The peace deal signed between Israel and the UAE today was an historic milestone toward Middle-East peace. President Donald Trump, Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu and King Mohammed Bin Zayed all deserve credit for what is an extremely positive step for the region.
Trump, for his strength in standing up for Israel among enemies and allies alike; Bibi, for his visionary foreign policy and unparalleled statesmanship; and MBZ, for fostering Jewish communities inside the UAE and his boldness in embracing an erasure of hostilities with Israel.
Jared Kushner, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, Avi Berkowitz, and Trump’s former special envoy Jason Greenblatt also deserve special recognition for their efforts to normalize ties between Israel and the Arab world.
There’s a long way to go in healing the region, but today one more knot was undone in the stubborn tangle of grudges that have defined the region for far too long. Before this deal, Israelis were barred from studying in New York University’s degree-granting college in Abu Dhabi. Now, there might soon be direct flights from Dubai to Tel Aviv.
Still, this peace deal came with the caveat that Israel abandon the planned application of Israeli sovereignty to the ancient Jewish Biblical lands of Judea and Samaria.
I commend the UAE for their historic courage. But Israel need not pay for peace with concessions on issues of security and sovereignty. Other countries exist without having their policies dictated to them. Israel should not be any different.
Prime Minister Netanyahu rightly said that this peace deal is radically different to the Camp David accords because Israel did not trade any land for peace. This deal with the UAE is peace for peace. Land for peace’ was always a flawed theory that is unfair to Israel and yields either dubious results or disaster. Which is why I hope that Israel will not cease efforts to apply sovereignty to the lands west of the Jordan river where 80 percent of Biblical events take place. And even Ambassador Friedman said that annexation has not been canceled by postponed.
Both Netanyahu and Benny Gantz promised voters they would annex parts of Judea and Samaria, which is why they both won (that is, considering Gantz gets his turn at the top). Control of the Jordan River Valley is essential to Israeli security and therefore Israel eastern border must finally be etched in stone through the application of Israeli sovereignty.
To be sure, Israel has, in the past, made many concessions for peace. But those concessions – like the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza – led to war rather than peace.
A de-facto state of peace and growing cooperation with the Gulf States already exists, one that stems organically from the alignment of their interests in countering Iranian expansion and aggression.
Anyone who knows the leaders of Saudi Arabia or the UAE understands that Iran is item number one on their agendas. So great is the threat posed by Iran, that it makes Israel and the UAE not only align but actually need one another. The attack on Saudi Arabia’s Aramco facilities showed how vulnerable the Gulf States are to Iranian attacks. The mullah’s recent deal with China, moreover, showed that Iran has the resourcefulness to survive even the toughest American sanctions. Joe Biden’s promises to return to Obama’s disastrous Iran-deal make these anxieties worse.
Israel and the Gulf States complement each in their ability to respond to this threat. Each has particular skills, strengths, and resources. Their cooperation has been something of an open secret for years. Besides defense, Israel and the UAE have a lot to gain from cooperation in global-business, high-tech and tourism.
Peace, in a very real sense, already exists. Still, it’s wonderful that it’s being solidified in an open treaty that will allow for the opening of embassies and tourism. And I understand that for now the UAE requires Israel to drop its bid for sovereignty in Judea and Samaria so it can show it gained a major concession from Israel in exchange for peace.
But once that peace is firmly established, and once the UAE sees that peace with Israel accrues to its unmitigated advantage, I hope that annexation of these ancient lands is placed by Netanyahu back on the table. For Israel is being asked to drop its bid for annexation not to make peace, but to make peace public.
Those who still cling to the outdated formula of ‘land for peace’ cling to Israel’s concession of the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt to prove that giving away land brings peace. But the truth is that had Abdel Fattah el-Sisinot forcibly replaced the Muslim brotherhood President of Egypt Morsi, there might not be peace. In other words, it is the tragedy of Egypt that the requisite for peace with Israel is dictatorship.
To make even this informal detente with Egypt into a formal agreement, Israel had to give up valuable lands, oil reserves, and most importantly, the strategic depth needed to protect its southern border. Israel’s peace with Egypt is not intrinsic but entirely dependent on who is in power.
It is troubling that these concessions were made for peace with an unstable regime that was illegitimate in the eyes of its own people. So unpopular was Sadat’s “peace” among Egyptians that he was assassinated because of it. During the brief Muslim Brotherhood rule that came to Egypt, the country allowed Hamas to import weapons and rocket-materials into Gaza, so they could be fired at Israel. But whether El-Sisi’s rule will endure is luck-of-the-draw — which means Israel traded away the majority of its land-mass to we-don’t-know-who in exchange for a peace that will last for who-knows-how-long.
More pressingly, Sinai is now a hellhole of terrorist activity which Egypt barely controls. Unlike the state of Egypt, whose conventional army does not pose a threat to Israel, ISIS militants actually might. Last week, ISIS militants launched a staggering offensive in northern Sinai, killing 40 Egyptian soldiers, killing 60 and taking control of four towns. Despite having air-support, Egypt has still not been able to regain control of those towns, which currently constitute a small ISIS caliphate at Israel’s door.
That ‘land for peace’ ever worked with Egypt is dubious. That it will hold in the future is even more so. That’s the time “land-for-peace” maybe worked.
Every other time Israel traded land for peace, the results were outright calamitous.
In the mid-nineties, as a part of the infamous Oslo Accords, Israel gave a sworn Fatah terrorist control over lands containing 94% of the Palestinian population. What followed was a string of suicide-bombings by Palestinian terrorists that left more Israeli civilians dead in the five years following Oslo than in the fifteen years preceding it.
Israel signed even more land over in 1998, in the Wye River Accords. Within two years of that agreement, the second Intifada tore through Israel, this time led by the Fatah party that Israel empowered leaving nearly one thousand Israeli civilians dead in its wake.
And still, Israel gave away even more land in the hope of inching toward peace. In 2005, Ariel Sharon unilaterally relinquished control of the Gaza Strip, which was quickly seized by the genocidal terrorist group Hamas. What followed was tens of thousands of projectiles and rockets and bomb-shelters becoming as standard in Israeli homes as a kitchen sink. Fields across Israel were burning just this week because Gazan terrorists have been launching cross-border IED’s attached to birthday-balloons — and that’s considered quiet for the Israel-Gaza border.
By far, the most disastrous concession was the retreat from Southern Lebanon in 2000. Within six years, the area had so much Hezbollah terrorist infrastructure that Israel lost 121 soldiers and 44 civilians just wading into territory they’d just controlled outright. Today, Hezbollah has grown even stronger, with hundreds of thousands of rockets, precision guidance equipment, and networks of sophisticated tunnels meant to enable an invasion of Israel.
Now, Israel is being asked to relinquish its right to apply sovereignty to the oldest Jewish lands on earth. By waiving Jewish rights to these lands, it reinforces the counter-factual idea that we are ‘occupiers’ of a land to which our claims are imperfect. Like the two women fighting over a baby for Solomon, it was one’s willingness to divide the child that proved it wasn’t hers. If Hebron isn’t ours, then Tel Aviv isn’t either.
Our claims to these lands are one and the same. It’s not because an English aristocrat named Balfour made a declaration, nor because the United Nations once drew up a partition. The land of Israel is our God-given homeland wherein our prophets, our kings, and ancestors lived and prospered.
That it will be ours forever is a fact everyone will eventually have to make peace with.