After years of an apparent stalemate between Israel and the Palestinians and other Arab nations, the Trump administration has heralded a so-called breakthrough in relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, two small but wealthy Gulf states, each of which is more than 1,000 miles in distance from Israel.
On Sept. 15, interested parties to the region watched the televised “celebration” that was crowned with the title, “A Historic Peace Agreement.”
Many commentators with a clearly pro-Israel bias, in a bid to justify the agreements, have commented these treaties augur well for the Palestinians if they take advantage of the opportunity they have been afforded.
Palestinians, this line of reasoning goes, should quickly join the bandwagon of these two states and sue for peace and a final settlement with Israel.
These same commentators often portray the Palestinians as intransigent and rejectionist, never accepting any of the “generous offers” that Israel has put on the table.
Once again, this line of thought goes, Palestinians are rejecting peace and would do well to reconsider.
However, a closer reading of these new accords shows the Palestinians, who are the very people that remain under Israeli occupation, were an afterthought in these agreements.
In short, the Emirates and Bahrain agreed to these treaties to serve their own, unique interests.
The Palestinians and their cause, as has so often been done in the past, were used as lip service to provide legitimacy to the new treaties, but Palestinians were not involved in, let alone consulted about, these agreements.
Is it true that Palestinians continually reject peace? In this short essay, I implore the reader to hear Palestinians’ voices and to understand why Palestinians have not joined the Emirates and Bahrain’s rush to join Trump’s “peace deal.”
To start, I want to make clear that Palestinians are desperate for peace. We need a peace agreement with Israel more than the Emirates, Bahrain or any other Arab country.
We are the party that is suffering the most from the absence of peace.
The Palestinian economy is worse than terrible; our lands are shrinking due to the encroachment of Israeli settlers; thousands of our young people languish in Israeli prisons; over 2 million Palestinians live under a horrific blockade in the Gaza Strip.
Moreover, our people constantly are attacked and killed by settlers and Israeli soldiers, and many Palestinian homes are routinely demolished by the strong arm of the occupiers.
Who in the world needs and wants peace more than Palestinians? In the past four decades, Palestinians have responded positively to every invitation to participate in conferences that promised peace.
We participated in the Madrid Conference of 1991, Oslo Accords (1993), Wye River Memorandum (1998), Camp David II Summit (2000), the Clinton Parameters (2000), the Taba Summit (2001) and (2002), Road Map for Peace (2003), Geneva Accord (2003) and the Sharm el-Sheikh Summit of 2005.
More recently, during the Obama administration, Palestinians welcomed and participated with U.S. initiatives to broker peace.
Did Palestinian leaders accept all the above invitations with the intent to finally reject them and tell the world, “We are not interested in peace”? Absolutely not!
Nearly every instance in which Palestinians rejected the terms of the above-mentioned peace initiatives was the result of the U.S. and Israel exerting enormous pressure on Palestinians to surrender territory and rights the U.N. and the international community had clearly declared belonged to the Palestinians.
More recently, when President Trump visited Israel and Palestine soon after his election, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was happy to meet with him.
However, Trump was quickly swayed by his extremely pro-Israel advisers and cabinet and immediately took incredibly offensive actions against the Palestinians, including moving the U.S. embassy to West Jerusalem without consulting the Palestinians, as well as completely shutting down the Palestinian Authority’s consular office in Washington.
Once Trump’s “Deal of the Century” was announced and Palestinians studied the terms, they realized the new deal violated U.N. Resolutions and international legitimacy.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu created the deal in collaboration with pro-Israeli American Zionist leaders, including Jared Kushner, David Friedman and Jason Greenblatt.
Need I mention the Palestinians were not consulted or involved at all in laying the groundwork for this so called “peace deal”?
Palestinians have realized they will never achieve a fair deal during Trump’s presidency. His Zionist billionaire friends and his Zionist-leaning evangelical base have made sure any move he takes must be fully pro-Israeli. Hence, Palestinians turned down Trump’s initiatives.
As his first term comes to an end, the U.S. president and his pro-settler-Zionist team realized they would not be able to produce Israeli-Palestinian peace without the participation of Palestinians.
Desperate to achieve an accomplishment in the Middle East before November, the Trump team decided to revive an Israeli plan to normalize relations with willing Arab States.
In fact, rich Gulf states have had economic and military relations with Israel for years while paying lip service to the Palestinian cause. Their deep fear of Iran and their desire to acquire U.S. F-35 stealth fighter jets and advanced armed drones prompted them to seize the opportunity to normalize relations with Israel regardless of the objections of Palestinians.
Emirati and Bahraini leaders have unfortunately ignored the fact the deal will make it easier for Israel ultimately to annex over 40% of the West Bank and end Muslim control of Islamic holy sites in East Jerusalem.
Moreover, East Jerusalem would also be placed under complete Israeli control. Reflecting on the deal, British Member of Parliament Emily Thornberry said, “This is not a peace plan. This is a monstrosity.”
Hanan Ashrawi, a Palestinian leader commented, “Israel is occupying Palestinian land, so that’s where you need to make peace – not with countries that have had no conflict with Israel. It’s a spectacle put together to create the impression that Trump can make peace where no peace was needed, actually.”
Palestinians are tired of participating in so-called negotiations and peace initiatives where the cards are stacked against them, and they aren’t even given a turn. This is precisely why they didn’t engage in this charade.
When the United States and Israel truly desire peace in the Middle East, they must address the real issues, such as Jewish settlements in the West Bank, the Israeli theft of East Jerusalem, the confiscation and annexation of Palestinian lands, the refugee issue and the blockade of the Gaza Strip.
Sidestepping Palestinians and pressuring them to surrender their rights will never achieve the true, just peace we all pray for in Palestine and Israel.
Awad lived and served in Palestine for decades, serving as pastor of East Jerusalem Baptist Church as well as professor, dean of student and direct of the Shepherd Society at Bethlehem Bible College in Palestine.