The Palestinians won’t like the Emirate decision. To them, it will give Israel the benefits of peace without having to end its occupation. While this is certainly true, normalization should also signal to Palestinians that others are not going to wait for them. Focusing only on their grievances, their narrative and their posture of never initiating or offering counterproposals to negotiations will continue to weaken their position. With covid-19 wreaking havoc throughout the region, the desire to benefit from working with the Israelis on a wide range of needs, including health care, tech, water access and cyber security, will only increase.
But no matter the underlying motives, this normalization nevertheless represents an important contribution to peace-building between Arabs and Israelis. It stopped Israeli annexation, which would have likely ended the hope for two states. It also crosses a threshold, effectively saying “enough of tradition, habit and inbred hostility — we will make peace because it serves our interests, and others can choose to accept or reject it.” (Others may not follow immediately, but the barriers to normalization have been eroded.) Arabs states can build on this agreement and support Palestinians by making it clear that they will follow suit if Israel curtails its settlement activity and expands the territory in which Palestinians can exercise authority. But Palestinian leaders should also be mindful that if the Israelis take positive steps and they don’t respond, Arab leaders might still proceed with normalizing moves.