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Israel carves out new Abraham Treaty with United Arab Emirates after a decade of small victories

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The Abraham Treaty between Israel and the UAE is only Israel’s third peace announcement with an Arab nation, and first since Jordan in 1994 | Photo: David Peterson (Pixabay)

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Ensuring 2020 would be remembered as anything but boring, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Israel announced a U.S. brokered peace deal, Thursday, Aug. 13, that hit the Middle East like an earthquake, with shockwaves across the globe.

The Abraham Treaty is only Israel’s third peace announcement with an Arab nation, and first since Jordan’s over twenty-five years ago. In a tone of friendship and hope, the agreement promises full normalization of relations, along with cooperation in a multitude of arenas.

Rumblings of major shifts in Israeli-Arab relations had been going on for at least eight years, for those who had their antennae up. Even ignoring Covid-19 coordination, the Arab-Israeli conflict, a defining feature of geopolitics for seventy years, has been slowly growing into an Arab-Israeli peace. This agreement is the audacious mark of that trend.

For eight years, all during Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s time in office, stories have popped up weekly of new ‘firsts’ or ‘first in decades’ in Israeli-Arab engagement, such as in security cooperation, economic, cultural, sports, or just simple expressions of friendliness.

Many have taken the spotlight for a news cycle: the 2016 viral video of the Bahraini king lighting the candles at a Chanukah party for the country’s small Jewish community, for example.

Another? Billions of dollars in resource agreements between Israel and Jordan and Egypt. And still another, the 2013 satellite address by Israeli President Shimon Peres to twenty-nine Arabic and Muslim foreign ministers.

There was the 2018 interview in The Atlantic with the Saudi Crown Prince giving the most explicit acknowledgment of Israel’s existence at such a senior level among the Gulf Arab states:  “I believe that each people, anywhere, has a right to live in their peaceful nation. I believe the Palestinians and the Israelis have the right to have their own land.”

Only two years later, that groundbreaking statement seems mild.

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One of the most powerful moments: the playing of the Israeli national anthem Hatikva, The Hope, at a judo tournament in Abu Dhabi in 2018. Recall Israeli judoka Sagi Muki on the podium to receive his gold medal, silently mouthing the words, while Israel’s minister of Culture and Sports, Miri Regev, bursts into tears nearby.

If you had a bag of these events, you could reach in and pull out handfuls of examples: Bahraini support for Israeli military strikes within Syria; a Saudi academic writing in Hebrew for an Israeli journal; Israeli businessmen at a conference in Bahrain; pro-Israel voices in Egyptian and Saudi Arab-language media; Israeli cabinet ministers visiting Bahrain, Oman and UAE; Netanyahu in Oman; Israeli-Jordanian joint air force exercises; Egyptian-Israeli security coordination against Sinai jihadi groups; Bahrain denouncing the Arab League boycott of the Jewish state, and freeing their citizens to travel there.

Scores, if not hundreds, of examples, and almost all would have been unthinkable ten years ago.

The skyline in Dubai, UAE | Photo: Ian Watts (Pixabay)

Each new engagement is reported, along the theme of “continuing rapprochement”, but the full implication has been missed: Israel’s status among its neighbours is fundamentally changing. This could be one of the most momentous changes in the world’s political dynamics of the decade, and the implications and analysis of that have been sorely missed.  

Could it be that some in the media don’t want good news about Israel?

The standoff among these parties has gone on so long; it can be easy to forget the enormity of the conflict. The Arab-Israeli rivalry has been a multi-generational, culture-shaping conflict. Israel fought war against the wider Arab world, not (just) Palestinians, in 1948, 1956, 1967 and 1973.

Until this week, only Jordan and Egypt had any official recognition of Israel’s existence. In 1991, Saddam Hussein tried to sideline Iraq’s Arab-state opposition by dragging Israel into the war. Decades of hot wars, followed by decades of warily viewing the “other” as an antagonistic and possibly existential threat. Israel is technically in a state of war with some of these countries. Public opinion in the Arab world is still overwhelmingly anti-Israel. The climb from this abyss has been slow and subtle.

But as retired Israeli brigadier-general Michael Herzog, a long-time advisor and negotiator for the Israeli government told me, “One day, we wake up to a different reality.”

“There have been periods of engagement before”, Herzog says, most notably during the 1990s. But that was a conditional peace, contingent on the continued success of the Oslo Accords, and ending with the First Intifada. This change, by contrast, is borne by mutual needs that seem only likely to increase.

Joshua Krasna, Senior Fellow in the Foreign Policy Research Institute’s Program on the Middle East and a retired Israeli diplomat, believes that, “while there has been no single moment signifying the start of the rapprochement, it clearly began to gain momentum around 2013, in the wake of two events: the Arab Spring and the Obama White House’s work on the Iran nuclear deal.”

Israel’s national anthem “Hatikvah” was played for the first time in the United Arab Emirates after judoka Sagi Muki won the gold medal at the Judo Grand Competition in Abu Dhabi on October 28, 2018

Saudi Arabia, Egypt and several other Arab states began to realize they saw the threats in the region, similarly to Israel. They also began to see the benefits closer relations could bring. The powerful, long-term forces driving this change, according to both Krasna and Herzog, include:

  • strategic planning against Iran;
  • shared intelligence regarding jihadist threats;
  • economic growth, especially respecting Israel’s expertise in technology and drought-resistant agriculture and water management; and
  • the desire of the Gulf nations to take a more central place on the world stage, such as hosting major international forums and sporting events, all of which preclude a boycott of Israel.

Even to those who studied these trends and understood the underlying dynamics, there was thought to be a glass ceiling. That is, that no (more) Arab countries would officially normalize relations with Israel in the absence of progress with the Palestinians.

It would be too politically risky with their constituencies. In that sense, while part of a much larger trend, the Abraham Treaty has gone beyond the expected. It also included a commitment by Israel to suspend plans to annex parts of Judea and Samaria.  

When Egypt signed its peace treaty with Israel in 1979, it was condemned and suspended by the Arab League for a decade. This time, Bahrain, Egypt and Oman have already blessed the deal. On Twitter, citizens of Israel and the UAE set about immediately introducing themselves and making travel arrangements. Presidential candidate Joe Biden praised the agreement, despite its connection to the Trump White House—itself a rare event.

As with anything involving Israel, there are many vocal detractors. Still, now, we actually have a realistic question whether other nations will follow suit.

“This is a historical trend of change in the attitudes of people in the region towards Israel,” Herzog says. “Again, a very long way to go, but that trend is unmistakable in my view.”

David Sachs is a political commentator and activist, and the bestselling author of The Flood, Safari, and Tragically Hip, Twisted: Illustrated Stories Inspired By Hip Songs. His blog and articles are at www.davidsachs.com

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Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

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Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

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