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Howard Morry


by Rhonda Spivak, Sept 14, 2020

Howard Morry, Co-Chair of the Arab-Jewish Dialogue and a former president of the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg, gave his reaction to the Winnipeg Jewish Review regarding the historic deal reached on Aug. 13 between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) that is set to lead to a full normalization of diplomatic relations between the two countries. According to the joint statement from the U.S., the U.A.E. and Israel, delegations will meet in the coming weeks to sign deals on direct flights, security, telecommunications, energy, tourism and health care. Israel and the U.A.E. will also partner on fighting the coronavirus pandemic and are expected soon to exchange ambassadors and embassies.


Morry notes that this deal has the potential not only to build on the agreements Israel signed with Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994, but ultimately "to go way beyond" them.


"Those two agreements ended a state of war between the parties, but they led to a cold peace," Morry says, adding that the deal with the U.A.E (which is Israel's first agreement with a Gulf State), has opened the door to normalization with other members of the Arab League, which in turn may open the door to normalization with the rest of the Muslim world.


"This deal changes the paradigm for making peace in the Middle East," said Morry. Up until now the Arab world has been withholding "normalization" with Israel until it entered into a comprehensive agreement with the P.L.O. (Palestine Liberation Organization). "This gave the P.L.O. a veto over normal relations between Israel and the Arab and Muslim world." The problem, Morry explains, is that "the P.L.O.'s terms for a settlement are virtually impossible for Israel to agree to," in particular the "right of return" to Israel of not only 20,000 surviving Palestinian refugees, but all of their descendants, which amounts to some six million people.


"If you combine this with the P.L.O saying it would never recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, the P.L.O.'s demands would turn Israel into a bi-national state, rather than a nation-state, i.e. a state for all its citizens and a homeland for the Jewish people."


"While this agreement is a loss for the P.L.O.," Morry adds, "it is potentially a win for the Palestinian people, who may finally get a say in their future." A new template has been set, with the U.A.E. and potentially others agreeing to normalize relations with Israel before Israel settles with the Palestinians.


Since the Arab Spring but especially since the U.S. entered into the JCPOA with Iran, the Arab states began dealing more and more with Israel behind the scenes. "There are many reasons for that," says Morry. "It used to be convenient for the Arab states to demonize Israel. Autocracies need an enemy to legitimize their regimes. With the partition resolution in 1947, the UN in effect signaled that Zionism was a national liberation movement, not a colonialist enterprise, which meant that Israel and the emerging Arab states shared both interests and values. So this was a missed opportunity for the Arab world as well as for Israel."


"But here we are decades later," Morry says "and it turns out that Israel and the Arab world have two real enemies to contend with - Iran and extremism. This has led Israel and a number of Arab and Muslim majority states to quietly exchange expertise and capital in areas of mutual interest." In a sense, "it has become too expensive for Arab countries to continue to give the P.L.O a veto over pursuing what's in their own national interest," add Morry. "And if you add an intransigent Hamas to the mix, the dam had to burst at some point."


In exchange for normalization of ties with the U.A.E., Israel has agreed to put its plans to extend its sovereignty over parts of the West Bank on hold for now. "In order to understand why the shift occurred now," Morry says, "you have to go back to the peace deal offered by the U.S. to Israel and the P.L.O. just a few months ago." President Trump's team decided they "wouldn't impose a solution on either Israel or the Palestinians, and they wouldn't force the two sides to negotiate with each other." Instead, as Morry details, Trump made independent "peace" offers to each side, with conditions.


They offered Israel the right to annex the settlement blocs and the Jordan Valley "on condition that they agree not to expand their claims to the rest of the West Bank and Gaza, which Israel accepted." "This gave Israel something that it didn't otherwise have - the right to annex land - that could be used as leverage in making a deal with the U.A.E. and potentially other Arab States." Netanyahu says while he has not given up the right to extend such sovereignty, he is holding off doing so for now and has effectively given a veto over the timing to the U.S.", Morry explains.  In any event, Morry adds, Israel controls the West Bank settlements and the Jordan Valley already so little will practically change for them if they hold off on extending sovereignty over those areas.


"In effect, the Trump team gave Israel an offer she couldn't refuse," says Morry.


Morry notes that the reaction in the region has split along the lines one might expect, with the P.L.O. Iran and its proxies and Turkey opposing the deal, and Arab and other Muslim majority countries around the world either staying silent or supporting the deal, in some cases because it provides time and space for them to press the P.L.O. to get to the negotiating table,  Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi being a case in point. Morry says he hopes that other Arab Countries in the region who have common interests with Israel will come out of the shadows and enter into normalization deals with Israel. "Other Gulf States could be the first countries that will follow the U.A.E.'s lead," Morry says.


Morry stresses that the P.L.O. was betting they could isolate the U.S. after they rejected Trump's peace offer outright. The offer made to the P.L.O. allocated to the Palestinians 70% of the West Bank and Gaza plus land swaps for a future state and required, among other things, that the P.L.O. give up the right of return to Israel, agree to end the state of conflict with Israel and recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. In return the Palestinians would get a demilitarized state and 50 billion dollars of new investment over ten years. "The P.L.O. has been saying that if Israel extends sovereignty over parts of the West Bank, the world should sanction Israel and go against the U.S," Morry says. The U.A.E. deal is a blow to that strategy.


"Let's be honest," adds Morry, "Mahmud Abbas is the Chair of the P.L.O. and the President of the Palestinian Authority (PA), and the PA has not held elections in over ten years. How can they claim they have any legitimacy to their fellow Arab leaders, let alone their own people."  Morry says that he thinks peaceful co-existence between Israel and the Palestinian people is more likely if the Arab world has more influence on Palestinian leadership rather than the other way around.


"My hope is that this tectonic shift in the Middle East will end not only with normalization between Israel and the Arab and Muslim world, but a future filled with hope for the Palestinian and Jewish peoples in their own nation states," Morry concludes.


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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.