In a deal brokered by the United States, Israel and the United Arab Emirates have agreed to fully normalize relations after years of secretly working together on countering Iran and other issues. Under the deal, Israel has also agreed to temporarily halt plans to annex occupied Palestinian territories in the West Bank, which had already been on hold due to international condemnation. We speak with Rashid Khalidi, the Edward Said professor of modern Arab studies at Columbia University, who says the agreement is being falsely characterized as a peace deal. “I don’t see that it has anything to do with peace,” he says. “On the contrary, it makes the chance of a just, equitable and sustainable peace much, much, much harder.”
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The Quarantine Report. I’m Amy Goodman.
Israel and the United Arab Emirates have reached an agreement to fully normalize relations after years of secretly working together on countering Iran and other issues. Under the deal, Israel has agreed to temporarily suspend plans to annex the West Bank — a move that appeared to have already been on hold due to international condemnation. The UAE is the first Gulf Arab country to normalize relations with Israel and just the third country in the Arab world to do so, after Egypt and Jordan.
President Trump announced the UAE-Israel deal on Thursday in an Oval Office event, flanked by U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, his former bankruptcy lawyer; Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin; and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: By uniting two of America’s closest and most capable partners in the region, something which said could not be done, this deal is a significant step towards building a more peaceful, secure and prosperous Middle East. Now that the ice has been broken, I expect more Arab and Muslim countries will follow the United Arab Emirates’ lead.
AMY GOODMAN: The Palestinian Authority rejected and denounced the trilateral deal and recalled its ambassador to the UAE. Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu admitted Israel may still annex the West Bank.
PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: [translated] There is no change in my plan to apply our sovereignty in Judea and Samaria, in full coordination with the United States. I am committed. It has not changed. I remind you that I am the one who put the issue of sovereignty in Judea and Samaria on the table. This issue continues to remain on the table.
AMY GOODMAN: Critics of the Israeli occupation decried the deal. Democratic Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, the first female Palestinian congresswoman, tweeted, quote, “We won’t be fooled by another Trump/Netanyahu deal. We won’t celebrate Netanyahu for not stealing land he already controls in exchange for a sweetheart business deal. The heart of the issue has never been planned, formal annexation, but ongoing, devastating apartheid,” she said.
Meanwhile, CodePink’s Medea Benjamin warned the deal is aimed at bolstering the, quote, “Israel-US-Gulf alliance against Iran.”
We’re joined now by Rashid Khalidi, the Edward Said professor of modern Arab studies at Columbia University, author of several books, including his latest, The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine.
Professor Khalidi, thanks for joining us. Can you respond to this surprise announcement yesterday?
RASHID KHALIDI: Well, in a sense, it’s another campaign in the hundred years’ war on Palestine. This is a great victory for Arab reaction. It’s a great victory for the annexationist government in Israel. It’s also a boost for President Trump. The Trump regime, which is one of the most authoritarian in American history, has now gotten a diplomatic victory.
So, I don’t see that it has anything to do with peace, of course. The United Arab Emirates was never at war with Israel. On the contrary, it makes the chance of a just, equitable and sustainable peace much, much, much harder.
AMY GOODMAN: So, were you surprised by this announcement? And can you explain how it came about? And then respond to the Palestinian leadership’s denunciation and rejection of the deal.
RASHID KHALIDI: Well, it came about partly because of the blowback against the Trump-Netanyahu plan to overtly annex territories, which, as Rashida Tlaib said, are already under Israeli control, and, as Netanyahu said, he still plans to annex. But the blowback was so severe that both Trump and Netanyahu were forced to recalibrate.
And this is something that has always been ongoing, the plan to bring the most reactionary, most absolute monarchies in the world into an open public alliance with Israel, as part of the Netanyahu-Trump obsession with Iran, which is something that these regimes are also obsessed with, given that they have — they do not depend on consent of the governed, they do not have any kind of domestic legitimacy, they’re anti-democratic. They are the forces that fight against democracy throughout the Arab world. The United Arab Emirates is not a force for peace. It’s at war with the people of Yemen. It’s at war in Libya. It has never been involved in a war with Israel.
So, this is making overt a relationship that was already covert. This is making even more salient an alliance against Iran, which is the wet dream of both Netanyahu and Trump, to dangle Iran in front of people’s eyes to distract them from the kinds of reactionary dictatorships or absolute monarchies. Those monarchies are so reactionary that they make Henry VIII and Louis XIV look like Tom Paine and Robespierre. They are the most — they are the most absolute monarchies in the world today. The fact that the United States is supporting them is an absolute disgrace.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, on Thursday, President Trump was questioned about whether Israel may still annex the West Bank. This is what he said.
REPORTER: The prime minister was pretty clear today at his own press conference that he considers this to be a temporary suspension and that the deal would still be open to him at some point in the future. I’m asking what you think he should do. Should he actually [inaudible]?
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: No, right now all I can say: It’s off the table. So I can’t talk about some time into the future; that’s a big statement. But right now it’s off the table. Is that a correct statement, Mr. Ambassador?
DAVID FRIEDMAN: Yes. The word “suspend” was chosen carefully by all the parties. “Suspend,” by definition — look it up — means “temporary halt.” It’s off the table now, but it’s not off the table permanently.
AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s the U.S. ambassador to Israel on the sidelines of the press conference, David Friedman, the former bankruptcy lawyer for —
RASHID KHALIDI: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: — President Trump. Rashid Khalidi, President Trump had said, “I wanted it to be called the Donald J. Trump Accord.” The national security adviser, Robert O’Brien said President Trump should be the front-runner for the Nobel Peace Prize.
RASHID KHALIDI: Well, as I’ve said, the United Arab Emirates has never been engaged in war with Israel. On the contrary, the United Arab Emirates’ air defenses, its missile defenses, are manufactured in Israel and are probably controlled from Israel. So, this is an ally of Israel in practice. It always has been. Now this has been made public.
Whatever the president and his ambassador to Israel say, I would take Netanyahu at his word. There is no change in his plans. He said it. You ran a clip from him, speaking in Hebrew. They will continue the ongoing colonization of the West Bank. They will continue to control it absolutely. Israel will continue to be the only sovereign between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. And it will continue its discriminatory policies whereby Israelis have one set of laws and Palestinians, under occupation, basically have the law of the jungle, i.e. military occupation, military courts, in which everybody is always guilty and in which about 20% of the Palestinian population has been sent to prison. So, we’re talking about a jackboot regime which is going to be sustained and continued by this deal. That’s not peace. That’s continuation of colonization and occupation, whatever the president says.
AMY GOODMAN: Brian Hook, the State Department’s outgoing special envoy for Iran, also spoke at the White House Thursday.
BRIAN HOOK: Peace between the Arabs and the Israelis is Iran’s worst nightmare. And no one has done more to intensify the conflict between Arabs and Israelis than Iran. And what we see today is a new Middle East. The trend lines are very different today. And we see the future is very much in the Gulf and with Israel. In the past, it was with the Iranian regime.
AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, CodePink’s Medea Benjamin warned the deal is aimed at bolstering the “Israel-US-Gulf alliance against Iran,” Professor Khalidi.
RASHID KHALIDI: Right, right. I’m glad you ran that clip by Brian Hook, because one of the greatest falsehoods that these people peddle is this idea that there is a conflict between the Arabs and Iran. There is a conflict between nonrepresentative, anti-democratic regimes and Iran.
Arab public opinion considers Israel a great danger. There are polls every couple of years, run by the Arab Center, which show that across a dozen Arab countries, the Arabs, the people, most of them unrepresented by these dictatorships and absolute monarchies, consider Iran a minor threat. It’s a problem, but it’s not the number one problem.
For these regimes, which have no domestic legitimacy, which do not depend on consent of the governed, of course Iran is a problem. Moreover, they need the United States and Israel, because they can’t defend themselves, given the fact that — against their people, let alone against external threats, because they have no domestic legitimacy.
So, I think this is not something between the Arabs and Iran. This is something between unrepresentative and undemocratic Arab regimes, notably the absolute monarchies of the Gulf, and Iran.
AMY GOODMAN: Of course, President Trump is feeling somewhat embattled. Former vice president, the presumptive 2020 Democratic presidential nominee, Joe Biden responded to his Middle East deal saying in a statement, quote, “The UAE’s offer to publicly recognize the State of Israel is a welcome, brave, and badly-needed act of statesmanship. … Annexation would be a body blow to the cause of peace, which is why I oppose it now and would oppose it as president.” Can you respond to the Democratic position?
RASHID KHALIDI: Well, I think that the leadership of the Democratic Party, from Biden to Senator Harris to the people who run it, the Schumers and the Pelosis and the Clintons and the Obamas, all of them are behind the times. The Democratic Party, its base, the people who are going to vote for the Democrats and will hopefully defeat Trump in November and take back the Senate and increase the progressive trends in the House, don’t feel that way. They strongly believe that Israel should be sanctioned for its violations of Palestinian human rights. They don’t have the position that the Democratic Party leadership has.
So, a lot of work is going to be necessary to force the leadership to do what the people want — that is to say, its own — the people who will vote them into office, should they win in November. They don’t represent the people that they claim to represent, on this issue at least. And it’s going to require a lot of pressure on these people, who are basically mired in the past positions of the Democratic Party, which were always blind to Israel’s faults and blind to the Palestinians.
This is not new, and it’s unfortunately been further entrenched by Biden and Harris becoming the nominees for the party. There were several other candidates — obviously, Senator Sanders and Senator Warren, but others — who had more nuanced positions, much more in tune with the base of the Democratic Party on this issue, on the issue of Palestine. So, a lot of work is going to be necessary to force a leadership, that is, as I’ve said, completely blind to Israel’s faults and doesn’t see the Palestinians, to do the right thing.
AMY GOODMAN: In the Gaza Strip, just as this was being announced, Israeli tanks and warplanes attacked Palestinian neighborhoods overnight for the fourth time this week. Israel said the raids were retaliation for incendiary balloons launched by Hamas, one Israeli missile striking a United Nations elementary school in the crowded al-Shati refugee camp but failed to explode, prompting an evacuation. This is a 12-year-old student, Lianne Al-Musawabi.
LIANNE AL-MUSAWABI: [translated] I was shocked. I went home and told my mother what happened, and I was crying, “Why are they hitting the school?”
AMY GOODMAN: Professor Khalidi, do you see a connection between the announcement and what’s happening in Gaza now and the significance of that?
RASHID KHALIDI: Well, Israel has been engaged in what one Israeli once called “mowing the grass,” you know, periodically bombarding Gaza, periodically using overwhelming force against the Palestinians, partly in order to keep the Palestinians divided, which is an Israeli objective, and to keep Hamas off balance.
Israel and Hamas have been engaged in a secret negotiation for the better part of a year, actually more, with the objective of getting a real ceasefire in place, in return for which Israel would lift some of its incredible restrictions on movement and on the transfer of goods into and out of the Gaza Strip. And this is part of that tit-for-tat between the overwhelming force used by Israel and the relatively minor irritation of balloons that burn some crops. So, Israel will bombard with bombs and missiles, and what comes from Gaza is basically minor in comparison.
The importance of it, really, I don’t think, relates to — I don’t think relates to this larger deal involving the Emirates. It is part of a policy of divide and rule that Israel has adopted over a very long period of time, and that Palestinian division helps. So, the Palestinian leaderships in Gaza and the West Bank, that refuse to put the interests of the Palestinian people ahead of their own narrow self-interest, are playing Israel’s game — both of them, regrettably — and deserve to be sanctioned by the Palestinian people for their blindness.
AMY GOODMAN: And you also have both President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu under fierce attack for how they have dealt with the pandemic. Thousands of Israelis have been in the streets protesting Netanyahu. It has one of the worst outbreaks in the world. Do you see a relationship with what’s going on now, with this announcement? And also, how would it play out? Do you see this happening before the U.S. election? And how do you feel people in the U.S. would respond to this?
RASHID KHALIDI: Do I see annexation happening? Is that your question, Amy?
AMY GOODMAN: No. Do you see this deal being signed off on?
RASHID KHALIDI: Oh, the Emirates deal. Oh, yes, absolutely. This is a feather in — Trump sees this as a feather in his cap, as does Netanyahu. Both of them are facing enormous public opposition because of their terrible handling of the pandemic, because of their appalling handling of the economic issues, not to speak of issues of racial discrimination and police brutality in the United States, not to speak of the Palestine question and the oppression of millions and millions of Palestinians by Israel, in the case of Israel. So they both have enormous pressure on them from the street. We have demonstrations in the street; they have demonstrations in the street in Israel.
Both rulers have the kinds of autocratic tendencies — I think they wish they could be Mohammed bin Zayed or Mohammed bin Salman in Saudi Arabia, where they could simply rule by fiat. And the president is moving towards that, trying to move towards that in this country, and Netanyahu has been moving towards that himself. So, they are under enormous pressure from below. And this is a — this is meant by both of them, in terms of domestic public opinion, as a distraction.
AMY GOODMAN: This is from The New York Times, Rashid. Dennis Ross, the former Middle East negotiator for Republican and Democratic administrations, said another lure for the Emiratis was the possibility of obtaining advanced weaponry they’ve long sought, which the United States sells only to countries at peace with Israel to preserve its qualitative military edge in the region. Your thoughts?
RASHID KHALIDI: Well, the United Arab Emirates, as I mentioned, already has a anti-missile defense system, which is manufactured by Raytheon, largely from and in Israel. Obviously, it’s an American company, so they maintain the illusion that they’re buying American equipment. I am sure they would like more of this, but they can already get whatever Israel produces. Now what they hope to get, I assume, is equipment that the United States produces.
So, it is a cozy — it’s a business relationship, as Rashida Tlaib, Congresswoman Tlaib, rightly said. At base, bin Zayed is paying for protection from the local bullies on the block, the United States and Israel, from his own people, from the Arab peoples, and from external enemies. And he needs the weaponry, with which he can defend himself against these external enemies. So, yes, I think that is actually part of the deal. Ross, unusually, is right on this.
AMY GOODMAN: And finally, what do you think a just deal would look like in the Middle East and between the Israelis and the Palestinians?
RASHID KHALIDI: A just deal means equal rights for everybody. A just deal means that national rights have to be accepted for both people. The nation-state law — Israel is a Jewish nation-state — in 2018, said there’s only one people entitled to self-determination in the land of Israel. And that cannot stand. There are two peoples there. Any solution that doesn’t accept that and give them equal rights — what is paraded as a, quote-unquote, “two-state solution” is a one-state solution. One state has sovereignty and control; the other state does not. One state controls movement of everybody in and out; the other so-called state, the Palestinian state, under a so-called two-state solution, would have no control over immigration, import/export, groundwater, airspace — it would not be sovereign. Moreover, Palestinians would be restricted to a tiny fraction of the Occupied Territories, let alone of the entirety of Palestine. This is not just. And the current situation is not sustainable. So, there has to be equality of rights between both people, on every level — religious rights, personal rights, political rights and national rights.
AMY GOODMAN: Rashid Khalidi, we want to thank you so much for being with us, Edward Said professor of modern Arab studies at Columbia University, author of a number of books, his latest, The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine.
When we come back, as calls grow to release people from prison in the United States, especially amidst the pandemic, a new series by filmmaker Messiah Rhodes looks at why breaking the cycle of incarceration is so hard, especially for women, including his own mother. Stay with us.