Yonathan Bar-On

Peace Begins at Home

Peace Begins at Home

When I heard about the ‘deal’ between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, I was reminded of the Dutch comedian Herman Finkers. He once joked about a village that had cable television but still was waiting to have a sewage system installed. Peaceful contacts between Israel and any Arab or Islamic country are good news, but shouldn’t peace with our immediate neighbors be a higher priority than an agreement with a country that we never fought face to face, and with which we have been cooperating for several years already, both secretly and openly? And should a peace agreement really include $3,000,000,000 worth of weaponry? This just goes to show that peace was not on the minds of any of this deal’s brokers.

Right after the deal was announced, Tel Aviv lit up city hall in the colors of the UAE flag. It did the same with Lebanon’s flag after the blast in Beirut. When recently a protester waved a Palestinian flag near the same building, at a demonstration against Netanyahu’s mismanagement of the economy and the Corona crisis, this led to hateful condemnations by the Prime Minister and his supporters. Though Israel’s ban against that flag was lifted after the signing of the Oslo accords, several nationalist Knesset members have tried to reinstate it. Last year a Knesset Member of the Joint List was even attacked by Israeli police when he carried that flag. Ironically, the UAE and Palestinian flags share the exact same colors. It is clearly much easier to feel sorry for a city that has the world’s sympathy for a short while, or to make a deal with far-away enemies who never really were enemies, than it is to deal with and to feel sympathy for some next-door neighbors whom you face on a daily basis, and who have legitimate claims against you, after you have both ignored and often mistreated them for many decades. In 1978, hardly ‘anybody’ spoke with or about the Palestinians, so they were ignored in the negotiations between Egypt and Israel. In 1994, when Israel signed a peace agreement with Jordan, the Palestinians themselves were already negotiating with us. Today there is no legitimate excuse to ignore them (even though their leaders are possibly even more corrupt than ours), and to let them pay the price for Trump and Netanyahu’s desperate efforts to extend their expiration date.

That the UAE is an autocracy, heavily criticized by human rights organizations, is not a valid argument against the deal. Waiting for democracy to blossom here has even less chances of success than waiting for peace. Besides, Israel itself is also not the democracy it used and/or pretends to be, partly thanks to Binyamin ‘Three Indictments’ Netanyahu: on his watch and under his guidance the levels of corruption and incitement in this country have risen to heights unknown before, the boundaries between Israel’s legislative, executive and judicial branches have been blurred completely, and his/our best friends and allies are autocrats. That is one of the reasons why this deal does not make me happy at all. One deal does not erase or compensate for four (Trump) or over ten (Bibi) years of corruption, misconduct, neglect and betrayal of allies (Trump vs the Kurds, Europe), attacks on the rule of law, weakening America’s international position, cozying up to dictators and questionable regimes, plus their failure in the fight against COVID19 and its economic consequences. Only the naively or willingly blind and dumb buy the ploys of these snake-oil salesmen, who will use every trick in the book to stay in power and out of the court room.

Last week, the wife of Prime Minister Netanyahu called herself a battered woman, after some demonstrators against her husband’s corruption and government shouted inappropriate slogans. Women’s rights groups and activists bashed her immediately for this, and with good reason, but I could not help thinking of her words when I learnt about Trump and Netanyahu’s latest maneuver. They somehow seem like two abusive husbands, having mistreated and corrupted their countries for several years now. Now that those countries are finally considering abandoning their abusers, the husbands show them a ring with what looks like a diamond but is only polished glass. The ring looks nice but is basically worthless, and definitely not worth the price of letting the abusers stay. This latest deal of the century looks nice but is meaningless, unless it includes a real and just solution for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. In any case, even if Trump and Bibi were interested in and able to come up with such a solution, having those two reelected would not be a price worth paying, the damage would outweigh any possible benefit. Let’s hope that, after the deal has been signed, the Israeli and American people will vote in real leaders, who will finally address the real and most urgent problems that their countries and this region face. To quote Israel’s second President Yitzhak Ben-Zvi: “Peace, like justice, begins at home.”

An early version of this article appeared, in Dutch, in the Friesch Dagblad. It goes without saying that the opinions expressed here are the author’s, and his alone.

About the Author
Yonathan Bar-On (Bert de Bruin) is a historian and an EAL teacher. He teaches English at the Leo Baeck Education Center in Haifa, and has written extensively for Dutch newspapers, and occasionally for American and Israeli newspapers and online media. Yonathan writes a weekly column for the Dutch daily Friesch Dagblad. In 1995 he immigrated to Israel from the Netherlands.
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