Peace without justice: Why Israel’s left supports Netanyahu’s Gulf agreements

Orly Noy

Middle East Eye  /  September 23, 2020

Without historical courage and lacking a strong ethical backbone, the Zionist left applauds the dangerous agreements offered by the most right-wing government Israel has ever had.

If we needed additional proof of the inbuilt inability of the Zionist Left in Israel to analyse political situations correctly and respond accordingly, such was given to us when the leaders of this camp hastened to bestow their blessings on the “peace agreements” between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and subsequently with Bahrain. 

Meretz faction leader Tamar Zandberg announced that she “applauds the decision to abandon annexation and instead move on to an agreement with an important Arab country.” Peace Now declared that “the agreement with the UAE is an appropriate step in the right direction”. 

Meretz party chairman Nitzan Horowitz said that “the establishment of relations with the UAE proves that cancelling the annexation and [pursuing] a two-state solution is the way to regional normalization.”

The New Israel Fund described it as an important development. Even Gideon Levy, usually the most critical and precise of journalists, applauded the step: “Any attempt by Israel to be accepted by non-violent means in the neighborhood that it stomped into about a century ago is a positive development.”

A sad joke

Busy bestowing its blessings, the Jewish Israeli left was utterly tone deaf to the piercingly critical Palestinian response, from every quarter, to the accord. This, in and of itself, should have been a flashing red light.

But irrespective of the firm Palestinian opposition, the problematic nature of the Israeli left’s position would have been evident – had anyone bothered to ask themselves what these agreements were really all about, what was motivating the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to sign them, whom they were designed to serve and what they were supposed to accomplish.

Normalisation? What a sad joke.

Just look at the peace agreements Israel has signed with Egypt and Jordan to understand exactly how “normalised” Israel is today in the eyes of the citizens of those countries. Not only have Egyptian and Jordanian tourists never been seen on the streets of Israel, the accords have done nothing whatsoever to soften the way ordinary Egyptians and Jordanians see Israel – as a brutal occupier.

Not long after the new accords were published, the people of Bahrain were already protesting angrily against any normalisation with Israel. Whereas Israel’s agreements with Egypt and Jordan – at least – led to an era of non-war with two of its neighbours and settled long-standing border disputes, the agreement with the UAE and Bahrain lacks even that sort of significance. What conflict exactly do these agreements resolve?

When did we fear a war with the UAE? Which of our borders is now more secure? Israel has no common border with the UAE or Bahrain.

Circumventing the Palestinian question

The sad, discouraging fact is that the Jewish left in Israel hastened to embrace an agreement the main goal of which, alongside opening another market for Israel’s arms industries, is to circumvent the Palestinian question and gain regional legitimacy while continuing to perpetuate the occupation, abuse and dispossession of the Palestinian people.

The left’s argument that an agreement with the UAE and Bahrain “took the annexation option off the table” is embarrassingly infantile. Annexation from the outset was an idle threat designed to provide Israel with precisely this kind of room to manoeuvre.

One would have to be naive indeed to think that relations with the UAE or Bahrain could eliminate annexation from the agenda. After all, Netanyahu and his absolute right-wing rule have been in place for over a decade now. If he really wanted annexation, annexation would have happened long ago.

But as the de facto annexation intensifies daily while exacting no real cost to Israel either locally or internationally, Netanyahu has no interest in triggering world public opinion via a de jure annexation. 

Instead, he reaps political capital with this hollow threat while the appalling folly of the left provides the wind beneath his wings. Contrary to what the left is claiming, not only do these agreements do nothing whatsoever to resolve the conflict with the Palestinians; worse, they reinforce the old right-wing slogan: you can get peace for peace, you don’t need to pay for peace by returning land.

The ‘peace’ ethos

How then are we to explain the Israeli Jewish left’s support for such an unrealistic and harmful agreement?

It has much to do with the “peace” ethos embraced so proudly by the Israeli left as the Israeli peace camp. I think it is not by chance that the Zionist left has chosen to make “peace” its emblem, rather than the idea of justice.

This is actually one of the greatest deceptions ever on the part of what is known as the Zionist left: converting the demand for justice into vague dreams of peace. Not that peace is not an important value; on the contrary. Countries, like people, certainly should aspire to peace. But when peace becomes a route to bypass justice, not only is justice crushed, peace is not really achieved either.

The reason that the Zionist left in Israel prefers to talk more about peace and less about justice has to do with the Zionism part. Zionism can offer hollow peace agreements but cannot offer any sort of justice, because by its nature it aspires to preserve and amplify Jewish superiority and the privileges that go with it. 

Thus, this imaginary left was able to force upon the Palestinians at Oslo a “peace agreement” designed to perpetuate Palestinian inferiority vis-a-vis Israel (and even the little that Oslo promised the Palestinians, Israel did not implement) – but Israel carefully refrained from any mention of historical justice so as not to introduce the Pandora’s box of inherent injustice that is the Nakba.

Today, without historical courage and lacking a sufficiently strong ethical backbone, a gradually disappearing left applauds the manipulative and dangerous agreements offered by the prime minister of the most right-wing government Israel has ever had. 

Orly Noy is a journalist and a political activist based in Jerusalem.