Lessons for a Zionist in a World Turned Upside Down
Today news has broken that Israel and the UAE have reached a historic agreement to normalize diplomatic relations. The implications of this deal are far reaching. Politically, this is a win for and a credit to the Trump administration, which has been hard put to share accomplishments and successes as it has been uninspiring in its navigation of the pandemic, race relations, and economic upheaval. Diplomatically this is an achievement for both Israel and the UAE, which can say that it halted, for now, Israel’s inexorable march to sovereignty in Judea and Samaria. Israel continues to make inroads where it counts, among those Arab countries which are growing in strength and implacably opposed to Iran.
There are several more implications to this historic move, many of which will only reveal themselves as the negotiations and normalization play out. One thing, though, is clear. This move would not have happened without the implicit approval, indeed likely the prompting, of the Saudi regime and Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Sultan. I believe that the UAE is Saudi Arabia’s proxy here as in other theaters, such as Libya. Egyptian President Sisi, who has worked increasingly more closely with both Israel and the UAE in recent years, must also have blessed the deal. As such, this is a concrete step towards an Israeli peace deal with Saudi Arabia in the coming years. As historic as this current deal is, peace with Saudi Arabia, the superpower of the Sunni Arab world, would be a true game changer, for everyone.
As recently as earlier this summer, the Saudi peace plan of 2002 was still the official “starting point” for any Sunni Arab engagement with Israel. With this agreement, that has changed dramatically. Now, the starting point is the Trump Peace Plan revealed this past January. The goalposts have shifted. That is a huge achievement for Prime Minister Netanyahu, something that Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert couldn’t achieve, and which took Bibi 11 years to do.
This agreement, and the likely expansion of it to Saudi Arabia and others, also puts the EU in a position where they would not only be rejecting President Trump – with whom their relationship is chilly, at best – by adhering to the old standards, they would be overtly rejecting the Gulf states with whom they do over €150 billion of trade every year. Does anyone think that they will choose to continue to champion the Palestinian narrative over this? And, having seen the achievement of the goal of arresting Israeli moves towards sovereignty, would a potential Biden/Harris Presidency walk back this agreement out of spite?
Looking at the statement released by the US, the UAE, and Israel, it is also interesting to note that its language explicitly narrows Muslim exclusivity to the Al Aqsa Mosque, not the entire Temple Mount. That detail will probably enrage the Palestinians, but it will anger many more in the Arab world, both Sunni and Shia.
Equally angry will be most of the leadership and residents of Jewish cities and towns in Judea and Samaria. Their dream of achieving full sovereignty over the core of the ancestral Jewish homeland is now on life support. It may be that in years to come facts on the ground will be entrenched in sovereignty, so that blocs like Gush Etzion, Maale Adumim, Ariel, Karnei Shomron and the suburbs of Jerusalem become part of Israel proper; the prospect of broadening sovereignty to the Jordan Valley and other areas is all but dead.
As painful as it is to say, this is probably an indication of a good deal. As George Bideault, the post-war French Foreign Minister deeply involved in creating the structure of the European Common Market and the precursor to the European Union was fond of saying, it is received wisdom that a good diplomatic agreement was one with which all parties were equally dissatisfied.
What, then, is the lesson here for a Zionist, a committed advocate for Israel?
Recognize that the diplomatic ground has shifted, but the dynamic of hate, intolerance, and the intersection between antisemitism and anti-Zionism has not changed. In the diplomatic arena this may be a victory, but on the campuses, in the increasingly radical public discourse on Israel, this will not change anything. As a Jew and a Zionist your identity will still be denigrated, condemned, and dismissed. Racist hypocrites in sheep’s clothing will still arrogate the right to define who you are, and deny your peoplehood; Professors will still call the return of exiles to their ancestral lands imperialism and colonialism, and Congressional Representatives will still traffic in antisemitism.
Stay the course. The majority of those unengaged on these issues will see this agreement as a positive accomplishment for everyone. It is those minds you can change. That’s where your energy and passion are most effectively used. So, this is an opportunity to demonstrate to the unengaged that Israel wants peace and is prepared to sacrifice for it. That is a powerful message.