The “give and take” of treaties and agreements do not often apply to Israel. Israel is held to a higher standard and asked to be the adult in the room. A small sliver of territory barely the size of New Jersey has been forced into political compromises for 70 years. Often labeled as the “aggressor” by a disingenuous media and a more disingenuous global community, “peace” has been perpetrated at its expense.
I am old enough to remember the 1967 six-day war between Israel and its neighbors. Still reeling from angst over the establishment of Israel; border Arab States wanted nothing short than the destruction of the new Israeli State. Led by Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt,; Egypt, Syria, and Jordan amassed troops and hardware in a union toward destruction. But Israel was raising a new breed of Jews. Native born Israelis called “Sabras” (prickly pears) vowed to defend their homeland with their lives. They wanted to distance themselves from the Diaspora Jews in Europe, who they felt had acquiesced to fascist Europe. Israel was their home and they intended to keep it.
Friction between Israel and its Arab neighbors fermented and was further instigated by a newly elected charismatic Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser and clandestine Soviet intervention. In a calculated attempt at provoking the Americans into a Middle East Vietnam; the Soviets provided Egypt and Syria with military support. But, the Arabs, the Soviet Union, and the rest of the world underestimated Israeli tenacity and resolve in defending a new home raised from the ashes and pain of the Holocaust. Outnumbered by troops, tanks, and aircraft, Israel had three things going for it: patience, months of deliberate intelligence gathering, and a well trained tough army and air force eager to fight and die for G-d and country. Israel prevailed. David won against Goliath.
But Goliath never forgave or forgot. The Six-Day War remained a thorn in the side of the Arab States. In the early 70’s, Egyptian leader Anwar Sadat tried several times to negotiate an agreement with Israel asking for the reversal of pre-1967 land acquisition as a primary condition. However, Israel was busy thwarting terrorist attacks against its citizens at home and abroad. In August, 1972, Palestinian terrorists attacked the Munich Summer Olympics and killed all of the 11 Israeli Athletes. The world gasped but did very little; they remained silent while allowing Egypt and Syria to be military nurtured by the Soviet Union.
Yom Kippur 1973; nine Arab States the size and equivalent of NATO, descended on Israel’s borders in a combined effort at obliterating Israel and taking back land. Surrounded on all sides by the enemy, Israel was caught unprepared and alone. On the Golan Heights, 180 Israeli tanks faced 1,400 Syrian tanks. On the Suez border, fewer than 500 Israeli soldiers and three tanks met 600,000 Egyptians, 2,000 tanks, and 550 aircraft. Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait raised the ante by “committing” divisions and thousands of troops to the Arab cause.
Oil producing Arab States refused to sell oil to countries supporting Israel and placed an embargo against the US, the Netherlands, and Portugal. The only three countries who supported Israel publicly and officially. Eventually, President Nixon and the US Congress approved $2.2 Billion in Israeli aid which turned the tide in Israel’s favor. But not everyone came to Israel’s aid. When the US started emergency airlifts to Israel, the conservative British Government of Prime Minister Edward Heath refused the US Air Force from refueling at British bases on Cyprus. The British government placed an embargo on British made Centurion tanks spare parts. Tanks the British had previously sold to Israel. NATO and most European countries refused air space to US aircraft carrying parts, arms, and supplies to Israel.
By October 22, 1973, and 16 days after being attacked, Israel had regained control of Western Sinai, Suez, and the Golan Heights. Israeli troops were on the outskirts of Damascus while others on their way to Cairo, before being asked to stand down. 2,688 Israeli troops were killed defending Israel. Egypt and Syria lost 7,700 and 3,500 troops respectively. Israel lost 114 aircraft in 20 combat missions, while the Arab States lost 450. Yom Kippur 1973, shaped Israel’s resolve to always be prepared and to remain resilient. David had won again.
Peace in the Middle East remains the 20th Century cliché on campaign trails and presidential debates. The coup d’état that wins elections or a Nobel Prize. The Accord/Treaty list is long and arduous. The Camp David Accords of 1978 were meant to create a “framework” for peace in the region. It included a Palestinian “self government” initiative in the West Bank and Gaza, and a proposed 1979 Israel withdrawal from Sinai. Cynicism aside, this remains the most effective agreement in the history of the region. Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat spent 12 days at Camp David with then President Jimmy Carter, forging an agreement between Egypt and Israel. A fairly successful moment in time which cost Anwar Sadat’s life.
In 1991, the Madrid Conference co-sponsored by the US and the Soviet Union allegedly encouraged other Arab countries to sign agreements with Israel. Albeit strange bedfellows, it led to the 1994 Peace Treaty between Israel and Jordan which stands firm until this very day. It also paved the way for Bill Clinton’s 1993 Oslo Agreement. Bill Clinton brokered the 1993 Oslo Agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, the latter represented by no other than the PLO’s poster child; Yasser Arafat.
The agreement between Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin was signed at the White House on September 13, 1993. It included the Israeli troop withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza. It also included a five-year transitional period for both sides at which time each side would accept and proclaim each other’s right to exist. This went as far as both leaders exchanging surreal letters of respective “recognition” that read; “…the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security”, “…the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people”. However, the mutual kumbaya didn’t go too well with the once dormant terrorist group Hamas; it decided to show its displeasure by sending suicide bombers into Israel.
Fast forwarding to 2000 and Camp David; Israel offered to give up the Gaza Strip, large portions of the West Bank and Negev desert while keeping major settlements and East Jerusalem. Israel also conceded in allowing Islamic guardianship of key sites in the Old City of Jerusalem and contributing to a Palestinian Refugee fund. The Palestinians again demanded the reversal to pre-1967 border lines. Palestinians acquiesced to Israeli rights over the Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem, but demanded a “right to return” for Palestinian refugees. The talks shaky from the onset, faltered. The Palestinians renewed their Intifada against Israel.
In 2001, Israel was open to East Jerusalem being capital to a Palestinian State. Hoping to add “Middle East Peace” to his presidential legacy, and before leaving office, Bill Clinton held a last meeting with both sides in Taba, Egypt. A year later, Saudi Arabia presented a peace plan called the Arab Peace Initiative (2002). Held in Beirut, the plan once again called for Israel to withdraw to pre-1967 lines. It also demanded the establishment of a Palestinian State in West Bank and Gaza, and a permanent Palestinian refugee solution. In return the Arab States would recognize Israel. How generous.
Not to be outdone by his predecessors; in 2003, President George W Bush openly endorsed a two-State solution. The US partnered with Russia, the EU, and UN to propose a three-step “Roadmap” toward final agreements. Conditions on a Palestinian State included an end to Palestinian violence, elections, end to Israeli settlements, and Israel maintaining military “restraint”. An international body would create a Palestinian State with provisional borders. The proposal remained stagnant. That same year, in Geneva, another Accord was held reversing some of the original “Roadmap” conditions. The Palestinians were asked to give up “right of return” in exchange for all of the West Bank. Israel would give up major settlements while keeping those close to its borders. Palestinians will have a right to East Jerusalem with Israel keeping sovereignty over the Kotel (Western Wall).
It is common knowledge that the Obama Administration’s attitude toward Israel was tolerant and lukewarm to say the least. There was no love between Obama and Netanyahu. In a 2009 visit to the White House, it is alleged that Obama left his office abruptly to have dinner with his family, leaving Netanyahu and his entourage to fend for themselves. But, despite the polite and mutual animosity; Netanyahu agreed to a 10-month freeze on new settlements in the West Bank. There was no appeasing the Palestinians who stuck to their demands of pre-1967 land; in the meantime Hamas continued its terrorist attacks against Israel.
It is ironic that it was Iran, Israel’s number one enemy, that turned the tide on Arab-Israeli relations in the Gulf. Iranian threatening narrative toward the region has not escaped the large Arab states. Currently, suffering from large cases of COVID, and a glut of oil they can’t sell, Arab states are looking toward the Star of David for medical science, economic redemption, and stability. Lacking technological superiority and facing a possible military-nuclear threat from Iran, they recognize Israel’s leadership in technology, scientific and medical research, and military defense.
The United Arab Emirate (UAE) treaty with Israel is a calculated agreement that strengthens the region militarily, technologically, and economically. Israel’s agreement to suspend annexation in the West Bank is a small price to pay considering the enormous gain for both Israel and the Middle East. Bahrain and Oman have already given the proverbial nod of approval and rumor has it that they are seeking an agreement of their own. Sudan also seems to be slowly going down the path of Israeli reconciliation. Saudi-Arabia has remained relatively silent, but Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman did coyly annotate that his country already “shared interests” with Israel. An overture? We shall see.
Unlike past treaties and agreements, I doubt that “peace” or the Palestinians were catalyst to this treaty. Like the Godfather would say: “it’s not personal, it’s business”. The Arab States in need of superior technology, science and research, have now access to all three. Mutually beneficial; Israel gains an alliance against Iran and the Arabs gain a buffer. The Palestinians are not happy, because for the first time, they were not a condition or means to any end. Hamas, Hezbollah, and other terrorist groups are waking up to a disconcerting reality that an Arab-Israeli world order will cut off their distribution line from Iran. A strong Arab-Israeli alliance will finally push back on unfettered Iranian financial support to terrorist groups in the region.
The UAE-Israel treaty broke the mold. It concentrated on mutual agreements, exchange of resources, and defense rather than the historically push for Palestinian autonomy. It has opened business opportunities for both sides. The Arab States are looking for a much needed upgrade to their weapon systems against the Iranian threat, and Israel is looking to more business ventures. In the past, the UAE has negotiated directly with the Palestinian Authority who unofficially dislike the current Hamas/Abbas government. They are seeking to open normal relations with other Arab states mainly for economic reasons. Such opening in relations would eventually include Israel.
Anti-Trump and Netanyahu cynics have already panned this agreement as the same of the “same old stuff”. But that is inane partisan rhetoric in an election year, hoping to down play a significant event for party votes. For the first time Israel has not been forced to pick the short straw. Israel has emerged as the stabilizing force in the Middle East. This treaty marginalized Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah, and traditional terrorist driven anti-Israel agendas. The new generation of Arab leaders are gradually realizing that technology, science, research, and defense far outweigh old bigotries. As I have always said and believed; Israel is the ticket to peace and prosperity in the Middle East. This was not an agreement based on the Palestinians, but an agreement despite of them.
Bower, J. (June 5, 2017). Six-day War 1967 war: Six days that changed the Middle East. BBC Middle East Editor. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-39960461
Fishman. A. (August 16, 2020). UAE agreement could usher a new golden age for Israel. Ynetnews.com https://www.ynetnews.com/article/SJq32uLMw
History of Mid-East Peace Talks. (July 29, 2013) BBC. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-11103745