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“Palestinian leaders do not realize that the region is changing”

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Passing through Paris, the former Palestinian negotiator and lawyer specializing in human rights Ghaith al-Omari, a fervent defender of the two-state solution, gave an interview to France 24. This third and final part is devoted to the Abraham Accords, which sealed the rapprochement between Israel and several Arab countries.

Lawyer specializing in human rights, Distinguished Scholar at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy Think TankGhaith al-Omari is a recognized player in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, which has stalled since 2014.

The former Palestinian negotiator, present in particular at the Camp David summit in 2000 and at the Taba talks in 2001, was adviser to the President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas until 2006. He was in Paris in March for the presentation of the “Whispered from Gaza” projecta series of animated short films, at the National Assembly.

Former Palestinian negotiator Ghaith al-Omari, March 22, 2023 in Paris.
Former Palestinian negotiator Ghaith al-Omari, March 22, 2023 in Paris. © Marc Daou, France 24

The opportunity for Ghaith al-Omari to give a long interview to France 24. After addressing the disarray of Palestinian youth and the political situation in the occupied West Bank and the future of Palestinian leadership, he looks In this third and final part on the Abraham Accords signed in 2020, under the aegis of the United States.

France 24 : While the Palestinian cause remains popular in the Arab street, the countries that signed the Abraham Accords have ushered in a new era In the region. Is it at the expense of the Palestinians?

Ghaith al-Omari: I do not think that the signatories of these agreements have turned their backs on the Palestinians. We are witnessing a whole new way of doing politics in the Middle East, driven by the Gulf countries. Thus, the Arab countries who have taken this path did so in the name of their legitimate interests, and they have every right to do so. I think the Palestinian leaders don’t realize that the region is changing. They still live in the past, still thinking that the days of Gamal Abdel Nasser [le président égyptien porte-flambeau du panarabisme, NDLR] will come back. But they won’t come back. The good old days of ideologies are slowly disappearing, the times of pan-Arabism, pan-Islamism, Nasserism are no longer dominant.

It’s a reality. So the question for the Palestinians, when everyone is focused on their own interests, is whether they can find a way to take advantage of the new deal, or whether they just sit on the sidelines. and watch history pass before them. I think there are ways to take advantage of it. I was a Palestinian negotiator and I can tell you that when we needed to put effective pressure on the Israeli government, we first appealed to Washington, of course, then to Amman and Cairo. For what ? Because the Arab countries which have relations with Israel also have levers to put pressure on its leaders. Today, new Arab countries have new levers. Let’s not forget that the United Arab Emirates signed the Abraham Accords with Israel on the condition that the Israeli government stop annexing Palestinian territories. In a way, they have already done their part. The Palestinian leaders therefore have the choice between going to these countries and telling them that they respect their decisions to establish ties with Israel, and to see how they can benefit from these agreements, or else do what they are doing now, which is that is to say, condemn this new order and refuse to be associated with it.

What can these benefits be for the Palestinians?

If they engage, they will gain increased Arab political support. We recently saw, during the month of February, that the United Arab Emirates was ready to sponsor a UN Security Council resolution to support the Palestinians against the construction and expansion of Israeli settlements. Beyond political support, there may also be opportunities in the economic realm. I will take A example. Two years ago, Israel, Jordan and the Emirates signed an agreement based on an equation to be solved: the Israelis are at the forefront in the field of seawater desalination, but have great needs in electricity, especially in the south of the country. For its part, Jordan is a regional leader in terms of clean energy production, partly thanks to solar energy, but remains one of the most water-poor countries. What was the deal made? Building solar fields in Jordan and desalination plants in Israel, so that both export electricity and water to meet everyone’s needs. It is the United Arab Emirates that finances everything, knowing that any surplus sold commercially would bring money to the Emiratis. It’s a triple win deal. But the Palestinians would have been perfect candidates for this kind of deal. There are plenty of project ideas like this that they can incorporate. There is a lot to be gained, but they must make the choice to embrace the new reality. The region is changing and these Abraham Accords are here to stay – moreover, we can see that despite the current tension between the Israeli government and its Arab partners, their economic and security relations continue to develop.

In view of the current political situation in Israel, do these Abraham Accords play a dissuasive role with regard to the most right-wing government in Israeli history?

Israeli political considerations will remain mainly domestic, as for all countries on the planet. But with the Abraham Accords, Israel now has to think twice before making certain decisions. I can tell you from official Israeli sources that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli diplomatic establishment and intelligence community are very sensitive to criticism from the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco. Israelis have almost grown accustomed to criticism from Egypt and Jordan. They don’t take them too seriously, but when their new partners have criticisms, they listen to them because these agreements are very popular in Israel. We know, for example, that the Minister of National Security, Itamar Ben Gvir, would like to increase provocations in Jerusalem. However, it is the fear of seeing the United Arab Emirates, which have developed very deep and very rapid relations with Israel, cut off relations that pushes Benjamin Netanyahu to put pressure on his minister to refrain from moving to the ‘stock. He doesn’t succeed all the time, he may not want to succeed all the time, but that puts new pressure on Israel. Without her, I think the extremist elements of this government would be much more strong than they are today.

From a more general point of view, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, once a central question of international relations, seems to have been relegated to the status of a simple regional conflict. Do you share this observation? Did this downgrading facilitate the conclusion of the Abraham Accords?

Today, when the international community observes the world, it sees far greater threats: the war in Ukraine, the rise of China, the Iranian nuclear threat – not to mention the situations in Yemen, Syria and Libya. In terms of risks, the Israeli-Palestinian question which concerns us has therefore been eclipsed by other conflicts. In the 1990s and into the early 2000s, there was a sense of opportunity, the idea that if you invest politically in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, you can get results. Today, there is no longer this possibility: Westerners and regional players have understood that the Palestinians are too weak to conclude an agreement, and that the Israelis are not interested in this prospect. Political leaders are therefore looking for opportunities elsewhere, and that is why the Abraham Accords are popular. If you are a leader, would you commit to something that will fail? So yes, the world has moved on. And it is ultimately up to Palestinians and Israelis to convince the world to recommit to this issue. Paradoxically, the extremist and sometimes racist policies of the current Israeli government attract attention and provoke a lot of international reactions. It is almost unprecedented that the Israeli ambassador is summoned to the State Department in Washingtonas it was recently. Even Israel’s new allies, like the United Arab Emirates, find themselves constantly criticizing it. It is one thing to ignore this conflict, but if the situation escalates, especially on the side of Jerusalem, it can have repercussions on the Arab world and the Muslim world. So it’s a reminder that this issue can’t be completely ignored.

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