By Dr. Ron Weiser AM
Once again, and as has been the case for some time now, there are only two central players in Israel’s political arena – Bibi, the flawed human being and Prime Minister Netanyahu, the statesman.
Bibi against whom the discontent of the demonstrators and beyond, manifests itself throughout daily life in Israel.
And simultaneously Prime Minister Netanyahu who has pulled off a truly historic achievement vis a vis the United Arab Emirates.
President Trump, with Jared Kushner doing the leg work, has shown, that notwithstanding assessments of his competence in other areas, he knows how to make both a true change and a real deal in the Middle East.
The first step this year was the Trump Plan and now Trump, with a lot of diplomacy from Kushner yet again, also demonstrated that in the art of the deal, he well knows that both sides need to be able to show gains and give some concessions.
As well, in recent weeks significant Evangelical leaders in the United States, demonstrating pragmatism that belies ideology, were increasingly vocal about preferences for an Israeli peace deal with an Arab country, over Israeli extension of sovereignty.
It is a remarkable affirmation of the Netanyahu doctrine.
Indeed he now has a real legacy to his name.
And with the tantalising prospect of perhaps more to come. Possibly in regards to Bahrain, Oman or Sudan.
The Netanyahu doctrine is both simple and yet until this month, was widely ridiculed as an unobtainable fantasy.
Conventional wisdom was that no further progress could be made in overt peace deals with Arab States until the Palestinian issue was resolved.
Netanyahu has always said the opposite. That he could jump over the Palestinian issue and make peace directly with Arab States.
“At the U.N. in 2013, I said that for years, many believed that Israeli-Palestinian peace would advance a broader reconciliation between Israel and the Arab world. I said that I was of the view that peace would be achieved in the opposite fashion: It was expanding reconciliation between Israel and the Arab world that would likely advance an Israeli-Palestinian peace.”
Yes, peace with the UAE is an achievement in and of itself – and its stands on its own merits. And to repeat, it is indeed historic.
But this deal with the UAE is many times greater than that because it changes the whole Middle East peace paradigm.
Netanyahu’s two biggest ‘allies’ in getting this deal across the line have been the Palestinians themselves, who it is increasingly obvious, Arab leaders have lost patience with.
And Iran, the common threat.
Ironically, it now seems that interest in the Palestinians and their plight is more apparent in the Israeli population than the so called ‘Arab street’ where there is almost zero concern expressed about the Palestinians somehow having been deserted by the UAE.
So, what has Israel ‘given’?
The ‘price’ Netanyahu has paid should be no surprise to those in Israel to his right – which is at least half the Likud, Naphtali Bennett and a large portion of the settlers’ leadership.
Netanyahu has always been big on right wing rhetoric and far less active when it comes to right wing action.
Never an enthusiastic settlement builder, and not rushing into any extension of sovereignty moves, he has now found a real and positive exit, which he describes as “temporary”.
Annexation was hard and unpopular with otherwise friendly world leaders. And in any case, Netanyahu is quite comfortable with the status quo as it exists over the Green Line.
It is amazing that those on the right now claim they are shocked that Netanyahu “gave up on annexation” as if they have forgotten the not so distant past including, the Wye Plantation agreement, the division of Hebron, his Bar Ilan speech and the general slowdown in settlement building et al. They have simply been deluding themselves.
Just as those on the left who were the most vocal against ‘annexation’ now shout that Netanyahu’s giving up on it is no big deal as all of a sudden they say, he was never going to do it anyway.
Anshel Pfeffer for example, wrote: “Netanyahu Trades Imaginary Annexation for Real Life Diplomacy Win”
Who knew with all of the petitions and heat generated by the anti-annexationist that they were protesting against something ‘imaginary’ after all?
Interestingly, this peace deal is also being portrayed as a change in a different way.
The mantra put forward is that whilst previous agreements were ‘land for peace’ this one is ‘peace for peace’ – that also, they say, being part of the changed paradigm.
Well, yes and no.
True the UAE did not gain any land. It shares no border with Israel, in any case, being far away on the other side of Saudi Arabia.
But it does reaffirm the commitment to a Two State solution – by both sides.
In that sense, Israel has once again agreed to a Palestinian entity and in terms of the Palestinians, the UAE (and other Arab States) still insists that the resolution to that issue is ‘land for peace’ and a Two State solution.
This is how Netanyahu describes the issue with the Palestinians.
“in the current agreement, not only has Israel not withdrawn from so much as one square meter, rather the Trump plan includes, at my request, the application of Israeli sovereignty over extensive territories in Judea and Samaria. It was I who insisted on including sovereignty in the plan, and this plan has not changed. President Trump is committed to it and I am committed to conducting negotiations on this basis.”
I would note the word “negotiations on this basis”.
Negotiations around the principles of the Trump Plan – a Palestinian entity and Jewish sovereignty over territory in Judea Samaria/West Bank.
But ultimately sovereignty over less territory than Israel currently controls – another reason Netanyahu prefers the status quo.
So this actually further enshrines the ‘land for peace’ principle when dealing with the Israeli/Palestinian issue.
Jared Kushner when asked how he can guarantee Israel will not move forward with sovereignty, touted the “very trusting relationship” between Israel’s leadership and US President Donald Trump’s administration.
“That land is land that right now Israel quite frankly controls. Israelis that live there aren’t going anywhere. There shouldn’t be any urgency to applying Israeli law. We believe they will respect their agreement,” Kushner said.
Kushner also said “that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed to a map dividing Judea and Samaria into a Palestinian state and a part that would belong to Israel”.
The significant transformational difference being that this no longer needs to occur BEFORE peace with other Arab States.
And that is the real shift.
It unties a Gordian Knot.
That is Netanyahu’s even greater legacy.
The peace deal between Israel and the UAE offers the tantalising possibility that the future may now look very different.
Dr Ron Weiser AM
Dr. Ron Weiser AM is an Hon Life Member of the Zionist Federation of Australia Executive, and the Hon Life President of the Zionist Council of NSW.