Israel right now has one of the least stable governments in history. The coalition between Likud and the remnants of Blue and White will last only as long as Netanyahu and Gantz feel their political future requires the other. The opposition put forward a bill forbidding someone under indictment from forming a government. Gantz and his allies abstained. Had they voted in favor, the government would have fallen with a tremendous lack of clarity of who the caretaker Prime Minister would be.
A month ago, Netanyahu wanted elections and started violating the coalition agreement. In particular, he brought forward an annual budget instead of the agreed upon 2 year budget. As his own internal polling showed weakness, he backed down and the crisis was averted.
Abstaining was an assault on Netanyahu. Friendly coalition partners support their team; this came as close to permanently removing Netanyahu from power as one can imagine. At the same time, by not voting at all, the government remains in power. Gantz apparently felt his own political future, and the future of Israel, was better served by an abstention. Gantz’s polling also shows him losing seats if elections were held, meaning he would lose his place at the table of power.
Into this volatile mix came a bombshell. The United Arab Emirates, one of the oil rich gulf states, announced a comprehensive peace accord with Israel. It affirms several years of growing closeness and is a major diplomatic achievement. There are signs that Oman and Morocco may follow, and hints that within a few years even Saudi Arabia would move towards normalization. This accord formalizes a growing alliance from the Gulf States and moderate Arab powers with Israel to contain Iranian adventurism and to stimulate economic growth.
I believe this accord will be a key step towards helping Palestinians attain statehood. In the past, Arab countries have financed the Palestinians, including terror groups, and often used their cause for their own internal political problems. Unstable monarchies have preferred to direct their people’s anger and frustration towards the “Zionist entity” rather than noticing their own problems at home. If Sunni Arab funding for terror dries up, that would be an amazing step. If Arab leaders move towards wanting a real solution, instead of benefiting from continued strife, progress becomes possible.
An option of peace in the region for Israelis makes statehood a lot more valuable; it would encourage Israelis to make real compromises with Palestinians in order to keep defense and economic connections with the Gulf States. Similarly, if the Palestinians feel pressure from their Gulf funders to figure this out, I believe real plans with actual maps will emerge. The external pressures that now push against a deal that creates two functioning states will be reoriented precisely towards such an agreement.
I am grateful for this agreement and hope it will decades hence be seen as a key step in lasting Middle East peace.
Rabbi David Booth