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


Palestinian human rights activist and former diplomat Gait al-Omari, a prominent advocate of the two-state solution and negotiations with Israel, gave a lengthy interview to FRANCE 24 during a recent visit to Paris. In this latest three-part series, he discussed the Abraham Accords, which saw the settlement of diplomatic relations between Israel and several Arab countries.

Ghait al-Omari has long been a key player in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, acting as a Palestinian negotiator in 2000. At the Camp David summit, which was convened by then US President Bill Clinton and again in 2001. At the Taba summit in Egypt. He was an advisor to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas until 2006. With the peace process on hold since 2014, he now works as a senior fellow at the Washington Institute’s Irwin Levy Family Program on US-Israel Strategic Relations.

Al-Omari was in Paris two weeks ago to present the Whispers in Gaza project, a series of animated short films based on the testimonies of Palestinians living in Gaza, at the French National Assembly.

Former Palestinian negotiator Ghait al-Omari pictured on March 22, 2023 in Paris.
Former Palestinian negotiator Ghait al-Omari pictured on March 22, 2023 in Paris. © Marc Daou, FRANCE 24

After talking about the political situation in the occupied West Bank under the uninterrupted rule of 87-year-old Abbas and the desperation of Palestinian youth, in the first two of this three-part interview series, Al-Omari discusses the Abraham Accords through mediation. by the USA and was signed in 2020.

While the Palestinian issue remains popular among the Arab people, the signatories of the Agreement ushered in a new era for the region. Has this come at the expense of the Palestinian people?

I do not believe that the signatories of the agreement have turned their backs on the Palestinians. We are witnessing a new way of doing politics in the Middle East, centered in the Gulf. The Arab countries taking this new approach did so in pursuit of their national interests, and they have the right to do so. I think the Palestinian leaders do not realize that the region is changing, they still live in the past, they still think that the days of Gamal Abdel Nasser. [the former Egyptian president who championed pan-Arabism] will be back. They won’t. Those good old ideologies like Pan-Arabism, Pan-Islamism and Nasserism are slowly disappearing and no longer dominate (the region).

This is the reality. And in this regard, the Palestinians must ask themselves whether they can benefit from a new order when everyone is focused on maximizing their own interests, or whether they are going to remain on the sidelines and watch history pass them by. I believe that there is a way for the Palestinians to benefit from the situation. As a former Palestinian negotiator, I can tell you that when we needed to put effective pressure on the Israeli government, we called Washington first, or course, and then Amman and Cairo. Why? Because Arab countries that maintain diplomatic relations with Israel have leverage to put pressure on the nation’s leaders. And now other Arab countries also have leverage. Let’s not forget that the United Arab Emirates signed the Abraham Agreement, under the condition that the Israeli government stops the annexation of the Palestinian territories. So, in a way, they have already caught up with the Palestinians. Palestinian leaders now have a choice to meet with the leaders of these countries to express their respect for the decision to establish formal ties with Israel and to look for ways to benefit from the situation, or to do what they are doing now, which condemns the new order and refuse to engage.

How can the Palestinians benefit from the Agreement?

If they decide to get involved, they will get strong political support from Arab countries. As we recently saw, the United Arab Emirates was willing to sponsor a UN Security Council resolution in support of the Palestinians in their fight against Israeli settlement building and expansion. Beyond political support, there are also opportunities for economic benefits. Here is an example. Two years ago, Israel, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates signed an agreement to address each other’s shortcomings. Jordan is a regional leader in clean energy production thanks to solar power plants, but remains one of the world’s most water-depleted countries. The deal then included the construction of solar power plants in Jordan and desalination plants in Israel [editor’s note: Israel is a world leader in water desalination but is lacking in energy, particularly in the south of the country], exchanging solar energy and water to meet the needs of both countries. At the same time, the United Arab Emirates financed the project, knowing full well that they would make a profit on any surplus sold. It’s a win-win situation. The Palestinians would be a perfect candidate for such a deal, as there are many ideas for projects like these that they could participate in. There is much to gain, but they must choose to join. The region is changing and the Abrahamic covenants are here to stay. And we can see that despite the tensions between the Israeli government and its Arab partners, they continue to develop economic and security ties.

As for the current state of Israeli politics, are the Accords helping to rein in the most right-wing Israeli government in history?

At the end of the day, there will be Israeli considerations first of all internal politics, like all the countries of the world. However, with the countries of the Abrahamic Pact today, Israel must think carefully before taking certain actions. I can even tell you that according to an official Israeli source, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israeli diplomatic offices, as well as the Israeli intelligence community, are very sensitive to criticism from the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco. They almost got used to the criticism of Egypt and Jordan. don’t take it that seriously. But because of the popularity of the Abraham Accords in Israel, when these new partners to criticize, the Israelis are listening. So it creates back pressure. We know, for example, that Benjamin Netanyahu held back his national security minister, Itamar Ben Gvir, when the latter wanted to take more; provocative steps In Jerusalem. It is the Prime Minister’s fear of the United Arab Emirates, which has quickly developed strong ties with Israel, severing ties, that makes him really pressure his minister to refrain from these provocative actions. He doesn’t always succeed, maybe he doesn’t always want to succeed, but Israel finds itself under new pressure, without which the extremist elements of this government will be much stronger and much more determined.

From a broader perspective, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, once at the center of international relations, seems to have shifted to a regional issue. Do you agree? Has this contributed to reconciliation between the signatories of the agreement and Israel?

Nowadays, the international community considers some issues much more important, such as the war in Ukraine, the expansion of China’s power, the nuclear threats of Iran, not to mention the various crises in Yemen, Syria and Libya. In terms of immediate risks, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has thus been overshadowed by much riskier conflicts. At one point, from the 90s to the early 2000s, there was a sense of possibility, the idea that if you invested politically in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, you could get results. There is no sense of possibility today. The Western world and regional players have realized that the Palestinians are too weak to make a deal, and the Israelis are not interested in such a deal anyway. Political leaders therefore look elsewhere for opportunity, and this is why Abraham Accords are so popular. If you were a leader, would you want to do something that would fail? However, the world has moved on. Ultimately, it is up to the Palestinians and Israelis to recapture the world’s attention on their conflict. Ironically, the extremist and sometimes racist policies of Israel’s current government attract a lot of attention and have caused many reactions at the international level. Recently, the summoning of the Israeli ambassador to the US State Department in Washington was almost unprecedented. Even Israel’s new allies, such as the United Arab Emirates, have increasingly criticized the nation. It is one thing to ignore this conflict, but if there is a collapse, especially around Jerusalem, it could have a ripple effect throughout the Arab world, the entire Islamic world. So this is a reminder that the problem cannot be completely ignored.

This article was adapted from the original in French.

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