When Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu spoke about the ease at which normalization of relations with Arab states would happen, the Palestinian Authority (PA) was still relying on the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002. The Arab League, which unanimously endorsed the proposal to end what it termed “the Arab-Israeli conflict,” thus promoting a false, colonial narrative, stipulated the normalization of relations with Israel following the establishing of an independent Palestinian state.
In light of the US-brokered deal between Israel and the United Arab Emirates to normalize relations, Netanyahu’s previous comments have been substantiated with facts. At the very least, such comments should have been heeded as a warning. The Arab world has long abandoned Palestine. Indeed this political abandonment is what had prompted Netanyahu’s earlier, bold statements. On the other hand, the Palestinian leadership was too busy seeking vague reassurances about the two-state compromise to support its diplomatic posturing, particularly as Palestinians faced annexation.
“The historic diplomatic breakthrough will advance peace in the Middle East region and is a testimony to the bold diplomacy and vision of the three leaders and the courage of the United Arab Emirates to chart a new path that will unlock the great potential in the region,” the official statement announcing the normalization of relations partly reads.
Palestinian factions were united in expressing their disapproval to the deal. PA Minister for Social Affairs, Ahmed Majdalani, stated there was no prior knowledge of the accord. The PA recalled its ambassador to the UAE in response to the news. However, there is more at stake for the Palestinians than the deal which is currently usurping the spotlight.
More central to how Palestinians will be affected by this maneuver was the news that Israel suspended its annexation plans temporarily.
More central to how Palestinians will be affected by this maneuver was the news that Israel suspended its annexation plans temporarily as a result of the deal with the UAE. Netanyahu, who set July 1 as the date to kickstart the plans, had been deferring annexation with little explanation, other than referring to delays on behalf of the US to reach an agreement.
Settler leaders have raised objections to the normalization of relations with the UAE, saying that there can be no negotiation over land “at the expense of half a million Jewish settlers.” However, Netanyahu has not ruled out annexation. It is likely that Netanyahu will opt for the softer option that elicits less scrutiny – normalize settlement expansion to normalize the impending annexation. This tactic is much in the same way as Netanyahu opted for recurring, intermittent bombing of the Gaza strip as opposed to a bombardment that would garner unwanted attention for Israel, especially as it faces investigations for war crimes in the enclave. The name of the long-standing Israeli approach has always been gradually and steadily, the analogy of the frog slowly boiling to death comes to mind.
The UAE-Israeli normalization of relations puts the “Deal of the Century” into a new perspective. Primarily, the deal shows that the international community was not truly averse to the two-state alternative presented by Trump. France and the UK welcomed the news, as did leaders of Gulf states and the UN’s Secretary General Antonio Guterres. More telling was the former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair’s statement, who described the rapprochement as preserving the two-state paradigm while helping “create conditions which offer Israelis the prospect of security and the Palestinians the chance to pursue statehood with credibility.”
Halting annexation does not mean ceasing settlement expansion.
Israel wasted no time in contradicting Blair, announcing a settlement plan that would connect illegal settlement blocks in Ramallah with Jerusalem. Halting annexation, after all, does not mean ceasing settlement expansion. The UAE-Israeli agreement validates both the US and the international community; the latter having normalized Israel, and not just its actions, decades ago. Instead of focusing on annexation, diplomacy can now continue its squabbling over settlement building, which the international community has also assented to implicitly despite the purported success of Resolution 2334 in December 2016.
Indeed, White House Adviser Jared Kushner described the wide-spread acceptance of UAE-Israeli relations as a departure point for Israel to form new alliances within the context of Trump’s “Deal of the Century.” Kushner is not disputing annexation. “That land is land that right now Israel, quite frankly, controls. It’s Israelis who are living there. It’s not going anywhere,” Kushner declared, while ignoring the presence of Palestinians in the territories slated for annexation and signaling there is no haste to formalize the next step in the colonization process.
With Netanyahu announcing that more Arab countries will follow suit, the US has scored an important and dangerous point against the Palestinian people. It is not just the betrayal of the Palestinian cause by Arab countries, or the international abandonment of Palestinians. Both issues, albeit glossed over by the PA mostly, were common knowledge among the Palestinian people.
By brokering this agreement between the UAE and Israel, the US has moved closer to the international community’s manipulation of the Palestinian cause. When the US announced its “Deal of the Century,” the international community ostracized the US diplomatically, deeming it had veered away from world consensus. Yet, the initial US approval for Israel’s annexation plans elicited half-hearted international diplomatic attempts to halt the process, even as the EU, for example, embarked on further economic agreements with Israel.
The US has not only taken a step back from annexation temporarily; it has also promoted the international narrative of normalizing relations with Israel as part of diplomatic negotiations, while retaining the “Deal of the Century” as the foundation upon which this step was achieved. Palestinians, already marginalized and with the consent of the PA, are now completely dispensable when it comes to diplomatic discussions, whether these take place within the two-state framework or Trump’s deal.
Trump has set a process in motion which Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden described as “a welcome, brave, and badly-needed act of statesmanship.”
In addition, regardless of who wins the US presidential elections, Trump has set a process in motion which Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden described as “a welcome, brave, and badly-needed act of statesmanship.” This further confirms Biden’s declarations that he would not undo all of Trump’s decisions if he is elected president.
With annexation taking an indefinite leap away from the current political process, the international community can agree with the US that Trump’s deal is about “security” and “negotiations.” On the basis of terminology that the two-state compromise endorses, it is clear that despite divergences regarding which framework is prioritized, the US and the international community have exhibited concordance regarding the disappearance of Palestine.
The UAE has played its part by shifting attention away from annexation. Even more detrimental for Palestinians, the UAE-Israeli agreement has taken speaking about Palestinian political rights to an unprecedented level – one that requires Palestinians to regain their political presence swiftly, in a diplomatic game that deems them non-existent.
The reality on the grounds, however, is that there is no Palestinian political presence or representation to speak of on the world stage. The current Palestinian leaders, the PA and Hamas, have failed their people on a monumental scale as Israel has demonstrated its uncanny ability to monopolize the narrative and perpetuate their divisions.