump initiative (the “fraud,” as Yesha Council leader David Elhayani called it). It’s good that both they and the settlers are being left at the edge of the runway.