For decades, a sacrosanct pillar and bedrock of international diplomacy held that the Arab-Israeli conflict could only be solved once the Israeli-Palestinian impasse was concluded.
Dubbed “linkage,” this concept’s conventional wisdom posited that a comprehensive peace would never be negotiated between the Arab world and the Jewish state, so long as Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians persisted.
This diplomatic theory, though tidy in concept, failed repeatedly as the Palestinian leadership held a veto over the normalization process, effectively holding the region hostage to Palestinian rejectionism, recalcitrance and unilateralism. This past week, a major and historic announcement upended this flawed peacemaking paradigm, showing just how antiquated the linkage argument is.
In a deal brokered by the United States on August 13, Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) signed the Abraham Accord, establishing a peace agreement and full diplomatic ties, marking the third Arab country with which Israel has bilateral relations after Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994.
Following 20 years of warm, though unofficial relations, his Royal Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sealed the deal under the auspices of President Donald Trump, with speculation swirling that all three are being considered for the Nobel Peace Prize.
An influential and wealthy Gulf Arab country, the UAE is a major petroleum exporter and leader in the region, leaving reason to believe that this agreement may be a harbinger of big things to come.
Rumours abound that Israel is on the cusp of normalizing relations with Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait, Qatar, Morocco, and other African countries. Even Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan, cautiously welcomed the agreement saying it “could be viewed as positive.” Saudi Arabia even agreed to allow UAE-Israel overflights over its airspace.
In fact, only days after the announcement, Michel Aoun, Lebanon’s President – a country still technically at war with Israel – publicly commented that peace with Israel is a distinct possibility, and senior officials in Sudan, a historically anti-Israel Arab nation in Africa, publicly stated its support for peace with Israel (though they have since backtracked). This volte face is all the more remarkable considering that the 1967 Arab League summit in Khartoum saw the passage of the notorious “Three no’s resolution” calling for “no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, and no negotiations with Israel.”
As the linkage argument has shown to be misguided, how did international diplomats allow it to be a major guiding principle in Middle East peacemaking? The idea didn’t transpire out of thin air; it was an argument perpetuated year after year by successive Palestinian leaders.
In its war against the normalization of Israel, the Palestinians not only incited its people against the Jewish state in official media and schools, but forcefully made the argument that the surrender of land by Israel to a future Palestinian state was a priority above all else. In response, the international community, abetted by the mainstream media, applied pressure primarily on Israel to cede land and to agree to maximalist Palestinian demands because, after all, it was perceived as the primary obstacle to peace.
Not anymore. According to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, Israel’s forging ties with the Arab and Muslim world is now guided by two principles: “peace for peace” and “peace through strength.” Under this doctrine, Israel isn’t required to withdraw from any territory and together with the UAE, the two countries openly reap the fruits of a full peace: investments, trade, tourism, health, agriculture, environmental protection, and in many other fields, including defense. By way of example, companies within both respective countries have signed R & D agreements to fight COVID-19. Instead of a “cold peace,” Israeli and Emirati leaders are working to implement a “warm peace” with “people to people” relations based on tolerance, respect and mutual benefit.
Israel has shown the “land for peace” paradigm to be illusory. A technological powerhouse and leader in research and innovation, Israel has demonstrated that it can offer real world value, and that baseless opposition to its existence is self-defeating. Far from being a foreign implant, normalization means that the Arab world recognizes that the Jewish people have indigenous rights in their historic homeland and are rightfully here to stay.
That is good news for Israel, the region and the world, but bad news for a corrupt Palestinian leadership which has kept its own people in squalor in an attempt to pressure one-sided concessions from Israel that it could never make. After the UAE announced its peace agreement with Israel, the Palestinian leadership condemned the move. Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a senior advisor to Mahmoud Abbas, the PA’s President, called the agreement a betrayal, and the Palestinian government cancelled its participation in the Dubai Expo.
Other parties to vociferously condemn the agreement include such regional luminaries as Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad, who can always be counted on to be on the wrong side of history. It’s apparent that the only widespread opposition to Israel’s outstretched arm in peace are groups and regimes which have a vested interest in perpetuating the conflict for their own ends.
Ironically, Israel’s historic peace treaty with the UAE and broader rapprochement with the Sunni Arab world is thanks in large part due to Shia Iran’s destructive pursuit of nuclear weapons, its destabilizing efforts, and state sponsorship of terror in the region and abroad. As the saying goes, the enemy of my enemy is my friend.
Israel’s inking a peace deal with a major Gulf state is major news, and in a nice change for the Middle East known for its relentless news cycle of conflict, wars, terrorism, human rights atrocities, etc. The only losers in this agreement are the fanatical anti-Israel regimes, Islamist terror groups and the Palestinian leadership which has spent decades blaming Israel for all the problems under the sun, and which has told its people that Israel is a paper tiger on the verge of destruction. But as Israel expands its diplomatic relations with Arab and Muslim countries across the region, the Palestinian leadership may finally be forced to face the facts that Israel is neither disappearing nor becoming an international pariah, and that a just and equitable peace is the only route to peace and prosperity for the Palestinian people.
To Israel and the UAE: Mabrouk and mazel tov!
Mike Fegelman is Executive Director of HonestReporting Canada, a non-profit organization ensuring fair and accurate Canadian media coverage of Israel. www.HonestReporting.ca