columnU.S.-Israel Relations

Is the Palestinian veto alive or dead?

The only way to test the nature of the Israel-UAE normalization deal is to assess how it has affected Israel's sovereignty plan.

U.S. President Donald Trump, joined by White House senior advisers, delivers a statement announcing the agreement of full normalization of relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates on Aug. 13, 2020. Credit: Joyce N. Boghosian/The White House.
U.S. President Donald Trump, joined by White House senior advisers, delivers a statement announcing the agreement of full normalization of relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates on Aug. 13, 2020. Credit: Joyce N. Boghosian/The White House.
Caroline B. Glick
Caroline B. Glick is the senior contributing editor of Jewish News Syndicate and host of the “Caroline Glick Show” on JNS. She is also the diplomatic commentator for Israel’s Channel 14, as well as a columnist for Newsweek. Glick is the senior fellow for Middle Eastern Affairs at the Center for Security Policy in Washington and a lecturer at Israel’s College of Statesmanship.

Since Israel was established the Palestinian veto doomed all efforts to forge peace between the Arab world and the Jewish state.

The Palestinian veto rests on a toxic proposition that Israel’s right to exist is contingent on its satisfaction of Palestinian claims against it. So long as the Palestinians say they are unappeased, Israel cannot expect the Arab world to either recognize or live in peace with it.

The very existence of the veto has ensured that the Palestinians will never be satisfied with any Israeli concession and will never agree to peaceful coexistence with the Jewish state. After all, their global and regional importance is a product of the veto. The Arabs and much of the rest of the world support the Palestinians because they wield the veto. As holders of the veto, the Palestinians are viewed as the key—or the key obstacle—to Middle East peace. If they give up or lose the veto, they will lose their position and power to enable or block peace and foment war and instability.

As for the Arab leaders, for generations, the Palestinian veto was the key to their own power and stability. It enabled them to deflect the attention of their peoples and of the governments of the world away from their corruption, extremism, and failure at home and abroad. It enabled them to scapegoat Israel and blame the Jewish state for the suffering and stagnation of their people.

Given its toxic power, abrogating the Palestinian veto has always been Israel’s highest goal. And given its centrality for both the Palestinians and the wider Arab world, for most Israelis, it seemed like a dream so impossible that it wasn’t even worth dreaming.

The peace treaties Israel signed with Egypt and Jordan were concluded while genuflecting to the Palestinian veto. Egyptian President Anwar Sadat signed Egypt’s peace deal with Israel in 1979 only after he concluded a framework deal for Palestinian autonomy with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin.

King Hussein of Jordan only agreed to sign a peace deal with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1994 after Rabin signed the Oslo peace deal with PLO chief Yasser Arafat on the White House lawn.

Since signing their peace treaties with Israel, Egypt and Jordan have continuously breached them by refusing to implement the clauses of their deals that require them to normalize their relations with Israel. Both use the Palestinian veto to justify their material breaches, which have reduced both “historic” treaties to little more than long-term ceasefires.

The big news on Aug.13 that with U.S. President Donald Trump’s mediation, Israel and the United Arab Emirates have agreed to develop full diplomatic ties is being presented as a strategic earthquake. This is so not because the announced deal advances commercial ties between the countries, nor because the deal advances the Israeli-Arab campaign to prevent Iran from advancing its nuclear weapons program. While the deal does both of those things, it is being presented as a strategic earthquake because policymakers and commentators proclaim that it abrogated the Palestinian veto.

If these claims are true, then on Aug. 13, Israel’s diplomatic standing was transformed. The most powerful and successful state in the Middle East is no longer a regional scapegoat.

There can be no greater blow to the likes of the United Nations and the BDS campaigners than that.

If the veto has been thrown into history’s trash heap, then Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won’t simply be remembered as the greatest statesman Israel has known. He will be remembered as a diplomatic magician.

If the claims that the peace deal between Israel and the UAE killed the Palestinian veto are true, then President Trump has made a greater contribution to peace in the Middle East than all his predecessors combined.

Jimmy Carter may have mediated the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty, but according to members of Israel’s delegation to the peace talks, far from facilitating the deal, Carter used the Palestinian veto to try to block it.

Carter insisted that Israel and Egypt agree to an autonomy deal for the Palestinians and only conclude the peace deal between them after it was finalized. The autonomy plan agreed to at Camp David formed the basis of the bloody Oslo framework for peace between Israel and the PLO 14 years later. Its trail of terror, anti-Semitism and suffering led to a 20-year impasse.

U.S. President George H.W. Bush bowed to the Palestinian veto twice during his tenure. First Bush bowed to the veto by excluding Israel from his grand coalition against Saddam Hussein ahead of the Gulf War and by forcing Israel to stand down in the face of unprovoked Iraqi Scud missile attacks against it throughout the ensuing conflict.

After the war, Bush again bowed to the Palestinian veto in setting up the Madrid Peace conference and the subsequent negotiations between Israel and various Arab parties to reflect its position that Israel had to satisfy the Palestinians’ unsatisfiable demands as a condition for wider peace between Israel and the Arab world.

Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush genuflected to the Palestinian veto by distinguishing between Palestinian terror against Israelis and all other terror against all other people.

As for Barack Obama, the former president’s entire Middle East policy was based on embracing the Palestinian narrative that Israel’s right to exist was contingent on its willingness to concede to the Palestinians demands. That is, the Obama administration believed the Palestinian rejection of Israel was justified.

Trump is the first U.S. president who hasn’t used the Palestinian veto to pressure Israel. Instead, he has worked to cancel the veto and bring actual peace, based on shared interests between the Palestinians and the wider Arab world and Israel.

In light of the groundbreaking disparity between Trump’s approach to the Palestinian veto and that of his predecessors, the central question when assessing the Israel-UAE peace deal is, does it or does it not abrogate the Palestinian veto?

If it hasn’t ended the veto, then the deal is a positive development, but isn’t a strategic earthquake. If it has ended the veto, then unlike the peace deals that preceded it, the Israel-UAE deal represents the start of a new era of stability and peace between the Arab world and the Jewish state.

If the deal put the Palestinian veto out to pasture, then it is worthy of the name Ambassador David Friedman has given it, “The Abraham Treaty,” as the children of Isaac and Ishmael accept once again their brotherhood.

There is only one way to test the nature of the deal: by assessing how it has affected Israel’s sovereignty plan.

Israel’s sovereignty plan as put forward by Netanyahu involves applying Israeli sovereignty to its communities in Judea and Samaria and to the Jordan Valley, Israel’s frontier zone with the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, in accordance with the vision for peace set out in Trump’s peace plan.

The press release the White House published two weeks ago announcing the Israel-UAE peace deal said, “As a result of this diplomatic breakthrough and at the request of President Trump with the support of the United Arab Emirates, Israel will suspend declaring sovereignty over areas outlined in the President’s Vision for Peace and focus its efforts now on expanding ties with other countries in the Arab and Muslim world.”

The statement’s meaning is unclear. UAE leaders claim that Israel’s sovereignty plan is dead in the water. If they are correct, then the Israel-UAE deal did not end the Palestinian veto. Israel did not receive “peace for peace” as Netanyahu and others claim. It received peace in exchange for the suspension of its sovereign rights in Judea and Samaria.

Netanyahu has minimized the significance of the UAE statements. He maintains that the sovereignty plan is still very much alive and will be implemented in due course in the not distant future.

Senior U.S. officials involved in the discussions that led to the peace deal, including Friedman, agree with Netanyahu. President Trump has given mixed messages on the issue. But in general, he has agreed that the sovereignty plan is not dead but merely “off the table for now.”

Problematically, Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and top adviser, and the U.S. official most closely identified with the peace deal, has made statements more aligned with the UAE’s than with either Israel’s messaging or that of his administration colleagues.

In multiple statements in the days following the roll-out of the peace deal, Kushner has said that the deal was born from the UAE’s desire to prevent Netanyahu from implementing the sovereignty plan. Kushner has said that the peace deal between Israel and the UAE advances the so-called “two-state solution,” which is predicated on the Palestinian veto.

Kushner has linked the deal to Israeli concessions to the Palestinians and indicated that Israel’s sovereignty plan in Judea and Samaria has indeed been cast to the wayside.

To be sure, Kushner’s statements have been gentler on Israel’s sovereignty plan than the UAE’s, but the overall impression they leave is the same: The peace deal is no earthquake. It preserves the Palestinian veto. Israel traded its plan to assert its sovereign rights in Judea and Samaria for peace with the UAE.

By diminishing the achievement thus, Kushner is single-handedly shrinking what could be a strategic turning point into a mere speed bump on the road of chronic instability and bloodshed. Instead of upholding Trump as a statesman of historic proportions, Kushner reduces him to just another U.S. president bowing to the pathologies of the region rather than doing away with them.

It is important to note that the Palestinians aren’t the only ones who have wielded a veto. For the past 40 years, Israel has had a more limited, but still significant veto of its own. It has used its veto to mitigate the danger of the Palestinian veto and the Arab rejectionism it perpetuates. Israel’s veto has been its ability to block the sale of advanced U.S. military platforms to Arab states.

The UAE views its peace deal with Israel as a means to end Israel’s ability to block its purchase of F-35 fighter jets. Wednesday Trump indicated that the UAE’s assessment is correct when he said that the UAE’s request to purchase the fighter jets is “under review.”

If the peace deal abrogated the Israeli veto, then the notion it preserved the Palestinian veto makes even less sense.

And this is the heart of the matter. The only way the peace deal between Israel and the UAE will have lasting significance, and the only way it will distinguish Trump from his predecessors who all bowed before the Palestinian veto, is if Israel implements its sovereignty plan before the presidential elections, with Trump’s support. If the Palestinian veto is truly dead, then as Israel and the United States move forward with the sovereignty plan, they will continue to advance in their efforts to widen the circle of peace so notably advanced by the peace deal between Israel and the UAE.

Caroline Glick is an award-winning columnist and author of “The Israeli Solution: A One-State Plan for Peace in the Middle East.

This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.

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