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Noura Erakat: Trump’s Bahrain-UAE-Israel Deal Won’t Advance Palestinian Peace & Will Up Repression

StorySeptember 16, 2020
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As the Trump administration celebrates deals establishing diplomatic ties between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, we speak with Palestinian American legal scholar Noura Erakat, who says Trump’s “peace” agreements are a sham. “This is not about advancing any kind of meaningful, enduring peace, but instead about entrenching a geopolitical alliance that would otherwise increase oppression for people of the Middle East,” says Erakat, assistant professor at Rutgers University and author of “Justice for Some: Law and the Question of Palestine.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! The Quarantine Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

Israel signed a U.S.-brokered deal to normalize relations with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. They’re the first Arab countries to normalize relations with Israel in over a quarter of a century. President Trump presided over the White House ceremony with the three countries on Tuesday.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: This is peace in the Middle East without blood all over the sand. I say it. Right now it’s been blood all over the sand for — for decades and decades and decades. That’s all they do, is they fight and kill people, and nobody gets anything.

AMY GOODMAN: After Trump spoke with reporters in the Oval Office alongside Netanyahu, he spoke to a crowd of several hundred people on the White House lawn, most of them sitting in close proximity without face masks. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu joined Trump for the ceremony.

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: This day is a pivot of history. It heralds a new dawn of peace. For thousands of years, the Jewish people have prayed for peace. For decades, the Jewish state has prayed for peace. And this is why today we are filled with such profound gratitude.

AMY GOODMAN: Neither Netanyahu nor Trump mentioned the Palestinians in their remarks. Earlier in the day, Palestinian activists in the West Bank and Gaza protested the agreements. The foreign ministers of Bahrain and the UAE also spoke at the ceremony. Emirati Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed also spoke.

For more, we’re joined by Noura Erakat, Palestinian human rights attorney, legal scholar, assistant professor at Rutgers University, author of Justice for Some: Law and the Question of Palestine, her new piece for NBC News headlined “Trump 'peace' deals for Israel, UAE and Bahrain are shams. They boost oppression, not amity.”

Welcome back to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us, Noura. If you can talk about — I mean, yesterday the word “historic” was repeated over and over again by the Gulf state foreign ministers, as well as Trump and Netanyahu. You have very different feelings about this agreement.

NOURA ERAKAT: I do. I think — thank you for having me, Amy. I think this is really important to — you know, it’s a reminder for us that Palestine does not exist in isolation but is part of the Middle East, is part of an entire region. And what we’re seeing in these agreements is basically the U.S. expanding and entrenching its sphere of influence within the Middle East by aligning explicitly its relationship with Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

There has been no war between these countries. There were no hostilities. The reason that the Emirates and Bahrain have withheld normalizing their relationship with Israel was merely to withhold a carrot that would otherwise incentivize Israel to make enduring concessions to the Palestinians for their Palestinian national rights. Given that Israel is the only nuclear superpower in the Middle East, as well as the 11th most powerful military in the world, against a Palestinian people without an army or an airport, these kinds of carrots and incentives are otherwise necessary.

The fact that they have now offered this carrot without any meaningful concession to the Palestinians, even slightly easing the blockade on Gaza, should indicate to us that this is not about advancing any kind of meaningful, enduring peace, but instead about entrenching a geopolitical alliance that would otherwise increase oppression for people of the Middle East, in Bahrain, in the Emirates, in Yemen and in Palestine, who are struggling for freedom and democracy and are now facing off against powers who are backed by the United States militarily and also offered impunity within international fora, like the Security Council.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Noura, I’m wondering — there’s so much attention has been placed on these agreements, and yet both the Emirates and Bahrain, to some extent, there might be real questions as to whether they even represent their own — the leaders represent their own populations. I mean, the UAE, nine out of 10 people who live in the UAE aren’t even Emiratis. They are largely South Asians, Bangladeshis, Pakistanis, Filipinos, who have been brought in as migrant workers and now are the nine-tenths of the population. Likewise in Bahrain, something like 40%, 45% of the population is not — are not natives of the country. So, these are basically countries that didn’t even exist independently when Israel occupied the West Bank. They gained their independence from England in 1971. So, to what degree are they representative of the rest of the Arab world?

NOURA ERAKAT: You’re rightly highlighting the lack of democratic representation and leadership. It is why we have seen the Arab street rise up, in what’s been known as the Arab uprising, across the Arab world. And we’ve now seen, obviously, the counterrevolutionary trend against them backed by the United States.

In response to those who like to mythologize and pathologize Arabs as not ready for democracy or unable to govern themselves, this actually helps reveal the truth, which is that democracy — people, people governing themselves — is suppressed because of outside forces like the United States, who are supporting regimes who are more indebted to them, and more accountable to those regimes who are providing it with aid or who are providing it with some sort of military protection, rather than accountability to their base.

The fact that in Bahrain, what we have seen in recent years — and we saw any uprising in 2011 of the population demanding — demanding an elected parliament, demanding a new constitution. And they were met with lethal force, after which they began demanding the fall of the Al Khalifa monarchy. It was Saudi Arabia and the UAE that supported them in suppressing those democracy protests. We are now seeing Bahrain continue their trend to suppress the protests by now having the support of the United States to protect them from any kind of international accountability, and on the ground with brute military force. They have a lot in common with Israel.

And what this should reveal to us is not a peace, but a deal that brings together these forces who are aligned in suppressing populations, in suppressing movements for freedom and democracy, and should make more clear to us why Palestinians and the rest of the Arab world are actually sharing in a singular fate. Palestine does not exist in a vacuum. It is why Palestinians have understood that the road to Jerusalem or the pathway to freedom flows through other Arab capitals. And that is as true today as it has been historically.

AMY GOODMAN: This is the UAE foreign minister, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed.

SHEIKH ABDULLAH BIN ZAYED: [translated] I stand here today to extend a hand of peace and receive a hand of peace. In our faith, we say, “Oh, God, you are peace, and from you comes peace.” The search for peace is an innate principle, yet principles are effectively realized when they are transformed into action. Today we are already witnessing a change in the heart of the Middle East, a change that will send hope around the world.

AMY GOODMAN: The foreign minister of UAE was speaking in Arabic with English translation over him. Bahrain’s foreign minister, Abdullatif al-Zayani, spoke in English.

ABDULLATIF AL-ZAYANI: Today’s agreement is an important first step. And it is now incumbent on us to work urgently and actively to bring about the lasting peace and security our peoples deserve. A just, comprehensive and enduring two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict will be the foundation, the bedrock of such peace.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Noura Erakat, President Trump says he thinks at least five other countries are going to sign on. And there’s a lot of speculation about what they will get, Bahrain being Saudi Arabia’s toe in the water here, testing the waters. You have Sudan, and the question is: Would the U.S. take Sudan off the terror list in exchange for Sudan signing on? Morocco, the possibility, some speculation, that the U.S. would be the first in the world to recognize Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara. And, of course, we know the UAE, Jared Kushner also admitting making a deal to give them F-37s [sic], something they haven’t been able to get for years from the United States, the U.S. weaponry, the jets. Your thoughts?

NOURA ERAKAT: I think you’re highlighting what’s true. Instead of discussing this as a peace process, instead what’s happening with these countries is that they’re entering into agreements that are brokered by global superpower in order to advance and achieve their own political interests, whether it be to normalize occupation in the Western Sahara, whether it be to normalize their oppression over their populations, their own populations.

What is clear is that none of it has to do with advancing peace, none of it has to do with Palestinians. The reason that Arab states have withheld normalization, as I’ve mentioned, is in order to provide an incentive to Israel to recognize and concede to some Palestinian national rights. Bahrain is now the fourth Arab country to normalize relationships. It now includes Egypt, Jordan, the UAE and Bahrain. None of these agreements have ensured a single enduring concession on behalf of Palestinian national rights, not the easing of the blockade, not the end of the occupation, not even the lifting of the apartheid wall. There have been no concessions.

And so, what’s been dutifully and deliberately left off out of this picture is the fact that the only peace that is necessary is that between Israel and the Palestinians who they occupy, over whom they maintain an apartheid regime. There are no hostilities with these other countries, and yet that is being framed as peace for us in order to obscure this reality of state oppression and ongoing violence.

AMY GOODMAN: I meant F-35s, not F-37s, that UAE are going to get. It’s also the anniversary, 1993, of the Oslo Accords. And the significance of this, Noura Erakat?

NOURA ERAKAT: Again, this is an opportunity to revisit that history. The 1993 Declaration of Principles never promised a Palestinian state. There was no promise for a two-state solution, and that needs to be clear. Israel has been a state since 1948 and has been recognized by Palestinians as a state in 1988 and again in 1993. There is nothing in the Declaration of Principles that even promises that the outcome of it will lead to an independent Palestinian state, and yet that is what has been sold to us. Instead, this is an autonomy agreement for permanent, derivative sovereignty, whereby Palestinians can live in Bantustans and reservations with the blessing of Israel, but never as a people, never with national independence. The 1993 Declaration of Principles, Oslo, in my eyes, has been dead since the besiegement of Yasser Arafat in the presidential compound in Ramallah in 2001 and his death in 2002. And yet we continue on with the farce of the peace process now into 2020.

And the responsibility for that lies squarely on the official Palestinian leadership. This is a moment of accountability. Unless the Palestinian leadership can look at this record and account for where they failed to take opportunities, what junctures they did not turn on, what moments they did not reassess this failed strategy, there is no moving forward with them in any kind of capacity as representative of the Palestinian people. If nothing else, this is a moment of reckoning, to understand and to deliberate about a radical rethinking about the Palestinian movement for freedom.

And Palestinians, the world over, have been doing that work as they overcome and surmount diplomatic intransigence to advance the Palestinian cause for freedom through campaigns like Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, which has, in effect, kept the Palestinian struggle alive, created new alliances across the globe. It’s why we see solidarity protests in Pretoria, South Africa. It’s why we see now members of Congress who are standing up to explain that this is not about democracy, peace and freedom. That’s precisely because there has been a shadow Palestinian movement in place of the Palestinian official leadership. And hopefully we’ll see more of that as we move along, where the base is mobilizing the top.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Noura, I wanted to ask you — we have just about a minute left. But what about this claim of the United Arab Emirates that this deal was part of an — the agreement was part of an exchange for Israel suspending plans to annex large swaths of the occupied West Bank? What’s your reaction to that claim?

NOURA ERAKAT: I think that’s a joke. I think that’s an absolute joke. It was because of the international reaction to Israel’s annexation plans that they did not find it in their interest. We also saw a tremendous amount of opposition from U.S. Congress. And, in fact, for Israel, this, it’s more of the same, because they already exercise de facto annexation over those lands. What would have advanced and would have changed for Israelis is the fact that Netanyahu would have been playing to his right-wing base that he was able to secure annexation during his tenure.

But the reality on the ground isn’t changed. This doesn’t avert the takeover of those lands. If the UAE actually wanted to make a meaningful concession for Palestinians, it would have been withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Jordan Valley, at the very least, which is only 30% of the West Bank, let alone withdrawal from the entire Occupied Territories, and, in fact, the right of return for Palestinian refugees. This leaves so much for want. And all of it is doublespeak and mirrors and shadows, when they say that there are any meaningful concessions. We’ll probably see Israel advance their interests and actually enact de jure annexation notwithstanding this agreement.

AMY GOODMAN: Noura Erakat, we want to thank you so much for being with us, Palestinian human rights attorney and legal scholar. We’ll link to her piece, “Trump 'peace' deals for Israel, UAE and Bahrain are shams.” I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

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