The signing ceremony is scheduled for Tuesday at the White House, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be there, but not Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, who sent his foreign minister in his place. A slap in the face? A message to fellow Arab leaders that the United Arab Emirates are not taking this treaty as all that serious, so chill down? Possibly.
Finance Minister Israel Katz on Tuesday morning told Reshet Bet radio, in response to the question why the agreements to be signed shortly between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain were not ratified by the government and the Knesset: “The peace agreement with Egypt was also brought to the Knesset for approval only after the signing. Clearly, the implementation of the deal is conditioned on the approval of the government and the Knesset, which I’m sure will be sweeping and unanimous. There are only achievements here, and only for the benefit of the state.”
Minister Katz is wrong on several issues. First, the peace agreement does not require ratification by the Knesset. By law, only a foreign agreement that includes turning over state lands (such as eastern Jerusalem or the Golan Heights – but not Judea and Samaria) requires ratification by the Knesset. There is a largely bureaucratic requirement to inform the government of the move, it’s not clear if a vote in the cabinet is required, too.
Both prime ministers Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Rabin asked for the Knesset’s approval for their peace deals, but those included giving up large swaths of land, and the approval of the legislator was crucial for the nation to embrace them. Not so with this deal which does not include giving up territory (although many argue that Prime Minister Netanyahu is giving up ever imposing Israeli sovereignty over the Jewish settlements in the liberated territories).
Minister Katz is also wrong in his suggestion that there are “only achievements here.” In fact, there are two major concerns associated with the deal which many Israelis share and the prime minister simply denies.
The first concern is the sale to an Arab country in the region of Lockheed Martin F-35 all-weather stealth aircraft which represent the state-of-the-art in air combat, establishing superiority in the over a large theater and frustrating the attempts of more conventional warplanes to attack. Selling this system to the UAE violates the long-held IDF doctrine of maintaining technological superiority over all the players in the region.
The Americans can talk until they’re blue in the face about the emirates being pro-Western and friendly and allied with the US and with Israel against the common enemy, Iran. Iran itself was once allied with the US and Israel against all sorts of common enemies, and then it wasn’t, and it used its American-made fleet of advanced warplanes in a bloody war against then a US ally – Iraq. Things change fast in the Middle East, and revolutions are quite common here.
Netanyahu has stressed many times over the past month that he would oppose the sale of F-35 warplanes to the UAE and to anyone else in the region (that means you, Saudi Arabia). There have been reports in the Israeli media that the sale of the planes would depend on the progress of the peace deal, which will adopt a step-by-step approach to normalization – with the Emiratis constantly looking behind their shoulders at the reactions from the Arab world.
Even if the Trump White House succeeds in pushing Netanyahu into some form of agreement, the deal would require several years to go through the approval process in Congress. Israel has many friends in Congress who do not see eye to eye with this administration. It would be interesting to see if a Biden administration, should the Democrats win the White House in November, would choose to support the sale. It’s quite possible that the Republicans in the Senate, should they hold on to a majority, would quash the same deal, now that it would be coming from a democratic administration.
Many observers of Middle Eastern politics agree that for the UAE the highest priority in this deal is not peace and not a Palestinian State, and not stopping the “annexation” – all of which they brag about. The top priority is modern weapons, coupled with becoming even more integrated into Intelligence cooperation with the US and Israel. To them, Iran poses a visceral, immediate, existential threat that they must meet, yesterday. If the UAE does not get its state-of-the-art weapons systems, the rest of the deal would lose its appeal.
In comparison, the Palestinians and their needs and endless bickering are not more than window dressing. The UAE has bragged about the fact that Israel agreed to suspend its plans to annex its settlements. It also intimated that the success of the peace treaty will depend on Israel’s cooperation with the creation of a Palestinian state.
The question is, once Israeli and Emirati relations have grown and deepened, with businesses on both sides involved in major mutual investments, would the UAE and Bahrain be able to leverage that to force Israel to make good on Netanyahu’s commitment to the Trump administration to actively cooperate with an effort to reach a two-state solution.
So, unlike Minister Katz’s jovial expectations, this could end up not benefiting the state but something else entirely.
Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan wrote in the Wall Street Journal Monday (‘Peace. Shalom. Salaam’) that “normalizing ties between the United Arab Emirates and Israel is a historic diplomatic breakthrough and a hopeful sign that progress in the Middle East is possible.” He added: “This is an opportunity for a fresh approach to tackling the region’s challenges. In an area and era all too rife with bad news, it elevates opportunity and optimism over conflict and defeatism.”
He also suggested that signing the treaties is “a disruptive reminder that Emiratis and Israelis, and all the people of the Middle East, are tired of conflict.”
He is right, of course. But seeing as the conflict has not resided between Israel and the Gulf states in the first place, the treaty by itself does not advance a resolution of any real conflict. In the end, from the Arab perspective, only a Palestinian state would mark the resolution of the real conflict.
And so, the peace treaty we’ll all be watching later today would offer great benefits to Israel, just as its Finance Minister believes. But it won’t advance the Jewish State towards peace with the Arabs with whom it is at war.