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Arab-Israeli politicians against peace

The Joint List—the third-largest faction in the Knesset—is more hostile to Zionists than the sheikhs of Abu Dhabi and Manama.

Israel's Joint Arab List Party head Ayman Odeh speaks to the media outside his home in Haifa a day after Israeli general elections, March 3, 2020. Photo by Flash90.
Israel's Joint Arab List Party head Ayman Odeh speaks to the media outside his home in Haifa a day after Israeli general elections, March 3, 2020. Photo by Flash90.
Ruthie Blum. Credit: Courtesy.
Ruthie Blum
Ruthie Blum, an author and award-winning columnist, is a former adviser at the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

An overwhelming majority of Israeli parliamentarians, including those in the opposition, voted on Thursday to ratify the U.S.-brokered Abraham Accords. With 80 members of 120-seat Knesset in favor of the treaty with the United Arab Emirates and 27 in absentia, the remaining 13 lawmakers were unable to block the historic peace agreement that was approved unanimously by the Israeli Cabinet on Oct. 12.

Though the quantity of MKs nixing the deal was negligible, their identity is not. All of the more than dozen legislators who reject Israel’s peace-making—not only with the UAE, but with Bahrain as well—are Arab citizens of the Jewish state, belonging to the Joint Arab List.

The Joint List is a bloc of disparate communist, socialist, Islamist and Arab-nationalist parties Balad, Hadash, Ta’al and the United Arab List, supported by an increasing number of radical Jews disillusioned with the Zionist left.

It is headed by MK Ayman Odeh, who said last week that Israel’s normalization with the Gulf states is based on “twisted logic” that [the Joint List] cannot accept … either morally or nationally.”

He was referring to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s long-standing view that a lack of peace with the Palestinians is not at the root—or even a blip on the radar screen—of Middle East strife in general or of traditionally regional hostility to Israel in particular. It is this position that the Israeli left, obsessed with the failed “land for peace” paradigm, cannot tolerate.

The Palestinian Authority and its apologists have had an interest in keeping this false idea alive. The notion has been the basis for inverting culprit and victim where Palestinian intransigence is concerned. It also has served as the perfect fund-raising pitch for Ramallah and the Hamas-run Gaza Strip from deep-pocketed benefactors in Europe.

The administration of former U.S. President George W. Bush made a feeble attempt at placing the onus on the P.A. to undergo internal reform and reach an agreement with Israel. But it wasn’t until Donald Trump entered the White House that concrete demands to shape up or lose out on a great opportunity for the Palestinian people were made clear to P.A. chief Mahmoud Abbas.

Abbas realized that Washington meant business. His response was to snub its envoys. For the first time in his career, his behavior was met with an apathetic shrug, rather than another wave of appeasement.

As if that weren’t sufficient cause for almost 85-year-old to feel frustrated, the mild reaction on the part of the “Palestinian street” and neighboring Arab leaders to America’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital—and the move of the U.S. embassy there from Tel Aviv—was too much for him to bear. That this was followed by a host of additional moves aimed at holding the Palestinians accountable for terrorist activities, while furthering other Israeli interests, only made matters worse for the aging despot.

He was slightly encouraged by the Arab League’s declaration on Feb. 1 that Trump’s “Peace to Prosperity” plan, unveiled at the White House on Jan. 28, “does not meet the minimum rights and aspirations of Palestinian people.”

During the emergency meeting of the League, convened at Abbas’s behest, members vowed not to cooperate with the U.S. Ironically, the UAE and Bahrain were among the countries making this promise, despite having sent representatives to Trump’s joint press conference with Netanyahu three days earlier to reveal the plan.

To explain this seeming contradiction, an anonymous Arab diplomat told the left-wing Israeli daily, Haaretz, that the Gulf states had been misled by Washington with a document stating that Trump’s plan included the establishment of a Palestinian state—with Jerusalem as its capital—as the basis for peace negotiations.

This was nonsense, of course. The only bone thrown to the UAE and Bahrain on behalf of the Palestinians was Washington’s request that Netanyahu agree to put on hold his government’s plan to extend Israeli sovereignty to the Jordan Valley, and Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria.

The Palestinians weren’t interested, however. Nor did their temporary sense that the Arab League still had their back last for long. Months later, in August, when the UAE and Bahrain announced that they would be normalizing ties with Israel, Ramallah’s attempt to dissuade them from doing so—and to persuade the rest of the Arab League to condemn them—was unsuccessful.

In a typical huff, the Palestinians quit its slated six-month chairmanship of the Arab League council of foreign ministers. Lo and behold, nobody cared. The Arab League, like Netanyahu, has been focused on the threat from Tehran and on entering a coalition of nations that share a fear of a nuclear Iran.

This brings us to the Knesset representatives of Israel’s Arabs. Odeh not only voted against the Abraham Accords, but told the Hezbollah-affiliated Lebanese TV station al-Mayadeen that they are based on a “flawed assumption” about Iran’s being the “fundamental issue.”

Pooh-poohing the Iranian threat—to a network whose sponsors are Iranian proxies—he said, “The Israeli occupation is the fundamental problem.”

Al-Mayadeen is used to and regularly promotes Israel-bashing. Having help from an Arab Knesset member who isn’t even as radical as some of the others on his list must have been especially welcome.

Speaking of which, Joint List M.K. Abbas Mansour, chairman of the United Arab List Party, explained to Israel’s Kan Radio on Monday why he couldn’t unequivocally condemn the beheading of a history teacher by a Chechen Islamist in a suburb of Paris on Friday.

Mansour said that the teacher should not have shown his students caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, even in the context of a lesson on freedom of expression, since such depictions are offensive to Muslims. Try as they might, the interviewers did not manage to get him to concede that in this case, the cartoons were part of an educational exercise or that democracy involves free speech.

Instead, he ranted about the pluralism of Islam and its respect for all people and religions to prove his point that causing offense to Muslims goes against such values. In his eyes, apparently, decapitation does not.

Given the Palestinian honchos’ unwillingness to coexist with Israelis at the expense of their own people’s well-being, it is logical for the likes of Odeh and Mansour to be on their side against the Abraham Accords. What makes no sense at all, however, is that the Joint List—the third-largest faction in the Knesset—is more hostile to Zionists than the sheikhs of Abu Dhabi and Manama.

Ruthie Blum is an Israel-based journalist and author of “To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the ‘Arab Spring.’ ”

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