As concerned citizens of Israel who are committed to working towards a solution to the seemingly intractable Palestine-Israel conflict, we read the op-ed published in a leading Israeli newspaper by Yousef Al Otaiba, the UAE ambassador to the United States, with great appreciation and gratitude.
The ambassador’s appeal to the Israeli public, in which he explained that the current government’s plans for annexation could jeopardise Israel’s ties with Arab states, marks a step toward the UAE’s increased participation and leadership in efforts to reach a solution that will allow both Palestinians and Israelis to live side by side in dignity and peace.
Mr Al Otaiba’s statement demonstrates a sincere intention to stand up to the current Israeli government’s steps toward apartheid, as well as the Emirati people’s concern for their Palestinian neighbours. It also reflects a tolerant, progressive and justice-oriented approach to regional security and stability. Israelis should be aware that a unilateral move by our government would not be received favourably by leaders in the Arab world. It could stop any dialogue dead in its tracks.
Mr Al Otaiba wrote about the possibility of developing economic, cultural and political co-operation between his nation and Israel – a dream come true for many Israelis looking to break our country’s isolation in the region. The UAE and the rest of the GCC countries have amazing opportunities to offer us as a nation. However, in order for those to be realised, Israel must, as the ambassador said, abandon its “misguided provocation” and prove itself worthy of the region’s friendship by demonstrating respect for the rights of the Palestinians and actively seeking a negotiated end to the conflict.
We would like to build upon the Emirati ambassador’s statement and assert that the Israeli government’s proposed annexation is merely another step in the oppressive, illegal and violent occupation of the Palestinian people and territory that has been ongoing for more than half a century.
The current challenge is not one of either “annexation or normalisation,” as the latter should come only as an outcome of a settlement to the conflict that brings the occupation to an end as a result of peace negotiations and ensures the rights of all Palestinians. It is important to recall that the occupation and expansion of settlements contravene all UN resolutions on the conflict, particularly UN Security Council Resolution 2334. They also constitute de facto annexation, which is as unjust, oppressive and heedless of international law as de jure annexation. As such, we would like to emphasise the necessity of prohibiting unilateral annexation as part of a comprehensive struggle to end the occupation, and to grant Palestinians their inalienable right to self-determination.
Indeed, we applaud the ambassador’s ingenuity and initiative in reaching out to us and taking the first step toward an inclusive, regional discussion about the occupation that engages with the Israeli public as a central actor.
It is we – Israelis living the reality of this conflict – who ultimately have the ability to be agents of change by protesting unilateral steps, such as the annexation of the West Bank, and by lobbying our elected officials to resume negotiations. Therefore, we encourage such statements and efforts by Arab leaders to engage the Israeli public and to demonstrate the potential gains and opportunities involved in diplomatic, economic, social and cultural ties as an incentive for reaching a fair agreement with the Palestinians. Speaking out in this way serves to set the record straight about the nuanced position of the Arab states, about which the Israeli public has been actively misled by its Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, for years.
In turn, we would like to address the Emirati public and thank you for your interest in our small, yet innovative nation, and demonstrate our appreciation for your refusal to allow the conversation with Israel to come at the expense of your Palestinian neighbours. We encourage your participation in and support for the peacebuilding efforts being pursued by many Israelis, both through official channels and on the ground level.
We look forward to a future of mutual co-operation following the establishment of a viable, sovereign, and flourishing State of Palestine alongside Israel.
While improved dialogue with the Arab world does indeed present a multitude of prospects for co-operation and mutual benefit, we believe that at this juncture, communication, relations and joint initiatives between Israeli and Arab official entities should prioritise reaching a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and we thank Mr Al Otaiba for his leadership in initiating this discourse.
We encourage the creation of a regional coalition that incorporates leaders from Palestine, Israel and the Arab states to co-operate in the pursuit of a just and negotiated end to the conflict, which has sown immeasurable misery and taken a heavy toll in human life. We consider this a necessary step in facilitating an interconnected region that strives for collective progress, opportunities and prosperity.
Dr Alon Liel is the former director-general of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and former Israeli ambassador to South Africa
Professor Eli Barnavi is Israel’s former ambassador to France
Ilan Baruch is Israel’s former ambassador to South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe