UAE deal gives Abbas a fresh opportunity; as ever, he seems bent on spurning it

Annexation is off the table; the Trump plan is open for negotiation. And the Palestinian Authority, rather than seizing the day, is heading with Hamas into the night

David Horovitz

David Horovitz is the founding editor of The Times of Israel. He is the author of "Still Life with Bombers" (2004) and "A Little Too Close to God" (2000), and co-author of "Shalom Friend: The Life and Legacy of Yitzhak Rabin" (1996). He previously edited The Jerusalem Post (2004-2011) and The Jerusalem Report (1998-2004).

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas gestures during a meeting with the Palestinian leadership to discuss the United Arab Emirates' deal with Israel to normalize relations, in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020. (Mohamad Torokman/Pool Photo via AP)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas gestures during a meeting with the Palestinian leadership to discuss the United Arab Emirates' deal with Israel to normalize relations, in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020. (Mohamad Torokman/Pool Photo via AP)

There were two immediate major problems with the Trump Administration’s “Peace to Prosperity” vision for Israeli-Palestinian peace: The confusion with which it was unveiled on January 28, which found Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declaring that he would immediately be able to extend Israeli sovereignty to the 30 percent of West Bank territory allocated to Israel; and the provision for 15 “enclave communities” to somehow come under Israeli sovereignty in the midst of the conditionally envisioned Palestinian state.

Out of nowhere, last Thursday, the United Arab Emirates solved the first problem, and gave the Palestinians the breathing space to put aside their rejectionist strategy and address the second. And Abu Dhabi achieved this by the simple, dazzling, mutually beneficial expedient of making peace with Israel.

The diplomatic breakthrough announced a week ago has the potential to be the first of many. If one regional player with no direct enmity with the revived Jewish state and a shared concern about the Iranian regime’s rapacious extremism can decide not to continue sacrificing its economic, military, intelligence and other strategic interests on the altar of abiding Palestinian intransigence, then so can others: Bahrain, Oman, Sudan (maybe, or then again, not), even Saudi Arabia (or not, but then again, maybe).

But the breakthrough also has the potential to resuscitate the Trump plan’s declared central aim of fostering an Israeli-Palestinian accord.

Netanyahu plainly wanted to have his cake and eat it — to normalize ties with relatively moderate regional players and to move ahead with application of Israeli sovereignty at all the settlements and in the Jordan Valley. That’s not going to happen.

Jared Kushner stepped in to prevent unilateral annexation in January. On Monday, UAE deal in hand, he was unprecedentedly firm. The text of the joint US, Israel, UAE statement on normalizing relations specifies that annexation is hereby suspended. Kushner publicly elaborated that the US will not be lifting that suspension “for some time.”

Aside from highlighting the numerous areas in which it wants to develop relations with Israel, the UAE has asserted that the terms of the deal are a boon to the Palestinians. With the shadow of unilateral annexation lifted, the agreement buys “a lot of time” for the Palestinians, as UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs said on Friday. He urged the direct parties to get back to the negotiating table.

Palestinians with a banner showing Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan wearing an Israeli flag, during a rally against the United Arab Emirates’ normalization deal with Israel, in the West Bank village of Turmusaya near Ramallah, Aug. 19, 2020. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

True to form, the Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas is flailing out angrily in all directions and warming its relations with the terrorist murderers of Hamas, rather than recognizing the opportunity. The UAE has stabbed the Palestinians in the back, the PA says. The deal is despicable and a betrayal. It must be retracted. On Wednesday, Abbas’s Fatah, which claims to seek co-existence, and Hamas, which seeks to destroy Israel, held a joint rally to showcase their anger.

The Times of Israel’s Haviv Rettig Gur elaborated on the Palestinians’ dead-end strategy in this quite brilliant article on Tuesday: The Palestinians weren’t betrayed by the UAE. They were simply left behind. With the Palestinian leadership giving every indication of again gearing up to fail its people, and ours, Rettig Gur’s piece should be required reading — and most of all, at this moment of opportunity, for those who truly seek a better future for the Palestinians.

In fact, the agreement is a win for Israel, a win for the UAE, and a potential win for the Palestinians too. The Trump plan, US administration officials have said repeatedly since January, is not set in stone. As Kushner also noted on Monday, under the terms of the plan, “Israel has made a very generous offer for a [Palestinian] state, and for land swaps [of territory inside Israel], and the ball is really in the court of the Palestinians now. We welcome them any time to come to the table.”

Furthermore, the Palestinians have repeatedly been told, by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, among others, that if they’re not happy with the Trump plan’s provisions, they should present a “counter offer.” Any such counter offer would doubtless seek to achieve a more advantageous allocation of territory for the Palestinians than that set out in the US plan’s conceptual maps, with the potential to reconsider those problematic 15 isolated enclaves, at the negotiating table.

President Donald Trump appears to believe that the Palestinians may yet re-engage. The Palestinians “very much want to be a part of what we’re doing. And I see, ultimately… peace between Israel and the Palestinians. I see that happening,” he said last Thursday. “I think as these very big, powerful, wealthy countries come in, I think the Palestinians will follow, quite naturally.”

I only wish I could share his optimism. (And he must be thinking of a very different leadership in Tehran when he predicts, as he did on Wednesday, that “ultimately, Iran will come in too.”)

For the time being, it strongly seems, those who speak for the Palestinians either prize the goal of Israel’s destruction over the well-being of their people, or ally with those who prize the goal of Israel’s destruction over the well-being of their people. A tragic, dead-end strategy, at a moment of opportunity.

An earlier version of this Editor’s Note was sent out Wednesday in ToI’s weekly update email to members of the Times of Israel Community. To receive these Editor’s Notes as they’re released, join the ToI Community here.

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