Knesset approves Israel-UAE deal

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Gantz to Abbas: Join journey toward peace. Lapid: UAE deal and Trump relationship good but Netanyahu failed with Democrats

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at Knesset plenum on Israel-UAE deal (photo credit: GIDON SHARON)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at Knesset plenum on Israel-UAE deal

(photo credit: GIDON SHARON)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for peace with Lebanon when the Knesset Thursday overwhelmingly approved the historic normalization deal with the United Arab Emirates initially signed in Washington last month.

Eighty parliamentarians voted in favor of the deal, and all 13 who opposed it were from The Joint List. The deal now moves to the government for final ratification.

“Since the dawn of Zionism we have held a defensive weapon in one hand, while the other has been outstretched in peace – to anyone that wants peace,” said Netanyahu, who spoke both at the start and the end of the nine-hour debate.

“It is said that peace is made with an enemy. No, peace is made with someone who has ceased to be an enemy. Peace is made with those who want peace and not with those who remain committed to your destruction.”

An example of such an enemy, he said, was Hezbollah, which continues to exercise de facto control in Lebanon, and whose presence makes peace with Israel’s northern neighbor impossible.

Still, Netanyahu said, he saw a glimmer of hope in the talks that began Wednesday between Israel and Lebanon to resolve their maritime dispute.

This is “something that has enormous potential economic significance” for both countries, Netanyahu said. “I call on the Lebanese government to continue to complete these talks, to demarcate the maritime border.”

He added that he hoped the talks marked the breach of potential for a day in the future when it will possible “to achieve true peace” between Israel and Lebanon. He called the passage of the deal in the Knesset historic and expressed his hope that more Arab states would follow.

The Israel-UAE agreement is part of the US-brokered Abraham Accords that also includes a normalization deal with Bahrain, which has been signed, but not ratified. Israel’s only other two peace deals with Middle Eastern Arab countries are the 1979 peace treaty with Egypt and the 1994 pact with Jordan.

Opponents of the UAE deal have been concerned that not all elements have been made public, particularly with regard to Israel lifting its objection to the sale of advanced military hardware such the advanced F-35 stealth jet, and the annexation of West Bank settlements.

Netanyahu told the Knesset that “there are no secret annexes or hidden clauses in the UAE deal.” Despite requests to reveal any hidden clauses, he declined to meet with the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee’s subcommittee on intelligence, whose meetings are classified, until after the Knesset voted to approve it.

Netanyahu said the UAE deal proved that it was wrong to wait for the Palestinians to reach peace agreements in the region. He said he hoped the Palestinians would one day realize that they made a mistake and called on them to return to talks.

“The Palestinians were offered peace and turned it down time after time,” he said. “If we wait for the Palestinians, we will be waiting a long time.”

Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz used his speech to reach out to Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, saying “the time has come to join the journey to peace and not continue with refusal.”

Speaking of the economic benefits of the deal, Netanyahu said Chevron was doing business with Israel now because they are no longer afraid of Gulf states opposing such a move.

Gantz emphasized the significance of the deal in combating the regional threat from Tehran, noting that it strengthened Israel and weakened Iran.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid praised the UAE deal but added criticism of Netanyahu.

“You reached a good agreement with the UAE,” Lapid said. “You managed the relationship with the President of the United States well. You failed completely when it comes to the relationship with the Democratic Party and American Jewry.”

Much of the debate featured verbal clashes between right-wing and Joint List MKs, due to the latter’s opposition to the deal. The Arab MKs said they opposed it, because in their view, it was now harder to achieve agreements with the Palestinians and it legitimized what they consider to be Israeli occupation.

Likud MK Sharren Haskel pointed to the Arab MKs and said they never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

“It is amazing that there are those here who will vote against peace,” Netanyahu said.

Tourism and Strategic Affairs Minister Orit Farkash-Hacohen invited Arab and Muslim citizens of countries in the region to visit Israel, stressing that “while governments sign treaties, people create peace.”

“Today Israel marks a new chapter in its relationship with the Arab world,” she said in English. “It is time to choose dialogue over divestment. Let us build together, not boycott each other. As Israel’s Minister of Tourism, I turn to you – in the Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and the entire region. Remember, that while governments sign treaties, people create peace – and tourism is a key component of this.”

Tzvi Joffre contributed to this report.

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