The Jerusalem Post
Connecting the related dots from Abu Dhabi to Maghar
‘Fundamentally, the UAE and Israel decided to do things differently with the signing of the historic Abraham Accords in 2020,” Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and his Emirate counterpart, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, wrote on Thursday in the Abu Dhabi newspaper The National.
“With the establishment of diplomatic relations between the UAE and Israel, our two countries set out to determine a new paradigm for our region...,” they wrote. “While the Abraham Accords were the first of their kind in our region, they represent a future that we believe must become more commonplace: one in which differences are set aside in favor of dialogue.”
It’s not every day that an Israeli and an Arab foreign minister pen an op-ed together, and it served as a suiting conclusion to Lapid’s two-day visit to the United Arab Emirates – the first official visit by an Israeli minister – during which he inaugurated Israel’s embassy in Abu Dhabi, and its consulate in Dubai.
While some reading the foreign ministers’ words about the Abraham Accords being the first of its kind in the region may speculate about which Arab country may be next to follow the lead of the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan and normalize ties with Israel, the ripples from the accords can already be felt much closer to home – within Israel itself.
Is it a coincidence that just as the Abraham Accords were signed in the fall, ushering in a paradigmatic shift in Israel’s relations with the Arab world, overtures were being made between then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Mansour Abbas, then of the Joint List?
Those overtures then led to a paradigmatic shift in Israeli politics, with Abbas breaking away from the Joint List of four Arab parties and running independently with his own Ra’am (United Arab List) faction, with a message that it is okay to join forces with a Zionist government – even a right-wing Zionist government – if this promotes Israeli-Arab interests.
This shift went in both directions: Netanyahu and the Likud willing to cooperate with an Arab party, long viewed on the Right as a veritable fifth column in the Knesset; and an Arab party willing to deal with a right-wing prime minister who built in the settlements, continues to enforce a blockade around Gaza and in 12 years made no progress on the diplomatic front with the Palestinians.
Once Netanyahu and the Likud crossed the Rubicon and showed a willingness to cooperate politically with Abbas, that paved the way for other parties in the Knesset to do the same. This eventually led to the formation of the current 61-seat coalition, which includes, and depends for its survival, on Abbas and Ra’am’s four seats.
This just proves the truth behind that old 1988 campaign slogan, “only the Likud can” – though not in the way the Likud publicists had in mind. They had in mind that only the Likud, as the memorable campaign jingle went that year, could provide “personal security, real peace, a free market and social justice.”
Instead, only the Likud’s Menachem Begin could have signed a peace deal with Egypt that included a complete and total withdrawal from the Sinai Peninsula, because had Labor’s Shimon Peres put that idea on the table, Begin and the Right would have worked feverishly against it.
Likewise, only Ariel Sharon of the Likud could have proposed, promoted and implemented a full withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, because had Peres and Labor proposed the same idea they would have been pulverized by Sharon and the Likud.
By the same token, Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid could conduct coalition negotiations with Abbas, and Yamina leader Naftali Bennett could join a coalition with Ra’am, only after Netanyahu and the Likud legitimized and made kosher political cooperation with an Arab party that does not view Israel as the national homeland of the Jewish people.
ABBAS, TOO, needed to gain legitimacy from somewhere for his willingness to engage with Netanyahu, and then to enter into a government led by a right-wing politician, Bennett. Though he managed to squeak just past the electoral threshold and into the Knesset with four seats, Abbas’s conciliatory approach and his philosophy of engagement with the Right – even though the Palestinian issue remains far from being resolved – has not brought him widespread popularity on the Arab street.
His future, and that of his party, is believed to be very much dependent on the survival of the current government, for if the government were to fall now and elections called tomorrow, Ra’am would likely join Yamina, New Hope and Meretz as parties that may struggle just to make it back into the next Knesset.
And this is where the Abraham Accords come into play,
and where Abbas was able to derive legitimacy for his steps.
If the United Arab Emirates could negotiate and eventually sign a deal not only with Israel, but with the right-wing Netanyahu, because of a realization that by so doing they are advancing the interests of their country, then why can’t an Israeli-Arab party cooperate with and even join an Israeli government, even one with a right-wing prime minister, if by so doing it can advance the interests of Israeli-Arabs?
If it is okay for the UAE, even though the Palestinian issue has not been resolved, to normalize ties with Israel because this will help it push back against Iran’s hegemonic regional designs, allow it to benefit from Israel’s
technological, agricultural and intelligence prowess, and enable it to buy F35s from the US, then why is it equally not okay for an Arab party to deal with a right-wing Israeli government if this benefits the Israeli-Arab community.
Abbas realized that he who sits around the table, gets fed, and that if the Israeli-Arab community wants to get a fair share of the country’s resources – and not just thrown some scraps from the table from time to time – it needs to be around the cabinet table. And it must be willing to sit at that table even if it doesn’t like everything that the cook is dishing out for others.
For instance, Abbas and Ra’am will certainly come under criticism on the Arab street for continuing to sit in a government that this week reached a compromise with settlement leaders
whereby the illegal outpost of Evyatar would not be demolished, but rather turned into an army encampment pending a survey of whether it is private Palestinian or state land, at which time it might become the site of a yeshiva.
Likewise, Ra’am will surely take heat if agrees to a compromise that will allow the coalition to extend by another year the Family Reunification Law preventing Palestinian males under the age of 35 and females under the age of 25 from living with their Israeli spouses inside the Green Line.
In both cases, the party will be asked how it could lend its hand to a government that carries out such measures.
Here, too, Abbas can gain cover from the United Arab Emirates and the other Abraham Accords countries that have carried on with their normalization
with Israel despite May’s mini-war in Gaza.
It is no small thing that Lapid went to the UAE – or that Abu Dhabi welcomed him – just a month after Israel fought Hamas. Moreover, the Emirati hosts made it clear throughout the visit that the Gaza conflict was not going to impact the burgeoning ties. Why not? Because those ties are good for the UAE.
So if the UAE is not going to let an 11-day war – during which 256 Palestinians were killed and the Gaza Strip devastated by Israeli firepower – torpedo its relations with the Jewish state, then does Ra’am need to bolt the coalition because of the government’s compromises over Evyatar or the Family Reunification Law?
Lapid and bin Zayed, when they wrote of the transformational potential of UAE-Israel ties, had in mind greater regional
developments, hoping that the success in the ties between Israel and the UAE will impact attitudes around the region.
Where that potential seems to have been felt most strongly, however, was not in Saudi Arabia or Pakistan, but rather in places like Abbas’s home town of Maghar and among the Bedouin in the Negev – the bedrock of Ra’am’s political support – who stand to benefit the most from the party’s joining the coalition, since the government has pledged to recognize three unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev.
On the surface, Lapid’s visit to Abu Dhabi and coalition developments this week seem to have taken place in isolation. But they did not. There is a line that connects those two distant dots: The Abraham Accords and Ra’am’s membership in this coalition. •