Israel's pact with the UAE is not about peace. It's a business deal

A view of Jerusalem: the Israel/UAE agreement ‘threatens the status of Jerusalem’s holy sites’. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
A view of Jerusalem: the Israel/UAE agreement ‘threatens the status of Jerusalem’s holy sites’. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Tomorrow, the Israeli parliament will be voting on the agreement to normalise relations with the United Arab Emirates. A large majority will approve a hugely favourable step towards the Israeli government’s goals: perpetuating its systematic violations of international law and of the Palestinian people’s inalienable rights. Those parliamentarians who believe in justice and equality are going to vote against this agreement. I’m afraid, though, that we are a tiny minority.

This week, we were given copies of the agreement, which I read in the three languages (Arabic, Hebrew and English) and figured out a few things. First of all, those who wrote it in different languages tailored it to their audiences. While in English and Hebrew, they repeated the word “normalisation” several times, it is not even mentioned in Arabic. This is a business deal that merely establishes diplomatic relations, and not a peace agreement. The word “annexation” (of occupied Palestinian territory) is not even mentioned.

This deal cannot be taken out of the context of the US presidential campaign and President Trump’s need for a success story after many failures. The recognition of illegal settlements as part of Israel will not change international law. Similarly, cutting aid to Palestinian hospitals will not force Palestinians to accept Israeli domination. As mentioned in its preamble, this agreement is based on the Trump plan that normalises colonialism, fully endorses the rightwing Zionist narrative, and kills the prospects of an independent state of Palestine. It also threatens the status of Jerusalem’s holy sites and treats Palestinians as strangers in their homeland. The UAE, an Arab country that claims to care about Palestine, should reject this framework, as most of the international community has done.

The agreements talk about “coexistence”. Why does Israel talk about “coexistence” with a country thousands of kilometres away? At the same time, within its borders, 100,000 Arab citizens live in villages older than the state of Israel itself, yet are unrecognised and lack access to essential services such as water and electricity?

Discrimination and racism against Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel, an indigenous population that makes up over 20% of the country’s population, is present in every aspect of life. More than 50 laws discriminate against non-Jewish citizens. Israel’s trains do not stop in a single Arab city. Defense minister Benny Gantz could have become Israel’s prime minister if he had agreed a partnership with Arab parties. Instead, he preferred to become the junior partner in the current Israeli coalition.

Just look at the large Israeli delegation that went to the UAE in August: not a single non-Jewish official was included. Yes, Benjamin Netanyahu and his government are now tweeting in Arabic, but part of their legacy is the racist Jewish-nation state law that downgrades Israel’s Arabic language status.

For the UAE, the agreement is in effect a generous donation to Trump’s election campaign, while at the same time giving Abu Dhabi more access to weapons and intelligence. A simple review of Israeli media will show how security-related companies are the most excited about this deal.

And what about Palestinian rights? They are not even mentioned. What about stopping Israeli annexation? This week, Israel is set to approve almost 5,000 more units to expand its illegal colonial settlements further.

Perhaps most strikingly, the agreement refers to international law and UN resolutions on “international agreements”. What about resolution 2334 on the illegality of Israeli settlements? Or resolution 478 calling on all countries to move their diplomatic representatives outside Jerusalem? What about the UN charter urging countries “to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace”? Trump and Netanyahu are undermining the whole idea of a rules-based world order.

Annexation on the ground continues. Israel continues to demolish Palestinian homes to expand its settlements. However, Israel’s foreign minister, Gabi Ashkenazi, has been telling his European counterparts that annexation has “stopped”.

It’s for all these reasons that I’m saying no to this agreement, as should anyone who cares about justice. Regional peace, security, equality and fulfilment of the Palestinian people’s long-overdue rights: this deal represents the exact opposite.

Sami Abu Shehadeh is a Palestinian MP in the Knesset.

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