The real meaning of El Al flight 971

An Israeli-American delegation at a ceremony ahead of their departure from Tel Aviv to Abu Dhabi, at the Ben-Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, August 31, 2020. Photo by: Tomer Neuberg-JINIPIX via Jewish News
An Israeli-American delegation at a ceremony ahead of their departure from Tel Aviv to Abu Dhabi, at the Ben-Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, August 31, 2020. Photo by: Tomer Neuberg-JINIPIX via Jewish News

On 31 August the world witnessed the first commercial flight between Israel and the United Arab Emirates.

The importance of this journey can hardly be overestimated.

The UAE and Israel have never been at war.

But as a member of the Arab League the UAE (formerly the Trucial States, a British colonial ‘protectorate’) has for decades implemented the Arab boycott of the Jewish state, refraining from any commercial or diplomatic contact with Israel and refusing entry to anyone presenting an Israel passport at its border checkpoints.

That past is now dead.

Under a deal (the “Abraham Accord”) brokered by US president Donald Trump the UAE boycott of Israel has ended. There will soon be full, open diplomatic relations between these two Middle Eastern states, meaning (amongst many other things), that the UAE will open an embassy in Israel, and that the two states will co-operate on a wide range of commercial and technical fronts.

But the deal goes further than this. When El Al flight 971 made its historic journey to the UAE, it passed through the airspace of Saudi Arabia. In practice there have for some time been positive bilateral dialogues between Saudi Arabia and Israel. The Saudi government has now clarified that all Israeli commercial flights are eligible to use its airspace. Do not be surprised if full diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel now follow.

For Donald Trump, who appears to be facing an uphill struggle to retain the American presidency, flight 971 represented a major triumph. Whatever one thinks of the Trump presidency, Trump has kept his promise to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and has made good on a number of other matters of importance to peace between Israel and its Arab neighbours. Notable amongst these was his bold decision (2018) to put a stop to American funding of the United Nations Relief & Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNWRA), a bloated,  self-serving bureaucracy with a vested interest in keeping the Israel-Arab conflict alive, and whose schools shamelessly peddle unadulterated anti-Jewish racism to their pupils.

On its side, the ramshackle coalition government that Bibi Netanyahu now heads has had to make but one concession: in return for full diplomatic relations with the UAE, Netanyahu has had to agree to postpone Israeli annexation of portions (amounting to some 30 per cent) of the West Bank (Judea & Samaria) adjacent to metropolitan Israel.

Some Jewish/Israeli critics of the Abraham Accord have damned it on this account. In my view they have over-reacted. “Annexation” would, primarily, have meant – and still means – the formal extension of Israeli law to Jewish settlements and townships in so-called Area C of the West Bank. The Abraham Accord will still permit this extension to take place: it will simply not be called “annexation.” Meanwhile the Jewish reclamation of disputed WB territories will continue apace. As Oded Revivi, the mayor of Efrat (a township of over 9,000 residents south of Jerusalem) declared, the Israeli agreement to postpone the application of Israeli law in the Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria is “a fair price” to pay for the benefits that the Accord brings.

The United Kingdom bears an historic responsibility for the conflict between the Jewish state and its Arab neighbours – specifically for its bolstering of Palestinian-Arab absolute refusal to accept the legitimacy of the re-establishment of the Jewish state in geographic Mandate Palestine. In late August 2020, a week or so before the historic flight of El Al 971, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab paid a visit to Israel, and met Mr Netanyahu.   What (I asked myself) was the precise purpose of this visit? If it was to congratulate Netanyahu on the signature of the Abraham Accord, these glad tidings could surely have been conveyed via the telephone. Was it to apologise for the UK’s enthusiastic and very public opposition to the reimposition of sanctions on Iran?  Apparently not!

Its purpose  appears to have been to visibly reassure the wider world that the United Kingdom’s support for Palestinian statehood covering the entire West Bank, including the “shared” whole of Jerusalem, has not altered. As James Roscoe, Acting UK Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN, explained at the UN Security Council on 25 August, the UK supports “a negotiated settlement leading to a safe and secure Israel living alongside a viable and sovereign Palestinian [state] based on 1967 borders with agreed land swaps, Jerusalem as the shared capital of both states and a just, fair, agreed and realistic settlement [whatever this means!] for refugees.”

When the Palestinian leadership and its many friends call for the “two-state solution” what they mean is (a) the establishment of an autonomous Palestinian state covering the entire West Bank and Jerusalem {including, incidentally, the Jewish Quarter of the Old City} and (b) the recognition of an Israel to which any number of Palestinian refugees will be permitted to “return” indefinitely, leading (it is confidently hoped) to a Palestinian-Arab majority in the Jewish state, which will thus, effectively, cease to exist.

This is the grim reality of the “two-state solution.” Dominic Raab and his boss Boris Johnson can insist as loudly as they like that they are firm friends of the Jewish state. Their time would be better spent telling the Palestinian leadership to abandon intransigent and obdurate imaginings.

About the Author
Professor Geoffrey Alderman is an academic, author and journalist
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