It’s hard to ignore the public shifts in attitude between some Arab states and Israel. There are numerous theories about why the deals are taking place: some think it’s because of the Obama-led Iran deal emboldening the Islamic Republic and the Trump-era’s withdrawal from the region adding to the Gulf leaders’ fears; others put more emphasis on the lack of return on investment Gulf states have seen for their aid to the Palestinians; yet another theory is the Trump-Netanyahu threats of “annexation” and Arab states thinking they need to act.
Whatever you think the primary reason(s) are for the deals, there’s no escaping the enormity of such peace in our time.
The Arab League first boycotted Jewish goods in 1945 and evolved to a boycott of Israel after the establishment of the modern state. Over time, various elements of the boycott have eroded – especially after the 1994 peace deal with Jordan. And it has been an open secret for some time that Israel has been talking with Saudi Arabia.
So it could be said that the current Israel-UAE and Israel-Bahrain agreements have been a long time in the making. But the decision to formally sign agreements and the added steps of including praise of the deal in textbooks and advising hotels to provide kosher meals, for example, are signs that there is a genuine desire for a strong relationship.
This cannot be overstated, as Dr Einat Wilf has said, the Arab nations are “retelling the entire story of the Jews in the region… They’re not saying, ‘We still hate Israel, Jews are bad, we wish they’re gone but we need them against Iran.’ They’re saying the Jews belong here, that we’re not foreigners, and that the Palestinians need to accept us.”
New Zealand officials have talked of “The Middle East Peace Process” as if it only included Israel and the Arab Palestinians and Kiwi representatives have made comments like “this is obviously a conflict between Palestinians and Israelis but it’s also everything that happens in this part of the world ripples out right across the Middle East and right across the rest of the world as well and plants the seeds of conflict everywhere else in the world”.
What these deals highlight is how backwards that thinking is. The Arab nations are no longer (not for a long time) so focussed on the issue of the Arab Palestinians; at least the Gulf nations have clearly shown they are capable of making progress and peace.
Hopefully the Arab Palestinian leadership will change its tune and at least make efforts to return to negotiations. Only then will there be a chance for peace there also.