By Bishop George Browning
“Peace” is not in the air. The deal done between Israel, Bahrain and the UAE, boastfully brokered by President Trump, has little to do with peace, but much to do with military hardware and hoped-for economic gain.
The parties concerned have not been at war; it cannot be about that. Peace can never prevail while gross injustice persists, while one party occupies another’s territory, while one party inflicts gross human rights violations on another, while one party builds the apparatus of apartheid, and while the Palestinian people and their representatives are absent from the process.
This deal most certainly does not improve the plight of Palestinians, offer them hope or address their concerns. While the UAE has said it prevents the annexation by Israel of the Jordan Valley, Prime Minister Netanyahu denies this is the case and is already incrementally clearing the land of Palestinians and assuming sovereignty.
This is not a deal that brings peoples together, it is a deal done by four leaders with their self-interested agendas in mind.
Any deal done by President Trump that appears to favour Israel helps him with his domestic politics. He has openly confessed the reason he moved the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was to keep his evangelical voting base firmly behind him. Any deal that opens the sale of military hardware is also attractive to him.
Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, the Prime Minister of Bahrain, needs friends. He rules by fear. Two years ago he tried to extradite the Bahrain-born dissident and Australian footballer, Hakeem al-Araibi, and would have succeeded but for the courageous campaign launched by retired Socceroo and human rights campaigner Craig Foster and the intervention of Foreign Minister Marise Payne.
Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan of the UAE is both President and commander-in-chief of the armed forces. For several years, in partnership with Saudi Arabia, he has been waging war in Yemen and causing what many believe to be the worst human misery currently on the planet. The UAE and Saudi Arabia are militarily supported in the delivery of this human misery by the United States. He would love to be known as a peacemaker.
Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s Prime Minister, has been desperately clinging onto power, while, despite many attempts, he fails to secure majority government. But even more critically, he is desperate to avoid facing the courts on the corruption charges for which he has been indicted. Any publicity that might paint him in less malign clothing is gratefully grasped.
This is not about peace – this is about three Middle Eastern leaders and one US President keen to cement their power. Their need has brought them together, not peace, which in one form or another evidence suggests they disdain.
Israel has had the opportunity for full normalisation with 22 Arab and Muslim countries since 2002. The Arab Peace Initiative extended the hand of friendship to Israel, under the condition that it afforded Palestinians self-determination and rights as per UN agreements. This condition has not been met, and this deal attempts to bypass it. It is not hard to understand why Palestinians are critical. Palestinians are refusing to accept that the interests of others can be furthered at their expense.
Dr Bren Carlill, writing in The Canberra Times on Wednesday, argues that Palestine would be better served by pragmatism than ideology. In the 1990s the Palestinians accepted a pragmatic journey towards a state of their own. The Oslo Accords planned a staged approach to autonomy within five years. Palestinians accepted the division of the West Bank with an understanding that no more Israeli settlements would be built on their land, that occupying forces would be gradually withdrawn and that their human rights would be upheld.
The reverse has occurred. More land, houses, farms and orchards have been lost, Gaza is now blockaded, and Israel has unilaterally claimed Jerusalem as their eternal and undivided capital. Into this fray Israel has thrown its new “Nation-State Law”, which further erodes Palestinian rights and denies in perpetuity equal citizenry. It is Israel that follows a non-negotiable ideological agenda and expects Palestinians to be grateful.
There is only one path to peace: respect for universal human rights and the upholding of international law. There is little, if any, evidence that this path is high on the agenda of any of the four men pictured smiling together outside the White House this week.
There are no white doves flying here, no olive branch, just the ominous puff of smoke from a conflicted embryonic military alliance.