For all the preposterous foreign policy blunders Donald Trump has made in recent years, the United Arab Emirates–Israel “peace deal” surely stands out for being among the most ludicrous.
In what was hailed as a “historic breakthrough,” Trump declared Thursday that he had brokered an agreement to normalize relations between Israel and the UAE. The two countries have committed to the exchange of ambassadors and the beginning of cooperation in a range of fields, including education, healthcare, trade, and security.
“It is the most significant step toward peace in the Middle East in over 25 years… made possible by President Trump’s leadership and expertise as a dealmaker,” his White House communique gushed.
If only Trump’s proclamations had even a whiff of integrity to them. Why does he make it sound like Israel has been at war with the UAE for decades? The UAE does not border Israel, nor does it have any territorial claims against it. Back channel ties between Israel and several Gulf Arab states — including Saudi Arabia — have existed for years, gradually becoming more visible. Only two months ago an Emirati plane landed in Israel without the usual practice of hiding its logo, emblem and UAE flag.
While Gulf states have understandably wanted to keep the relationship under wraps so as to not upset their Palestinian Muslim brethern (the Emiratis are notorious for their superficial expressions of sympathy), Israel has less to lose. An alliance with their U.S.-friendly Gulf neighbours has always made perfect sense: Besides sharing a common enemy in Iran, they have a growing passion for sophisticated security and surveillance platforms, which they use regularly to police their own populations and a 51-year military occupation.
In other words, the “breakthrough” that Trump and his cronies unveiled was barely relevant to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But you could almost be forgiven for missing that because the language was framed to be misleading. Words like “peace deal” and “historic” immediately conjure up memories of previous U.S. attempts at diplomatic agreements between Israel and the Palestinians.
Worse still, the main tenet of the deal that purports to support the Palestinian cause — an agreement by Israel to freeze its controversial plans to annex parts of the occupied West Bank — was not even confirmed by Israeli officials. While the UAE later said the agreement “immediately stops annexation,” Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu told local media there were “no change in my plans for annexation, with full coordination with the US,” suggesting it was only a temporary pause.
Even if Netanyahu had confirmed the decision to stop annexation of the West Bank, the notion of applauding Israel is absurd. Essentially, the country is being praised for refraining from an action that the United Nations General Assembly and the International Court of Justice unambiguously affirmed was illegal almost 20 years ago.
And what of the Palestinian people, the so-called beneficiaries of Trump’s agreement?
In a statement Thursday, Palestinian group Hamas slammed the Israel-UAE agreement as a “treacherous stab in the back,” saying it does nothing to alleviate suffering and ignores the rights of the Palestinian people.
“Israel got rewarded for not declaring openly what it’s been doing to Palestine illegally & persistently since the beginning of the occupation,” said renowned Palestinian leader and legislator Hanan Ashrawi in a tweet. “The UAE has come out in the open on its secret dealings/normalization with Israel. Please don’t do us a favor. We are nobody’s fig leaf!”
Israel got rewarded for not declaring openly what it's been doing to Palestine illegally & persistently since the beginning of the occupation. The UAE has come out in the open on its secret dealings/normalization with Israel. Please don't do us a favor. We are nobody's fig leaf! https://t.co/6e8x7EhF2v— Hanan Ashrawi (@DrHananAshrawi) August 13, 2020
“May you never experience the agony of having your country stolen; may you never feel the pain of living in captivity under occupation; may you never witness the demolition of your home or murder of your loved ones. May you never be sold out by your ‘friends,’” she added in response to Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed Al Nahyan’s tweet about the deal.
May you never experience the agony of having your country stolen; may you never feel the pain of living in captivity under occupation; may you never witness the demolition of your home or murder of your loved ones. May you never be sold out by your "friends." https://t.co/CBaNl1QQqx— Hanan Ashrawi (@DrHananAshrawi) August 13, 2020
It’s a haunting response that speaks volumes about the unending despair of the Palestinian people, afflicted by the world’s most autocratic leaders.