The most interesting thing about the normalization agreements that Israel signed with the UAE and Bahrain is not what is in the written agreements, which are sparse on detail. It is not even the speculation about the unpublicized understandings about such things as F-35s and for how long the extension of Israeli law over parts of Judea and Samaria and the Jordan Valley will be delayed. It is, rather, one specific item that is not in them: there is no explicit mention of a “two-state solution” of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Indeed, the agreements don’t mention borders, Jerusalem, settlements, or refugees, which always appear in such texts. One commentator even said that it seems that these Arabs are “less pro-Palestinian than the Europeans,” who always mention these things in their pronouncements about the conflict.
Here is all the UAE agreement says about the Palestinians:
Recalling the reception held on January 28, 2020, at which President Trump presented his Vision for Peace, and committing to continuing their efforts to achieve a just, comprehensive, realistic and enduring solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict;
Recalling the Treaties of Peace between the State of Israel and the Arab Republic of Egypt and between the State of Israel and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, and committed to working together to realize a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that meets the legitimate needs and aspirations of both peoples, and to advance comprehensive Middle East peace, stability and prosperity;
The agreement with Bahrain is even more vague, leaving out the reference to other treaties. So no wonder the PLO reaction was to declare a “day of rage,” while Hamas attacked the Israeli cities of Ashdod and Ashkelon with rockets during the signing ceremony!
Why is this important? We need to keep in mind the Palestinian interpretation of “two-state solution,” a temporary condition in which a sovereign “Palestine” from which all Jews have been expelled exists next door to an “Israel” which must agree to absorb millions of Arab “refugees.” Unification as an Arab-majority state would soon follow.
Although some left-wing Israelis have endorsed a two-state solution, they generally accept the “two states for two peoples” paradigm, which leaves room for a Jewish state. But no Palestinian leader has ever countenanced such a thing, even arguing that there is no such thing as a Jewish people, and so no Jewish right of self-determination.
This systematic ambiguity has led some to say that the conflict is easy to settle; it’s only necessary to work out the details of a two-state deal that both sides would accept. But of course the sticking point comes down to whether there will be a Jewish state or not. That isn’t a detail, and it’s not something that can be compromised.
Although Israelis have come to understand this, Americans have almost always seemed to miss it. The Clinton and Obama administrations beat their heads against the wall trying to reconcile the directly contradictory positions. Left-leaning organizations like J Street and the Reform Movement continue to call for a two-state solution, not understanding – or maybe understanding but not caring – that the Palestinian version of two states implies that neither state will be Jewish.
The breakthrough represented by Trump’s “Deal of the Century” (DOC) was to stop trying to find a way to meet Palestinian demands without endangering Israel, an impossible task. Rather, the DOC includes a plan to allow the maximum amount of Palestinian autonomy consistent with Israeli security. Naturally, the Palestinian leadership, which has been promising to kick out the Jews and lead its people back to “their homes” in Israel for generations, finds this unacceptable.
Until now, the Palestinians have enjoyed seamless support from the entire Arab and Muslim world. They believed that all they needed to do was stand pat, and the world would force the Jews into making concessions, until the Jewish state was so weakened that it would fall apart – or could be destroyed by an attack by its Arab neighbors, or in a proxy war waged by Iran via Hezbollah.
But now at least two – and possibly a few more – Arab states have recognized several important facts: 1) Israel is too strong to be forced to make significant concessions, 2) they find themselves on Israel’s side in the regional conflict with Iran, which wants to gobble them up, and 3) the benefits of normalization with Israel outweigh whatever they would get from Israel’s enemies for continuing to support Palestinian demands.
It might even be the case that they realize that the Palestinian people themselves have been ill-served by their leaders, who have exploited them since 1948 as an excuse to funnel huge amounts of money from Western donors into their pockets.
In any case, these agreements put the PLO on notice that it can no longer expect blanket support for its intransigent policies. Indeed, last week the Arab league rejected a Palestinian resolution to condemn the UAE-Israel deal.
One of my greatest concerns about the coming American election is that a Democratic victory could bring back some of the people and policies of the Obama Administration concerning the Middle East. Joe Biden has already promised to try to re-activate the JCPOA, the nuclear deal with Iran that in fact protects the Iranian nuclear weapons project rather than stopping it. It’s likely that he would also want to resuscitate the Obama/Kerry two-state plan. Of course a Trump victory would prevent these things; but failing that, the next best thing would be a united Israel-Arab front against Iran – and for a truly just solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict.