On the surface, it seems like a step toward peace: In exchange for the normalization of ties with the United Arab Emirates, Israel will shelve its plan to formally annex parts of the West Bank. But, on the ground, I fear this move will change nothing. In fact, paradoxically, it may entrench the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands — deepening the obstacle to true, lasting peace for both Israelis and Palestinians. 

And I say this as someone who has an enormous interest in peace — I say this as someone who is literally stranded here until it comes. 

I’m an American-Israeli who lived in and reported on Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories for almost a decade — and when I say lived in, I should add that I lived on both sides of the Green Line, the boundary that divides Israel from the Palestinian territories. My husband, who I met there well after I was established in Israel, is a Palestinian from the West Bank. We have two children, one of whom is registered as a West Banker; the second we plan to register as Palestinian as well. 

There, I had a contract with an excellent academic institution — a rare thing in academia nowadays — and I was immensely attached to my students. I had a solid career in journalism, too. I’d taken great pains to learn Hebrew — a labor of love — and I was studying Arabic in earnest. 

But my husband and I were forced to leave in 2014 because it was clear that we couldn’t exist there as a mixed couple. There was no place for us on either side of the Green Line. My husband says we can go home when there is peace. Until then, I’m waiting. 

I wake up every day searching for that quality of light that is a Mediterranean morning and the feeling that comes with it. Sometimes, when the sky is just right — when it’s a wild, soaring blue, shaped like a cathedral’s vaulted ceiling, when it feels like the heavens are at once flinging their arms back while simultaneously reaching down to hold us all in — I point and say, “Look, it’s like there.” And my husband knows exactly what I mean. 

At first glance, it would seem like Israel and the UAE’s peace plan — the so-called “Abraham Accord” — would be a cause for celebration, a step toward going home. The historic agreement will normalize relations between the two countries. In exchange, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has promised, for now, not to go forward with plans to formally annex parts of the West Bank, a move that was announced earlier this year to international condemnation.

The details will be hammered out in the coming weeks, with the UAE and Israel signing various trade, tourism and economic agreements. Both nations are expected to open embassies in the other’s state. Direct flights between Tel Aviv and Dubai — a scenario that seemed surreal until just a few days ago — are anticipated as well.

The European Union, Spain and France applauded the deal, as did China. Two Gulf countries — Oman and Bahrain — have stated that they support the move. But Turkey, Iran and all of the Palestinian factions have publicly opposed the step. In Israel, the move has drawn both praise and criticism, with the latter coming from both the right and left wings, albeit for different reasons.

Some Israelis are cynical about the move, saying that it was meant to prop up Netanyahu, who is losing support at home as he faces corruption charges and sharp criticism about the government’s handling of COVID-19. Right-wing Israelis criticized the step because it appears to call into question Jewish claims to the West Bank. Believing that the land was promised to the Jewish people in the Hebrew Bible, most on the right don’t use the term “occupation.” Rather, they — like the Israeli government — use the biblical term for the territory, referring to it as “Judea and Samaria.”

In an attempt to quell Israeli criticism from right-wing camps, Netanyahu has already backpedaled on a crucial component of the agreement, publicly emphasizing that the formalization of annexation of parts of the West Bank is simply suspended and remains “on the table.”

Anshel Pfeffer — an analyst for Haaretz, Israel’s paper of record — pointed out that Netanyahu gained normalization with the UAE while paying “nothing for it beyond what he called the ‘temporary suspension’ of the annexation he was never going to carry out anyway.”

Pfeffer also makes the point that this step teaches Israel that it does not have to end the occupation of Palestinian lands or make peace with the Palestinians. “The big losers of this development are yet again the Palestinians,” Pfeffer writes. “Yet another Arab regime is inching towards peace with Israel while they are no closer to statehood. They have been abandoned once again.”

If the plan proceeds as expected, the UAE will be the third Arab country to make peace with Israel. In the past, Israel signed peace treaties with both Egypt and Jordan. In the case of the former, Israel gave back the Sinai; the latter regained small tracts of land — 25 years later.

This is the first time Israel is entering a peace treaty with an Arab state that isn’t a direct neighbor; it also represents a departure from the decades-old “land for peace” formula in that Israel is temporarily suspending its formal annexation of parts of the West Bank. It is not withdrawing from the West Bank.

In addition to the treaties with Egypt and Jordan, there was also Oslo, which the Palestinians were party to — unlike the Abraham Accord. Oslo culminated in that iconic picture on the White House lawn with the Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin shaking hands with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, a jubilant Bill Clinton standing in the middle.

In this Sept. 13, 1993, file photo, President Bill Clinton presides over White House ceremonies marking the signing of the peace accord between Israel and the Palestinians with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, left, and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, right, in Washington. Two years after the groundbreaking handshake on the White House lawn between the two men, Rabin was killed by an Israeli extremist opposed to peace negotiations with the Palestinians at a rally promoting the accords. | Ron Edmonds, Associated Press

While Oslo brought investment to the region and economic growth, the lion’s share was enjoyed by Israel; when Oslo failed to produce the improvement in Palestinians’ lives and the final status peace agreement it promised, the Second Intifada broke out. The uprising and the Israeli military’s suppression of it, along with Israel’s tightening of restrictions on Palestinian movement — restrictions that continue today and that directly impact my family — were the final nails in the coffin of the Palestinian economy. Twenty years later, unemployment remains high in the West Bank.

That’s why we left. Between the lack of jobs, the rising cost of living, the uncertainty that stems from Israeli military control and the restrictions on freedom of movement, a life together in the West Bank was impossible.

Palestinians burn pictures of Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan with an Israeli flag during a rally against Israel’s plan to annex parts of the West Bank and U.S. President Donald Trump’s Mideast initiative as well as the United Arab Emirates’ deal with Israel, in the West Bank village of Turmusaya near Ramallah, Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2020. | Majdi Mohammed, Associated Press
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For now, the “Abraham Accord” means that my husband and I — a son and daughter of Abraham — still have no place in Israel or the territories to live both legally and comfortably as a family. It means that, when we visit, we will have to split up — that our two young children will have to be separated from me, their mother — so that we can cross the border separately, so that we can use different entrances, strictly assigned, to the same land.

It means that, once we’re there, I have to make a lengthy and illegal journey to rejoin my husband and children at the family home in Ramallah, a Palestinian city in the West Bank. It means that if I want to show my children Tel Aviv — the place where I became an adult, the city where I forged myself anew in Hebrew — I will have to sneak past military checkpoints manned by my own country. My husband will have to get a permit to go with us.

When my children turn 18 they, too, will need permits to accompany me into Israel.

Peace — and home — look farther away than ever.

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