August 24, 2020
To: Member of Knesset, Cabinet an Deputy Ministers
From: Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Matan Vilnai
Re:  The Israel-UAE Agreement – An Opportunity to be Pursued Carefully

The prime minister deserves praise on two accounts:  for making the most of a regional opportunity that offers Israel considerable strategic advantages – military, political and economic; and for using the occasion to take unilateral annexation off the agenda.  Unilateral annexation is a dangerous move under any circumstances. It could have thwarted the important progress that was ultimately made with the Emirates.

As a cautionary note, we should point out that the agreement with the UAE has still not been signed, and is apparently yet to be finalized.  On the one hand, this does not detract from the magnitude of the achievement.  On the other hand, in hammering out its details, it is vital to ensure that the wording be clear and unequivocal so as to forestall misunderstandings with unforeseen consequences.  This is especially true with regard to four issues, about which statements by the three parties to the process indicate divergent approaches.

First, is the arrangement in question a “peace agreement,” as stated by the prime minister, a “normalization agreement,” in the words of several Emirati spokespeople, or a “road map to normalization” as Crown Prince Sheikh Muhammed Ben Zaid has stated?

Second, during the discussions, did “Israel agree to a two-state solution, including…a map,” as President Trump’s son in law and advisor, Jared Kushner, declared?

Third – and here lies most of the potential for misunderstanding – was annexation taken “off the table,” as President Trump stated, “suspended,” in the words of the prime minister, or has the normalization process “closed the gate” on annexation, as UAE Ambassador to Washington, Yousef Al Otaiba wrote in a recent op ed piece for Yediot?

Fourth, but no less important, are the other parties clear about Israel’s resolute objection to any erosion in America’s unequivocal commitment to maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge (QME), and do they understand that this objection extends to advanced weapons systems that in the relevant theatre for our defense, Israel must have exclusive access to?

From the unveiling of President Trump’s peace plan to the recent, momentous developments, discussion of the peace process has been plagued by conflicting statements and interpretations, obscurity and ambiguity. This could easily undermine relations between states.  As is often the case in negotiations, diplomats may be tempted to adopt nebulous formulations that hide underlying disagreements instead of resolving them.  We therefore caution against adopting this approach, particularly with regard to the third and fourth issues listed above.

Precisely because of the precedent setting and strategic significance of the emerging agreement with the UAE, Israel’s negotiating team must ensure that the undertakings of each side are formulated clearly and unambiguously, leaving no room for misunderstanding or charges of bad faith on the part of one side or the other.

Misunderstandings and feelings that one side has violated its commitments could negatively impact both on the development of relations with this important country and on the security of the State of Israel in the wider, regional context (because of the sensitivity of the issue, we stand ready to elaborate in the appropriate forum).

For these reasons, I call upon you to ensure that parliamentary oversight is exercised by means of thoroughgoing discussions of the above points and others, whether in the Knesset’s Security and Foreign Affairs Committee or in its relevant subcommittees, in accordance with the sensitivity of the subject matter under deliberation.


Maj. Gen. (Res.) Matan Vilnai
Commanders for Israel’s Security