As Arab States Pivot Towards Israel, Will the Palestinians Again Miss an Opportunity?
JNS.org – The ink has dried on the official signing by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of the Abraham Accords in Washington, DC—a combination agreement that sees Israel normalizing relations with the United Arab Emirates and signing a similar deal with Bahrain, both opportunities organized by the United States.
Joined on the White House veranda by US President Donald Trump, Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al Zayani and United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed, Netanyahu praised the “pivot of history” the signing of the accords represents. But the Palestinians were nowhere to be seen. In the words of Israel’s first foreign minister and longtime statesman Abba Eban, they “never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity,” and once again, they seem to place themselves on the wrong side of history.
Michael Milstein, head of the Palestinian Studies Forum at the Moshe Dayan Center at Tel Aviv University, agreed with Eban’s famous statement and emphasized to JNS that the Palestinians are indeed missing a real opportunity.
“The best way to define this period is to call it a Palestinian Catch-22,” he said. “They really resist every option” to make peace with Israel.
Instead of applauding what could be seen as a rapprochement of ties between Arab nations and Israel—something Israel’s Palestinian peace partners should want to see—the Palestinian Authority instead recalled its ambassadors in Abu Dhabi and Manama in protest of the agreement. They also called on its PA leader to “reconsider” its ties to the Arab League.
On Tuesday, during the signing of the accords, Hamas fired two rockets from the Gaza Strip towards Ashdod in southern Israel, injuring six people and causing structural damage.
Some Palestinians are even warning of a possible third intifada.
According to Milstein, the Palestinian leadership sees its main narrative of resistance against Israel being undermined by the Arab world.
While Gulf states are moving ahead and doing what’s best for the people of the region, Abbas, as well as Hamas, “have no vision to present to the Palestinian people,” said Milstein.
Instead, the PA announced that it would mark a day of resistance as a response to the agreements signed on Sept. 15. Milstein said he would be “surprised” if many people participate in any protests.
“Most of the Palestinian people are disappointed in the leadership, and most Palestinians are not worried about normalization or reconciliation. Rather, they worry about coronavirus, salaries, money, the economy and so on,” he said.
“The public is asking its leadership how and when it will come down from its tree,” he added.
Milstein cautiously conjectured that after the ceremony, an effort will be made, perhaps by America and some of the Gulf states, “to help the Palestinians find a ladder to descend from their tree.”
He said it is possible that at some point in the near future, “there will be negotiations over a settlement or agreement that will bring the Palestinians back to coordinating security and civil matters with Israel.”
‘A stab in the back’
The PA and Hamas have both slammed the accords as a “stab in the back” of the Palestinian people.
“Tomorrow, we will witness a black day in the history of the Arab world, of defeat for Arab League institutions, which are not united but divided,” Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh said on Monday.
“This will be another date to add to the calendar of Palestinian misery,” he said, adding that the PA would have to “correct” its relationship with the Arab League for its refusal to condemn the two normalization accords.
Palestinian journalist Daoud Kuttab, in a webinar arranged by the Israel Policy Forum on Tuesday, said the agreements have “sped up the national unity work and brought Palestinians together.”
According to Kuttab, while much hype was made about the UAE stopping Israel from applying sovereignty to parts of Judea and Samaria, for the Palestinian people, “it’s never been about stopping annexation, but ending the occupation.”
Abbas ‘main obstacle’ to Palestinian statehood
At the White House on Tuesday, bin Zayed said the deal “will enable us to continue to stand by the Palestinian people and realize their hopes for an independent state within a stable and prosperous region.”
But according to Milstein, Abbas is the main obstacle preventing the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.
“He represents the Palestinian cause, but is not suited for the 21st century,” he said. “Things changed in the Middle East.”
“Leaders like the UAE’s Mohammed bin Zayid (MBZ) and Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) of Saudi Arabia really understand the region and understand the spirit of the time and the dramatic changes taking place in the Arab world. But Abbas is not like that.”
Indeed, after the signing of the agreement, Abbas was furious and put out a statement in which he said: “Peace, security and stability will not be achieved in the region until the Israeli occupation ends.”
“Most of the Palestinians really are eager to get out of this current crisis,” said Milstein. “Of course, they do not like the agreements. They feel the Arab world betrayed them.”
Kuttab emphasized that movement on the Palestinian front would depend on the upcoming US elections.
“There will be many things that will come out from the Palestinian point of view,” he said, “but the key is going to be what is the goal, what is the strategy, and who will lead us? In a bad or good way, the Emirates and Bahrain sped up the process of erasing the [Palestinian] resistance strategy or liberation strategy, if you will.”
They also note that if Abbas is holding the Palestinians back, then perhaps he needs to be replaced with someone younger and with a greater vision for the Palestinian people.
“Unfortunately, unlike Saudi Arabia’s MBS or Emirates’ MBZ, the Palestinians have no youthful leadership,” said Milstein. “The founding generation is vanishing, and there is no new crystallized alternative. A vacuum is being created, and it is very dangerous for the Palestinians and for Israel as well.”
Milstein said while MBZ and MBS will promote the rise of younger leadership among Palestinians, “it takes time.”
He added that “the Palestinians deserve someone better than the old guard.”
However, he also emphasized that Israel “cannot watch from the side. It is not just their problem; it is our problem as well. We are tied together. If they fall, we fall with them. We should think of more creative ways to help the Palestinians climb down from the tree.”