Even before the important breakthrough forged by the White House between the UAE and Israel has been translated into a signed agreement, the risks of ambiguities breeding misunderstandings have already been manifest.

 As reported by Barak Ravid, the UAE expressed its dismay at Prime Minister Netanyahu’s objection to its purchase of advanced American weapon systems, first and foremost the F-35 stealth aircraft, by calling off a scheduled meeting between the three parties. While Netanyahu claims to have never consented to the arms deal, the Emiratis had the opposite impression.

A Telling Precedent

Few remember that when President Carter negotiated the historic peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, it didn’t take long for the Israeli legal adviser (later, Chief Justice) Aharon Barak to point out that the three drafts used by the parties – Egypt’s in Arabic, Israel’s in Hebrew, and the United States’ in English – differed on important points. Although all three teams had been most impressed with Henry Kissinger’s negotiating skills, where his resort to “constructive ambiguity” was key in forging previous understandings, all felt that what was useful in interim arrangements might prove detrimental when it comes to a signed agreement.

 Against the backdrop of decades of war, the risk of post-signature misunderstandings, reinforcing lingering mistrust, persuaded the three parties to drop all drafts except the English one.

 As the F-35 controversy indicates, the first commandment of a negotiator proves valid today as it was back then: beware of ambiguities.

 Israelis, Emiratis: Beware of Ambiguities

Since the surprise announcement of the US-brokered UAE-Israel normalization, the three parties have been united in rightfully praising its merits. Concurrently, however, they have contradicted each other in expressing themselves on at least three issues. These differences must not be left unresolved for major crises to be avoided:

 First, and seemingly the easiest to resolve, is the issue of “what are we talking about’. Prime Minister Netanyahu called it “a peace treaty”. Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed spoke of “a roadmap for normalization,” whereas other officials referred to it as “an agreement on normalization”.

 Second and far more consequential, is the fate of the Trump plan. President Trump’s Senior Adviser Jared Kushner announced that the president “was able to get Israel to agree to have a two-state solution with the Palestinians — and, for the first time in history, to agree to a map that outlined the territory that they would be willing to work with.” Not only is one hard pressed to find evidence of such an Israeli government or Knesset decision, but Prime Minister Netanyahu denies having accepted a Palestinian state, let alone a map that defines its – hence Israel’s — sovereign borders.

The third, which – if not resolved – might spell serious trouble ahead, is the issue of unilateral annexation. Here, some spoke of annexation being “off the table” (President Trump) or said “we’ve shut the door on annexation” (UAE Ambassador to the United States Yousef Al Otaiba). Still others claim annexation has merely “been postponed” and “is very much on the table” (Netanyahu).

 As the UAE attributes its decision to normalize relations with Israel at least in large part, to its success in preventing Israeli unilateral annexation of West Bank territory — a critical accomplishment on behalf of the Palestinians, one can only assume the UAE’s angry reaction should a few months after signature, and with normalization blooming, Israel proceeds with annexation. Consequently, if annexation is no more – let the agreement say so. If it is postponed, let it spell out for how long.

 The UAE and Israel are taking a pioneering step of historic proportions. As the F-35 controversy suggests, the future holds many disagreements,  which is the nature of any bilateral relationship. But, let’s not allow negotiated ambiguities to leave the door open to accusations of bad faith.