UAE and Bahrain peace agreements with Israel: Implications and repercussions

Mohammed Al Rumaihi

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As we have all heard, the peace agreement between the United Arab Emirates, the Kingdom of Bahrain, and Israel has been signed under US sponsorship. This has prompted many to talk about the past, but our main focus should be on the future!

I would first like to start by briefly expressing my utmost respect for the Palestinian people and their cause. I would also like to note that I greatly empathize with the Palestinian people, not only on a humanitarian level, but also on a personal level. Like the majority of the Palestinian people, who experienced the hardships of displacement, I have personally been a refugee myself when Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait under Saddam’s rule.

During those arduous times, I learned the true meaning of hardship, and my admiration and empathy for the Palestinian people increased immensely.

I have always been a supporter of the Palestinian cause, which has yet to be resolved, and I will continue to be very sympathetic to their struggle. As an Arab, it is only natural to support this cause and be sympathetic to the struggles of its people, just as it is natural for a Jew living in Brooklyn, New York, to sympathize with the Israeli people.

However, ensuring a better future for our countries should be our biggest concern right now. For this reason, this new peace agreement signed by Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed of the UAE and Mr. Abdullatif Al-Zayani with Benjamin Netanyahu, in the presence of the President of the US, last Tuesday evening, is not like other peace agreements signed in the past.

The first (Egypt), the second (Jordan), and the third (Palestinian-Oslo) agreements were all concluded between Israel and adjacent states, who were even at war at some point. However, this new peace agreement signed last week was concluded with states that are relatively far from the direct conflict, which sends a very important message, namely, that it time to reconsider the “ghetto mentality” that calls for isolation.

No matter how powerful Israel grows in terms of its military, intelligence, technology or even politics, there is always a prevailing sense of fear and lack of security. This is not an exaggeration, but an analysis of the reality of the situation. If we look at how Israel operates today, we see that it surrounds itself with high walls at most points of contact with the Palestinian territories.

It acts as if its “besieged,” which in turn drives it to impose a “blockade.” Therefore, it is not difficult to see that the Israeli society does not feel safe. This fear has been instilled and emphasized by Israeli politicians for decades with the aim of constantly reminding newcomers and the entire world of the Holocaust perpetrated by the Nazi regime, which is a terrible human tragedy that will not be forgotten. This latest agreement pushes everyone to re-examine the “ghetto mentality” that both sides are guilty of.

Israel is a state recognized by all countries in its surroundings, and now, a country that is geographically relatively far has decided to extend an olive branch of peace. Therefore, the habit of mobilizing Israeli public opinion against Arabs and Arab culture in Israeli educational and media programs, and even in political discourse, must be reexamined.

Similarly, Arab educational and media programs as well as the prevailing political discourse must be reexamined and reformulated. Certain “myths” about Israel that have been instilled in the minds of generations over the decades must be eliminated. These myths have influenced the disconcerting discourse that is currently being propagated regarding the signing of the latest peace agreement at the White House.

The outrage that many have expressed is the expected result of the accumulation of a huge amount of false information that has been circulating among Arabs for decades. We have not established enough research centers to really get to know our adversary in a manner that is free from exaggeration or underestimation. Both sides must address this issue in the near future because leaving those misconceptions unchallenged will negatively impact the desired outcomes of the last agreements.

On the Israeli side, building a true sense of security helps lessen animosity and extremism, which in turn encourages them to take a more moderate approach. Regrettably, the reaction we have seen from the Palestinian people is expected. As always, the reaction is exaggerated and emotional. We have grown used to the Palestinian rhetoric that is often propagated, which is rarely politically sound and leans more towards being full of blatant personal opinions.

However, it is time we rise above and stop accepting these behaviors, especially from political leaders. An example of this unacceptable behavior is Hamas leader Mahmoud Al-Zahar’s recorded statement, where he claims that the coronavirus pandemic shall affect only Americans, Israelis, and Arabs who are pro-normalization with Israel. How can leaders with this mentality restore their credibility and who are they targeting with this narrative? It is clear to see that a certain segment of the Palestinian people are attempting the impossible, which is to convince Arab countries that we have a common enemy, yet at the same time they are befriending other adversaries threatening the region.

It is well known by now that Iran and Turkey are seeking to impose their dominance over this region under the guise of flashy slogans and empty promises, while in reality, their true intention is to control resources and people. For this reason, it is only natural to be skeptical of the relations between some of these groups and the expansionist projects that are being planned at the expense of neighboring countries in our region.

A few weeks ago, a number of Arab colleagues organized a virtual meeting with the chief of Hamas’s political bureau, Ismail Haniyeh, for the purpose of promoting Palestinian unity, which is an urgent necessity for all Palestinians to face the challenges of this upcoming phase.

During the meeting, I raised some concerns shared by the people in the Gulf region regarding ties with Iran, and I voiced that these ties no longer serve the best interest of all those involved. The answer I received was very general, but what matters is that the message was received.

There is no doubt that the Gulf’s position towards the Palestinian cause has always been the most substantial in terms of providing political and economic assistance. Starting from 1979, when Ambassador Abdullah Bishara, Kuwait’s representative at the Security Council, arranged a dinner meeting between Andrew Young, the chief US representative, and the PLO representative Zuhdi Terzi, to discuss the issue. Mr. Young lost his post after the media learned of the meeting.

The Arab safety net, approved by the Arab League, for aiding the Palestinian administration, amounts to $100 million per month, which is mostly funded by the Gulf States. If last Tuesday’s signing will lead different Palestinian groups and factions to unite, then it has served its intended purpose; however, I remain doubtful, because sadly, the interests of different Palestinian factions are not aligned, and so much separation still remains.

On another “laughable” note, the Palestinian Authority has called on the Arab League to condemn the United Arab Emirates for its agreement with Israel, in a blind reading of the current Arab reality and inaccurate understanding of the United Arab Emirates’ move. A reasonable person would have compared this move to the Oslo Agreement concluded by the Authority with Israel, which was concluded at the time without consulting the League of Arab States. It is only logical to say that the Oslo agreement had been a recognition of Israel, in fact, calling for a two-state solution is a recognition of Israel. Many have chosen to misinterpret this latest step taken by the UAE and the Kingdom of Bahrain.

Instead of turning it into a crisis, this step could be seen as an opportunity that can support the cause and help it gain more political ground under the current international circumstances. This step will help Israeli politicians shed their “ghetto mentality” and start cooperating with more countries without animosity because they are not their enemies, as the UAE’s Minister of Foreign Affairs said in his speech on Tuesday at the White House. He also did not neglect to mention the Palestinian cause by thanking the Israeli Prime Minister for ceasing the expansion and seizure of Palestinian lands.

We must remember that throughout history, peacemakers have always been attacked. There is also no doubt that many parties will start receiving Iranian financial support. Many parties will capitalize on the situation and rely on targeted journalism to create crises. For this reason, it is important for all those who seek peace to make sure they are well prepared to avoid the worst.

Finally, it is worth noting Sheikh Abdullah’s exemplary body language during the signing of the peace agreement with Israel. Sheikh Abdullah has graciously allowed Abdullatif Al Zayani to stand before him in line and in photographs despite his seniority, reflecting the values of a true knight.

This article was originally published in, and translated, from Asharq al-Awsat.

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