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The Middle East’s flurry of “peace” agreements

Updated: Nov 3, 2020

From the Arab world’s famous 3 NOs of 1967 to a historical

wave of "peace" agreements with Israel, times they are a changin’.

What do I think of this?

* UAE-Israel normalization agreement (photo credit: API)

Following the humiliation of Israel’s famous defeat of the surrounding Arab forces in 1967, the Arab world announced the Khartoum Resolution: NO peace with Israel, NO recognition of Israel, NO negotiations with Israel.

Who would have believed that after 53 years, Israel would have signed agreements with 5 Arab countries, and more to come? For Israel, every recognition is another pat on the back, whereas for the Palestinians it is a painful slap in the face.

Here are my thoughts.

* Arab leaders at Khartoum Resolution, 1967

Are these really "Peace" agreements?

Israel has never had conflict with the individual states of UAE, Bahrain, or Sudan. In fact, since the 1980’s we have developed economic ties with the Persian Gulf countries, quietly and unofficially. So are these new "peace" agreements really groundbreaking, if a discreet relationship existed already? Perhaps what we are witnessing is the countries of the Arab world coming out of the closet, one by one.

Of course, the timing of ‘coming out’ is motivated by a range of reasons: buying weapons from the US, receiving economic aid, etc. However, I believe that this is the visible part of a dramatic change that is reshaping the Middle East – no more babysitting the Palestinians.

What sort of peace agreement would I consider a genuine game changer for Israel? Peace with Lebanon. Israel’s first war with its neighbor to the north was really between Israel and the Palestinians residing in Lebanon. The second war was against Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed political party and terrorist organization.

Lebanon has been a corrupt wreck of a country for many years. The government is desperate for economic aid. Now is the perfect time for the world to pressure Lebanon to rid itself of corrupt leaders and the grip of Hezbollah, and to start a gradual process of agreements with Israel. Early October, Israeli government officials met for the first time with Lebanese military officials, starting the first serious negotiations on the disputed maritime border. If Israel and Lebanon sign a "peace" agreement, I would definitely recognize it as a significant agreement, and I would even compliment my current government.

* Second Lebanon war, 2006

Will these agreements really benefit with the Palestinians,

as the Arab countries claimed over and over?

If I were Palestinian, I would be furious and feel that the Arab world betrayed my nation. If the Arab countries cared even one tiny bit about the Palestinian nation, the first condition they should have put on the negotiation table was a complete settlement freeze. However, they don’t care less about the Palestinians, they want modern weapons, and they know that Netanyahu cannot afford to lose supporters by agreeing to a freeze. So, a simple deal with Israel is good for them. Now Israel gets a green light to continue the expansion of settlements, which is a growing obstacle to a two-state solution. Signing these agreements is basically legitimizing the status of military control in the West Bank, and pushes the Palestinians further into their corner.

On the other hand, and there always is another hand, these agreements will connect Palestinians to the Arab world like never before. Ramallah (the de facto administrative capital of the Palestinian Territories) is only one hour’s drive from Ben Gurion airport, and now visitors can fly directly to Israel from the UAE, Bahrain, and maybe even Saudi Arabia in the near future. This might bring large investments into the Palestinian Territories and strengthen their economy. Palestinians wanting to fly internationally from the West Bank or Gaza still have to cross into Jordan or Egypt and fly out from there, which is a major schlep.

Other beneficiaries of the new agreements are the Palestinian Israelis (Palestinian Arabs who live in Israel and have full Israeli citizenship). Whenever I have travelled overland to the Sinai Peninsula in the last few years, I noticed large numbers of Palestinian Israelis travelling to Egypt for vacation or business. They might have faced disadvantage doing business in Israel because of the language and cultural barrier, but they speak fluent Arabic and they know how to bargain very well. Despite the fact that the Arab party in the Knesset (Joint List) voted against these agreements, it seems that many Arabs in Israel feel hopeful. Meanwhile, Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza continue to show jealousy of the Israeli Arabs, calling them Arab-al-shamenet in Arabic (cream cheese Arabs), meaning that they live the good life in Israel and eat cream cheese instead of labaneh, the white cheese of the working class.

* Saudi Arabia permits flights to/from Israel over its airspace

Great Marketing for Netanyahu.

This controversial leader is constantly working on his next election campaign. This series of agreements are a great way to divert the growing public frustration and anger directed towards him, by showing what a “talented world leader” he is. What is interesting is that he is marketing it in a way that touches a very sensitive spot in Israeli society. Netanyahu knows that young adult Israelis suffer from a collective trauma, mainly from the years of the second intifada. According to him, the Oslo Agreement brought terrorism into the bars and restaurants of Tel Aviv. Israel gave back land yet received no peace in return. Netanyahu’s tactic is simple, but clever: “peace for peace, economy for economy”. What he is saying is that these agreements are not dangerous peace deals. They are agreements based on peace and the economy. Netanyahu understands that Israelis have lost trust in peace, and he knows he needs to talk money. That is why he links the economy with peace in the same breath.

Bottom line: Good for Israelis, bad for Israel.

There is no doubt, that these agreements are a huge success in Israel's foreign relations. Our new friends in the Middle East are eager to learn and grow, and Israel is seen as an oasis of creativity in the midst of a hostile region. Israel can share its advanced technologies from water desalination to cyber security. Israel will soon become a major airline hub, with Muslim tourists flocking to the Holy Land. Strategically, the UAE and Bahrain can also be used as a crucial base to attack Iran and its nuclear weapons, which threaten the whole region.

Israel’s geographical isolation is dissolving.

So, this is good for Israelis, but here is why it's bad for Israel.

How can a prime minister who is on trial for bribery, fraud and breach of trust be a part of these agreements? Over the past decade, corruption in Israel has gone wild and it is evident throughout the many layers of our society. If Covid kills people, corruption kills democracies.

These agreements have made Netanyahu stronger and more popular. Thanks to him, Israel is growing externally, while internally it is experiencing moral and ethical collapse. What do we want this Jewish state to look like in the next century? A power economy with a corrupt autocracy, or an ethical democracy?

Now for the good news: I have finally learned some Arabic and I’m excited at the prospect of flying to the Persian Gulf. This time I won’t need to use my Canadian passport or be afraid to wear shirts with Hebrew on them. I can’t wait to have a Shabbus dinner at Dubai’s Chabad house, reputed to have really good knedalah.



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