Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Cancel Anytime
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](,dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

Daoud Kuttab is an award-winning Palestinian journalist and a former Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University.

It is normal for countries with deep disagreements to nonetheless maintain diplomatic, trade and commercial relations. Yet there are also circumstances when such relations are regarded as non-starters, from most countries' freeze-out of North Korea, the U.S.'s severing of ties with the Soviet Union after it tried to deploy nuclear weapons in Cuba and Israel’s non-relationship with Iran, a country whose leaders routinely call for its destruction.

Given the importance of dialogue between countries, however, there is always a question of when to pursue or end normal relations with a “bad” actor that repeatedly violates international norms, carries out genocide and other atrocities, or whose behaviour otherwise merits punishment. But if violating international norms, peddling racist rhetoric and abusing people under one’s control historically constitute grounds for refusing normal relations with a country, aren’t Arab and majority-Muslim countries justified in their long-standing approach to Israel?

Story continues below advertisement

While Israel acts democratically toward its Jewish citizens, its policy toward non-Jewish citizens and its decades-long occupation and colonization of Palestinian territories have been flagged by the United Nations as violations of international law.

Still, Arab and majority-Muslim countries' long-standing policies on Israel have always been subject to change in the event that certain conditions are met. The moderate Saudi-initiated Arab Peace Initiative – which was passed unanimously in 2002 and later adopted by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation – offered diplomatic normalization in exchange for Israel’s withdrawal from the areas it seized in 1967. In doing so, Israel would have merely had to abide by international law; as the UN Security Council made clear in Resolution 242 (1967), there is a global consensus on the “inadmissibility of acquiring land by war,” and Israel is therefore obligated to withdraw from the occupied territories, and then to resolve the Palestinian refugee issue that was created when Israel was established in 1948. Arab and majority-Muslim countries even agreed that the “achievement of a just solution to the Palestinian Refugee problem [would] be agreed upon in accordance with UN General Assembly Resolution 194” – in other words, giving Israel a veto over how this inalienable right would be implemented under its proposed settlement.

But Israel didn’t just reject the reasonable proposal – it went on to make the situation even worse. Under the watch of the Israeli army, more Palestinian homes have been bulldozed to make way for more settlements. And since then, Israel’s right-wing government under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has begun to countenance the outright annexation of even more territory.

And yet, despite such belligerent leadership in Israel, the United Arab Emirates decided last month to normalize relations with Israel. With a population of just 1.4 million nationals, the UAE is breaking with a global consensus held by 423 million Arabs and 1.8 billion Muslims. A month after the UAE’s decision, Bahrain, with just 1.6 million people, announced that it would follow suit.

UAE leaders argue that engagement with Israel will improve the chances of achieving an acceptable peace settlement and ending the occupation, noting that Israel has already agreed to suspend its planned unilateral annexation. But this argument is hollow. If anything, the UAE’s overture will enable Israel to harden its position.

After all, it didn’t take long for Mr. Netanyahu to declare that “annexation is still on the table.” The UAE’s olive branch, he pointed out, proves that Israel doesn’t have to give up land for peace, as former U.S. president George H.W. Bush once suggested.

In short order, Mr. Netanyahu’s boastful statements totally destroyed the UAE’s justification for its decision. But the UAE is not backing away from the agreement, which will be signed in Washington on Sept. 15; the Arab League has not condemned Israel’s decision to abandon shared principles and commitments.

Story continues below advertisement

Needless to say, U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration and the Netanyahu government are delighted to have “flipped” an Arab country without any need for meaningful Israeli concessions. To be sure, Israel and the UAE and Bahrain do not have any land disputes of the kind that stood in the way of similar agreements with Egypt and Jordan in the past. Yet those agreements are proof that normalizing relations with Israel does not advance the cause of peace.

For their part, Arabs and Palestinians long for normal relations with Israel, but only after the occupation has ended. When one party is a military power with even more powerful friends, peace must be reached through a just settlement, not unilateral action. A country that serially violates human rights and international treaties should not be rewarded with normal relations, even from tiny Arab gulf countries.

Keep your Opinions sharp and informed. Get the Opinion newsletter. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies