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After 9 hours of discussion, and over 100 speakers

Knesset approves UAE normalization 80-13; mainly Arab party is sole opposition

Overwhelming support for historic peace agreement, which now heads to cabinet for final ratification

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

US President Donald Trump, center, with from left, Bahrain Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump, and United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan, during the Abraham Accords signing ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House, September 15, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
US President Donald Trump, center, with from left, Bahrain Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump, and United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan, during the Abraham Accords signing ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House, September 15, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

The Knesset on Thursday approved Israel’s normalization deal with the United Arab Emirates with an overwhelming majority, all but ensuring that it will be ratified in the near future.

Eighty lawmakers voted in favor of the agreement, including many from the opposition.

Only 13 parliamentarians — all from the Arab-majority Joint List — voted against the agreement, criticizing it as a scheme to undermine the Palestinian people.

There were no abstentions, while 27 MKs did not participate in the vote.

The Knesset, on August 13, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The vote took place after nearly nine hours of an at times stormy debate, during which more than 100 ministers and MKs spoke. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the plenary twice — at its start at 11:00 a.m., and right before the vote after 8:00 p.m. — hailing the agreement as a paradigm shift in the Arab world’s approach to Israel, while touting his role in bringing many Sunni nations closer to Israel due to his vociferous public opposition to Iran.

“Since the start of Zionism, one of our hands has been holding a weapon in defense and the other hand was stretched out to everyone who wants peace,” he declared in his early speech. “They say peace is made with enemies. False. Peace is made with those who have stopped being enemies. Peace is made with those who desire peace and who no longer remain committed to your annihilation.”

In this September 15, 2020 file photo, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, US President Donald Trump, Bahrain Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa and United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan pose for a photo on the Blue Room Balcony after signing the Abraham Accords during a ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

Netanyahu said the agreement with the UAE was different from Israel’s peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan in that it does not require Israel to relinquish any territory. “It’s a warm peace, between peoples,” he said, recalling being moved at seeing social media footage of Emirati children draping themselves in an Israeli flag.

“Israel, which for decades was perceived as an enemy, is today seen as a staunch and even essential ally. It is incredible that here in the Israeli Knesset there are some who would vote against peace,” he said, apparently addressing members of the Joint List. “Those who are ostensibly in the peace camp oppose peace. You do not want real peace, you want the semblance of peace in which Israel gradually disappears.”

Netanyahu said he hoped the Palestinians will one day give up their desire to destroy Israel and recognize it as the nation-state of the Jewish people. “This day will come, too,” he predicted.

Now approved by the Knesset, the so-called Abraham Accords will return to the desks of ministers, who will vote on them once more. Once ratified, the agreement enters into force for Israel, but full diplomatic relations between the two countries will not be established until the UAE ratifies the agreement as well.

Emirati officials have started the process of approving and ratifying the agreement, which was signed by the two parties in Washington on September 15, but it is unclear when it will conclude.

“The UAE government is currently also working through its national and constitutional processes to ratify the Abraham Accords,” a senior Emirati official told The Times of Israel this week.

“There are a number of steps involved. The Accords need to be approved by the UAE cabinet, which is the step currently in progress. The UAE government will then issue a decree, in order to ensure the national implementation of the obligations,” the official said.

“While the timing is not clear, the UAE government is moving expeditiously to finalize the processes required before ratification, and entry into force of the Abraham Accords.”

Once both parties have ratified the agreement, the treaty will be transmitted to the secretary-general of the United Nations for registration in the UN Treaty Series, a massive compendium of international treaties.

In parallel, Israeli and Emirati officials are currently negotiating various bilateral agreements, including about the opening of embassies and a visa regime allowing Israelis to visit the UAE.

Most opposition parties used Thursday’s marathon Knesset session to slam the prime minister and his government, and to level some criticism at the way the UAE deal was reached, but eventually agreed that the agreement was in Israel’s best interest and indeed historic.

“It’s a good agreement and a real achievement,” opposition leader Yair Lapid said, before launching into a long litany of the government’s alleged failures.

MK Moshe Ya’alon, Netanyahu’s former defense minister, boycotted the vote to protest what he said was a failure to present the agreement in full to lawmakers.

The US and the UAE are expected to sign an arms deal alongside the Israel-UAE normalization agreement in the next few weeks that will see Washington supply the Gulf state with, among other things, advanced F-35 stealth fighters.

But Netanyahu asserted that the so-called Abraham Accords with Abu Dhabi did not contain “any secret annex or hidden agendas,” rebuffing critics who reject the deal because of reports that Israel tacitly agreed to the sale of advanced weaponry to the UAE.

Opposition Leader Yair Lapid addresses the Knesset ahead of a vote on ratifying Israel’s normalization agreement with the United Arab Emirates, October 15, 2020 (Gideon Sharon/Knesset Spokesperson)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz also commended the prime minister for clinching the deal with the UAE.

“The Abraham Accords are an opportunity to revitalize our efforts to reach a diplomatic accord with our Palestinian neighbors,” he said, calling on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to “join this journey toward peace” rather than stay mired in refusal.

Gantz said he regretted that some lawmakers wanted to vote against the treaty. “This is the moment to ensure that we educate our next generation to peace and find the inroad to a better future for the children of the Middle East, Palestinians included,” he said.

Thirteen of the Joint List’s 15 MKs voted against the agreement, but not party head Ayman Odeh, who was absent from the plenary due to his infection with the coronavirus.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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