Last week’s deal between Israel and the United Arab Emirates radically shook the ground in the Middle East and begrudgingly awakened the stale, tired, conventional wisdom of the policy establishment. For far too long, the Palestinian Authority has seen itself as the center of gravity and the final arbitrator of independent Arab governments who have wanted to open up to the public their “under the table,” warm relations with the Jewish state, but have been held back by the stubborn, maximalist demands of the Palestinian Authority.

This has given far too much power over the years to the Palestinians to reject overtures of peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors, and it has stood in the way of a great deal of progress that this region could have benefited from by partaking in what Israel has to offer.

(August 19, 2020 / JNS)

Far too many in the Washington political establishment as well as the European Union have bought into the mistaken notion that the Palestinian issue is the lynchpin upon which peace between Israel and their Arab neighbors rests. This is surprising considering our long history of involvement in various wars in the Middle East, and our education about the myriad, tribal, internecine conflicts in the region.

Even prior to Israel’s birth in 1948, the Arab League rejected any presence of a Jewish state in the Middle East. After the June 1967 War, when Israel was victorious in its defensive war on all sides, it had attempted to trade the land it conquered for peace. It brought that notion to a meeting with the Arab League in Khartoum, Sudan in August 1967, and its response was the famous three no’s: “No peace with Israel; no recognition of Israel; and no negotiations with Israel.”

Meanwhile, the Palestinians have consistently proven that they have not negotiated in good faith. I was in the audience of a prominent Washington think tank on July 25, 2000, the day the Camp David talks between President Bill Clinton, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and Yassir Arafat broke up. Elyakim Rubenstein, who had been the Attorney General of the State of Israel, came to address the group. His words were, “There are people crying on the way to Ronald Reagan Airport right now; because they felt if we just offered Arafat everything that he wanted, he simply could not refuse it. I can tell you that what we offered was as far as any responsible government could possibly go. In fact, some would argue that we were not being responsible. What we offered was: shared sovereignty over Jerusalem, with the Palestinian control of the Harem al Sharif (the “Temple Mount”), and Israel of the Western Wall; a land mass equal to 95 % of the West Bank, plus Gaza, (which was still in Israel’s hands); and a ‘right of return’ for thousands of Palestinian refugees, with a monetary package to compensate for those Palestinians that did not want to return. Arafat did not say yes; and he did not say no. He simply walked away from the table.”

His response came a few months later in a renewed intifada, in which thousands of Israeli civilians lost their lives.

The tragedy is  that Arafat’s obstinacy muddied the water for any future Palestinian and Israeli interlocutor. How could any decent Palestinian accept anything less than what the “Reis” had walked away from? Likewise, how could any Israeli interlocutor accept those maximalist demands when their people have been facing so many years of unrelenting murder and terrorism?

President Bill Clinton wrote in his memoir, My Life, that he had said to Yassir Arafat as he was about to leave office, “I am a failure, and you have made me one.”

The Israeli sentiment had been further cemented due to the Gaza withdrawal, when Israel uprooted every single Israeli civilian from the area. Prior to the withdrawal Jewish businessmen had bought the greenhouses so that the nascent Palestinian state would have some sort of an economic infrastructure, and Jewish rabbis had said that Israel should leave the synagogues, because, as they argued, “We all pray to the same God.” The minute the blue and white Israeli flag was lowered, and the last Israeli soldier turned the key in the fence, those greenhouses and synagogues and every remaining remnant of a Jewish presence in Gaza was destroyed in a frenzied atmosphere of chaos and antipathy.

Every subsequent American negotiator has shared in this frustration, when it came to dealing with the Palestinian Authority. Mahmoud Abbas and his team refused to even meet with the Trump administration’s team of Middle East envoys, and until now, the world has continued to fawn at their feet, rewarding decades of Palestinian intransigence and violence.

My Muslim and Arab dissident friends tell me that the deep-seated preoccupation with the Palestinian cause that has united the Arab world until this day, is being examined internally, as an obsession which has held its own people back in their development as individuals, and as nations. This obsession was best described by General Gamal Abdel Nasser when he called Arab children, “bullets in the war machine”.

Now that they realize that the center of gravity has finally shifted from beneath their feet, Palestinian officials are having a difficult time finding their equilibrium. Like spoiled children, crying out for their parents’ attention, they are increasingly engaging in temper tantrums in the form of violence and terrorism. There has been a consequent, increasing spate of “balloon bouquets,” (benign-looking toys with incendiary devices attached to them), sent over the border from Gaza onto Israel where they have ignited thousands of acres into flames. And as I write this, news broke out that a border police officer and a 58-year-old woman were stabbed in Jerusalem. Meanwhile, more and more Sunni and Gulf states have awoken to the reality that the biggest existential threat to regional stability and security, as well as that of their own regimes, lies with Iran. They will, hopefully, understand this in time to  unite to form a “wall of fire” against the Shiite state’s murderous designs throughout the region.

It has taken 72 years and the Iranian threat, but the icy cold chill of the presence of a modern Jewish state in the Middle East has gradually begun to thaw; first with Egypt in 1979, then with Jordan in 1994, and now today with the UAE.

Parts of the Muslim and Arab world are slowly waking up to the fact that Israel is here to stay. What it has to offer is a veritable treasure trove of 21st century science and technology in medicine (particularly during this time of Covid-19), water, agriculture, and particularly in the world of intelligence and cyberspace which is an essential tool in the way that wars are now being conducted.

Although the peace with Egypt and Jordan has been a cold one, where they have not educated their people towards peace, and their textbooks have remained notoriously anti-Semitic, it has endured. Let us hope that this new peace between Israel and the UAE will be a warmer one; where young Muslim children will be encouraged to develop their own potential,  a peace where children of both nations will develop trusting relationships with one another and where the government will actually encourage direct people-to-people contact between the two nations, and that the children will be educated for a peace  that will endure for generations. And that it will be the first of many more peace treaties between Israel and its Sunni neighbors to come.

About the Author

Sarah Stern
Sarah Stern is founder and president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET).

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