Originally published in Haaretz.
American Jewish groups are split on what the signing of the “Abraham Accords” between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain on Tuesday will mean for prospects of peace with the Palestinians.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signed a peace treaty with the UAE and a declaration of peace with Bahrain in an official ceremony on White House south lawn. The ceremony was overseen by U.S. President Donald Trump, who brokered the agreements.
“Today’s ceremony sends a clear message that it’s a new era for Israeli-Arab relations,” the American Israel Public Affairs Committee wrote in a statement. The lobbying group added that it hopes “the Palestinian leadership will follow this inspiring example to bring conflicts in the region to an end.”
The Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish American Organizations also welcomed the accords and said they represent an opportunity for peace with the Palestinians. “As the consensus for peace expands, the Palestinians will find themselves standing alone in their opposition to the Jewish State,” the group wrote in a statement. “Real possibilities for a true and lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians are at hand.”
“We hope the winds of change will be felt by the Palestinian Authority,” the statement added.
The accords show “how courageous and visionary leadership can bring real change towards peace,” said American Jewish Congress President Jack Rosen. “Many years of failure showed the world that the corrupt Palestinian leadership exploited the conflict with Israel for personal gain on the back of the Palestinian people,” Rosen said. “But the shackles have finally been removed.”
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The Union for Reform Judaism reacted to the signing of the accords by saying that “while it solves few of the complex issues at the heart of a future comprehensive Middle East peace agreement, it still signals an important shift that we pray will lead to many more significant shifts toward peace.”
“In the coming months we hope Israelis and Palestinians can directly engage in the hardest and most critical discussions that will move the region forward towards the future we desperately need,” the URJ statement said.
But some Jewish groups said Tuesday’s signing could distract from the need to achieve peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
While J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami said the signing is “good news for all who wish to see a stable and prosperous Israel living in peace and security alongside all of its regional neighbors,” he noted that it should not be a substitute for diplomacy with the Palestinians.
“Comprehensive peace between Israel and its neighbors in the Arab world will only be achieved through an agreement that resolves the issues at the core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and leads to the establishment of a viable and independent Palestinian state alongside Israel,” he said.
Anti-occupation group IfNotNow said the signing of the accords is “simply Trump and Netanyahu’s latest sleight of hand, which once again seeks to distract from their catastrophic failures in leadership.”
“Once again, Palestinians, who are not mentioned in the treaty and won’t be present at the signing, are treated as political pawns and excluded from decision making about their own future,” the group wrote.
The New Israel Fund added that while “peace agreements are always to be celebrated,” the accords still fail to resolve the choice that Israelis must make between ending the occupation or continuing “to maintain an unjust, dual legal system where Palestinians are both separate and unequal.”
“With this agreement Prime Minister Netanyahu is attempting to sidestep this choice,” the group wrote. “But those of us who care about a democratic future for both Israelis and Palestinians know that no deal between Israel and the UAE can obscure this choice and no Israeli government will escape it.”
“Equality matters, Palestinians matter,” NIF added.
Members of the U.S. Senate, some of whom were present at the ceremony on Tuesday, largely welcomed the accords. On the Republican side, Sen. Jim Risch of Idaho tweeted from the White House that the agreements “chart a path to a more stable and peaceful future.” Sen. Mitt Romney also applauded the Trump administration for “hard-won efforts in facilitating these historic peace agreements with both the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.” Romney added the agreements “advance the cause of peace and prosperity in the region.”
“I’ve long said that advancing the cause of peace is best achieved by standing unshakably with our friends and allies,” Sen. Ted Cruz wrote on Twitter. “The Trump administration deserves enormous credit for bringing them together diplomatically.”
Among Democrats, some, such as Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren remained silent on the issue while others praised the move as historic. When the announcement of the normalization of ties between Israel and the UAE was first made in August, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California said, “these breakthroughs will promote stability through increased integration, paving the way for a more peaceful Middle East.”
Presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden had also praised the agreements as “a historic step to bridge the deep divides of the Middle East,” as reported in The Hill. “The coming together of Israel and Arab states builds on the efforts of multiple administrations to foster a broader Arab-Israeli opening, including the efforts of the Obama-Biden administration to build on the Arab Peace Initiative,” he said.
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