Photo: U.S. Embassy Jerusalem/Wikimedia Commons
Israel has recently negotiated peace deals to normalize relations with several Arab nations, including the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan. Resolutions in both houses of Congress supporting the deals with the UAE and Bahrain had widespread bipartisan support, and the deals are a crucial step towards a widespread acceptance of Israel’s existence by its neighbors. U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman has even said that the accords can “change things in the Middle East for the next 100 years.”
Contrast this with Noura Erakat, a professor at Rutgers and formerly at Mason, who wrote in an article for NBC News that the agreements are a “charade” and perpetuate “oppression.”
Professor Erakat surmises that the true motive of the recent peace deals is to provide “the military, financial and diplomatic infrastructure to further repress popular struggles for democracy and freedom in the Middle East,” but this is baseless. In reality, the agreements are meant to cement Israel’s place in the Middle Eastern family of nations. Since the Jewish state’s creation in 1948, it has been regionally isolated, with most Muslim-majority countries refusing diplomatic relations. Only in 1978, after decades of hostility and war, did the first Arab country, Egypt, normalize relations with Israel. The Camp David Accords between Israel and Egypt recognized the sovereignty of each respective state and promised de-escalation.
While these agreements did have breakthroughs in recognizing the existence of Israel, they fell short of addressing antisemitism in both countries. For instance, Egyptian television stations have broadcast antisemitic programs regularly. Similarly, Jordanian textbooks do not even acknowledge the peace treaty, and the government has refused to extradite terrorist Ahlam Tamimi, who killed 15 Israelis and an American. With this historical backdrop, the recent accords’ commitment to a cultural peace that promotes religious tolerance and coexistence between the two nations is significant. In this sense, the accords’ focus on “social, educational and cultural measures” should actually decrease oppression in the Middle East.
Erakat writes that the deals “did not secure a single lasting concession for Palestinians.” But why would they? The suggestion that Arab states should broker “concessions” on behalf of the Palestinians seems contrary to the ideals of self-determination and “national rights” that Erakat proclaims. In fact, Palestinian Arab leaders have a long history of rejectionism, and both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority have rejected the recent peace deals. Their rejection only fits into the trend of their history: Hamas’ 1988 Charter forbids any peace initative with Israel and the Palestinian Authority initiated a negotiating freeze the last time Israel tried compromising with them. So, holding Israel and their new Arab allies to a standard that the Palestinian Arab leaders won’t even meet is clearly hypocritical. To treat Palestinians as passive, helpless subjects in the larger scheme of Middle Eastern geopolitics infantilizes them. Instead, Palestinians should negotiate with other nations on their own accord, not cry foul when Israel makes a deal without them.
Noura Erakat’s reading of the recent peace deals with Israel as an imperialist scheme misses the true goals of the agreements: peace, stability and coexistence. A professor, who wields influence over her students, shouldn’t be so nonchalant in misinforming her audience and distorting the reality of the peace accords. When analyzed in its proper context, it should be clear that these treaties are a significant step to seeing more peace in the Middle East.
Originally published in Fourth Estate.
Contributed by 2020-2021 George Mason University CAMERA Fellow Sean Culley.