Knesset kicks off marathon session ahead of vote on UAE normalization deal

Lawmakers expected to give overwhelming backing to agreement, but Joint List decries it as an ‘arms deal’ aimed at ‘undermining the struggle’ of Palestinians

A woman wearing a face mask against the coronavirus pandemic walks past American, United Arab Emirates, Israel and Bahraini flags at the Peace Bridge in Netanya, Israel, September 14, 2020.  (AP/Ariel Schalit)
A woman wearing a face mask against the coronavirus pandemic walks past American, United Arab Emirates, Israel and Bahraini flags at the Peace Bridge in Netanya, Israel, September 14, 2020. (AP/Ariel Schalit)

The Knesset was expected on Thursday to overwhelmingly vote in support of the normalization treaty with the United Arab Emirates at a session set to last for a number of hours.

The Knesset debate kicked off at 11 a.m. with remarks by Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin, after which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presented the agreement. Opposition Leader Yair Lapid also delivered an address.

Following that, the debate was opened up for any Knesset member or minister to give a four-minute speech. So far some 100 members have signed up, meaning the debate could last more than six hours.

Lawmakers are expected to overwhelmingly support the deal, with only the Joint List thought to oppose the agreement, calling it an arms deal, not a peace treaty.

In this August 5, 2019, photo released by the US Air Force, an F-35 fighter jet pilot and crew prepare for a mission at Al-Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates. (Staff Sgt. Chris Thornbury/US Air Force via AP)

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

On Wednesday, Joint List MK Aida Touma-Sliman decried the agreement, saying it was “aimed at undermining the struggle to end the occupation and eliminating the possibility of establishing a Palestinian state.”

The Israeli far right is also wary of the accord because in it Jerusalem commits “to working together to realize a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that meets the legitimate needs and aspirations of both people.”

In the very likely scenario that a majority of the Knesset’s 120 lawmakers vote in favor of the treaty, it will return to the cabinet for ratification.

Once ratified, the agreement enters into force for Israel, but full diplomatic relations between the two countries will not have been established until the UAE ratifies the agreement as well.

View of a Knesset plenary session on August 24, 2020. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Pool)

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.

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.

The agreement reached the Knesset after ministers unanimously gave it their initial approval in a vote on Monday.

Following that vote, Netanyahu announced that he and the de facto leader of the UAE, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, spoke over the weekend and agreed to meet “soon,” according to a readout of their conversation provided by the Prime Minister’s Office.

PM Netanyahu addresses the cabinet before it votes on the peace treaty with the UAE, October 12, 2020 (GPO)

The conversation was the first between the two since the agreement to normalize ties between the states was announced on August 13.

The readout did not specify where the meeting would take place, but Netanyahu said that he was looking forward to hosting a senior UAE delegation in Israel.

It would be “a reciprocal visit” following the August 31 trip to Abu Dhabi by an Israeli delegation headed by National Security Adviser Meir Ben Shabbat, the prime minister said.

A statement carried by the Emirates official news agency said Netanyahu initiated the call and the two discussed “the progression of bilateral relations in view of the peace accord the two countries recently signed.”

It did not mention a meeting or reciprocal visit.

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