The announcement of a peace deal between the UAE and Israel, brokered by US President Donald Trump, was a surprise to many. But for me, it is the natural progression of greater understanding between the UAE and Israel that has been developed largely because of shared economic aspirations and the emerging threat of a nuclear-armed Iran.
I suspect that other regional nations will follow when they are able to take the temperature of the more conservative elements within their populations. I am proud of the UAE’s leadership for shining a light on a new road ahead, and I congratulate President Trump for making this happen.
I strongly believe that goodwill and mutual cooperation will benefit both Emiratis and Israelis, paving the way for economic, trade, technological, scientific and agricultural exchanges, security and energy cooperation, and a greater cultural understanding needed to smash outdated stereotypes that have kept us children of the Prophet Abraham on opposite sides of a fence for so long.
While I have actively supported justice for the Palestinians in the form of a two-state or one-state solution for most of my life, in recent years I have concluded that prolonging the enmity between Israel and most of the Arab world is an exercise in futility serving no one, least of all the Palestinian people. I have long encouraged any action that could result in peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and this deal is bound to create an atmosphere conducive to respectful negotiations.
In 2017, as a response to President Trump’s “deal of the century” — which turned out to be a damp squib due to its being heavily Israel-centric, worsened by the Palestinians’ refusal to participate in discussions — I wrote a column titled: “A window has opened for Middle East peace. Let’s grab the chance!”
I explained that whereas I once was an idealist, I have come to terms with the fact that unrealistic dreams are no use to a people yearning for a place where they can live peacefully and prosper. I stressed that violence has only encouraged the nuclear-armed, militarized occupying power to dig in its heels, and I urged both sides to come up with new, courageous, innovative strategies.
My country, the UAE, has done just that. It is a trendsetter that never ceases to amaze in every field. Until now, this new accord has been welcomed by Egypt, Jordan, Oman, Bahrain, the UK, Germany, France and the UN.
But it has been denounced by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and various Palestinian spokespersons, in spite of the fact that it is conditional upon the Israeli government’s pledge to keep Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s annexation of the West Bank on hold.
While it is the case that Netanyahu is under fire from right-wing settlers who are eager to see the annexation of the West Bank and the Jordan Valley, he has tried to placate them by stating that the plan had not been binned. He further confirmed that he would not proceed without a green light from the White House.
With the international community solidly against the idea, it is doubtful that he will get a nod from President Trump, whose Democratic rival Joe Biden, a great friend to Israel, has publicly stated: “Annexation would be a body blow to the cause of peace, which is why I opposed it now and would oppose it as president.”
In my view, more Arab states allied to Israel will not only undermine the latter’s old argument that it is isolated and surrounded by millions of hostile Arabs, it will also strengthen the Palestinian Authority’s arm simply because the Jewish state will feel more secure, and the more friends in the neighborhood it has, the more it will have to lose by being intransigent.
We, in our part of the world, have all had our fair share of mutual hatreds and wars spanning more than 70 years, and what have we gained? Nothing other than insecurity, mistrust and trillion-dollar war machines, most rusting in warehouses.
The late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat knew that war with Israel joined at America’s hip was a mug’s game, so he courageously offered an olive branch to Israel’s then-Prime Minister Golda Meir, which was graciously accepted.
Sadat’s impromptu visit to Jerusalem was widely celebrated by Israelis. He was invited to deliver a speech in the Knesset (parliament) when he outlined his ideas for a comprehensive peace. Unfortunately he was shunned by the entire Arab world, branded a traitor by the Palestinians, and shot dead by a radical group while watching a military procession.
Yet his outreach to the enemy was the soil in which the return of all Israeli-occupied Egyptian lands was cultivated and, most crucially, it marked the end of conflicts. Then, all Palestinian lands occupied by Israel in 1967 were up for discussion. The longer this antipathy between Israelis and Palestinians has prevailed, the more the land once earmarked for a Palestinian state has shrunk.
My heart does go out to the Palestinian people, whose suffering is unending. But at the same time, their leaderships need to take note of the harsh reality. The old ways have failed dismally. I would therefore urge my Palestinian brothers and sisters to wait and see what benefits this new deal can bring to them before rushing to emotional, knee-jerk judgments.
In all honesty, if there is one Arab state that could win big time if only it was able to make peace with Israel, it is Lebanon. There would be no more border skirmishes, wars and bloodshed, and Lebanon would no longer require heavily armed militias to defend it from its neighbors.
Sadly, it goes without saying why this remains a pipedream, at least for now. Given their current reality, I am almost certain that if the Lebanese people were polled on this topic, the majority would opt for peace. The economic rewards alone would be enormous.
Finally, I take this opportunity to salute all those involved in cementing a new and exciting new partnership between Israelis and Emiratis that I pray will be fruitful not only for the two newly allied countries, but also for our troubled region.
Is it too much of a stretch to imagine a Middle East at peace with open skies and borders, each country sharing ideas and expertise, instead of being written off as the planet’s eternal hotspot where violence reigns? If the Israeli-Emirati pact succeeds in inspiring new generations of leaders, then all is possible. Let us put our hatreds behind us and be the first to work toward that goal.
- Khalaf Ahmad Al-Habtoor is a prominent UAE businessman and public figure. He is renowned for his views on international political affairs, his philanthropic activity and his efforts to promote peace. He has long acted as an unofficial ambassador for his country abroad. Twitter: @KhalafAlHabtoor
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