The template for forging peace between Israelis and Arabs for the last many years was based on the notion of trading one item for another. The idea was for Israel to give land to Arabs and would get peace or normalization in return. The formula worked in the 1979 peace treaty between Israel and Egypt and to a lesser extent in the 1994 treaty between Israel and Jordan. During the period of the Oslo Accords, the same idea was advanced between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
After signing of the Oslo II Accords in September 1995, the Palestinian Authority received several towns and cities from Israel. This was the first time that local Palestinian Arabs got to rule themselves in their history. It was orchestrated as a test to see if the PA could build a functional government and establish controls to enable and enforce a peace agreement with Israel. The five year period ending September 2000 was designed to test the thesis and then hand considerable more territory to the PA.
The Oslo effort proved a complete failure.
The five year period between 1995 and 2000 was marked by intense violence and terrorism. It was capped when Yasser Arafat launched the Second Intifada in September 2000 when the negotiations did not yield 100% of his stated demands. Years of bloodshed began to slow to a trickle when Israel constructed a security barrier separating many of the towns in the “West Bank” from which the Palestinian terrorists emerged.
As the violence ebbed, Israel sought to implement a long-term solution, even without a peace partner. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon opted to unilaterally withdraw all Israeli troops and civilians from Gaza in 2005, with the assurances from U.S. President George Bush in 2004 that Israel’s borders would not follow the 1949 Armistice Lines and account for current realities. Israel took the action and asked for nothing from the Palestinians.
This first naked trade in the Arab-Israeli conflict was a failure. Within two years of withdrawing from Gaza, the terrorist group Hamas seized control and used the area as a launching pad for terrorism against Israel including three full wars in 2008, 2012 and 2014.
It took many years for another one-way trade to take place.
In 2017, U.S. President Donald Trump announced that the United States officially recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and would relocated its embassy to the city. While the U.S. Congress had approved such measure in 1995, every president deferred such recognition and move, hoping to couple such actions with something for the Palestinians. However, in light of the acting-President of the PA’s refusal to engage with the U.S. administration, Trump moved forward with the one-party deal.
The politicians and pundits who worked the region for years derided the move. Former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said the move was “ill-advised” and former Secretary of State John Kerry said that Trump wouldn’t survive a year in office. Yousef Munayyer, executive director of the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights said that the move would fuel the “narrative of extremists who want to paint the Western world in terms of a religious war.”
Those predictions proved incorrect. There was no outbreak of violence throughout the Muslim world in reaction to the announcement or the relocation of the embassy. The naked trade rectified a historic wrong and did not lead to mayhem. It led to additional positive actions like Guatemala, Serbia and Kosovo recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
The success of the 2017 Trump action has enabled the quick adoption of additional one-way trades: the 2020 normalization of relationships of both the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain with the Jewish State, to be signed in Washington, D.C. on September 15.
Palestinians were apoplectic that fellow Arab countries would recognize Israel before a peace agreement with the PA was signed. While the Palestinians were angered by the Israeli peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, each Arab country at least got tangible benefits from their respective agreements. Such treaties were therefore viewed as not only understandable, but clever. Egypt and Jordan essentially gave away nothing – just a “hudna,” a ceasefire which could be over-turned at any time – while they obtained real immediate benefits. Palestinians were therefore able to convince themselves that they were still a priority for the broader Arab nation.
But these naked trades by the UAE and Bahrain have laid that lie bare. The two gulf emirates are receiving nothing in the near-term but the prospects of gaining access to Israeli and American technology and military capabilities. The trade was for a long-term situational benefit, much like Israel had assumed leaving Gaza in 2005 would yield.
It would appear that we have entered a new stage of diplomacy in the Middle East which is not based on near-term raw cost-benefit analyses but rather on long-term situational positioning. Goodbye land-for-peace. Hello aspirations for the future.
Let’s all hope that this evolution to naked trades will produce an enduring peace for the region.
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