What Will Netanyahu Do After His Party in Washington?

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The national flags of Bahrain, Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and the U.S. are flown along a road in central Israel, on September 13, 2020.

The signing ceremony for Israel’s peace agreements with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain is an extremely important event in the history of the Israeli-Arab conflict. Two Arab countries, which will apparently pave the way for other countries, have fomented a revolution in the view of Arab hostility to Israel, despite, or more accurately because of, the fact that they have never been considered enemy states.

Ostensibly, given their lack of any territorial or military conflict with Israel, the UAE and Bahrain had no urgent need to join the circle of countries that have made peace with Israel, like Egypt and Jordan. They could have stuck to the pan-Arab position that as long as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict hasn’t ended, there’s no justification for normalizing relations with Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is entitled to reap the credit for this breakthrough, and Israel owes U.S. President Donald Trump its thanks for his efforts and the pressure he exerted, without which this ceremony wouldn’t be taking place. These agreements will serve the interests of both Israel and the Arab signatories for many years to come, long after Netanyahu and Trump have left office.

But it would be a dangerous mistake to also celebrate the Palestinians’ defeat and see the agreements as proof that the Palestinian problem no longer interests either Arab governments or the Arab public. The Arab states, including those that have signed agreements with Israel, haven’t abandoned the two-state solution, and they have gone to great lengths to stress this at every opportunity. Any attempt by Netanyahu to present the new peace agreements as recognition of the occupation or at least acquiescence to its existence is a fraud. More importantly, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will remain a focus of Israel’s existence and continue influencing its character, security and culture as long as Israel continues ruling over 5 million Palestinians.

Just as the peace with Egypt and Jordan didn’t diminish the Palestinians’ feelings of frustration and despair or prevent violent conflicts between Israel and Hamas and other Palestinian groups, and just as they didn’t stop the occupation from creating an aggressive, racist culture in Israel that defines both Arab citizens and leftists as enemies of the country, the agreements with the UAE and Bahrain also won’t halt the continued corruption of Israel’s values.

Israel’s government owed and still owes a debt to the country’s citizens, who are fed up with the dictates of the settlers that have shaped the face of this generation, and also with being made into citizens of an apartheid state. After the party in Washington and the fantasies of going shopping in Dubai, Netanyahu must show the public a practical plan for solving the conflict with the Palestinians.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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