After Israel’s resounding victory over the Egyptian, Jordanian, and Syrian armies in 1967, the Jewish state again offered the Arab world peace in exchange for recognition. And it was again rebuffed. Instead, the Arab League convened in Khartoum to formulate a consensus response that became known as “The 3 Noes” — no recognition, no negotiations, and no peace with Israel.
Needless to say, this posture left little room for positive dialogue.
Indeed, three years before Israel had ever attained its “occupied” territories in the West Bank, the Arab League had already created and funded the Palestine Liberation Organization, a nationalist terror group that would not only operate within Israel but develop the tactics that would subsequently be adopted by Islamists around the world.
Arab states, including those in Gulf, would support and fund this violence against Jewish civilians for decades.
Fast-forward to 2020. Earlier this month, the Palestinians, who had held veto power over Arab foreign policy for years, demand nothing less than a full condemnation of the Israel-UAE normalization. The Arab League gave them nothing.
Instead, a couple of weeks later, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates, and Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al Zayani of Bahrain all came to Washington to sign the Abraham Accords, in which all three promised to “to take the necessary steps to prevent any terrorist or hostile activities against each other on or from their respective territories, as well as deny any support for such activities abroad or allowing such support on or from their respective territories.”
It takes only a rudimentary knowledge of modern Middle East history to comprehend the immense changes going on in the region — and yet this seems lost on many contemporary journalists.
There are likely a number of reasons that normalization deals between Israel and Arab nations haven’t received the attention and praise they deserve. The first is the most obvious: Few in legacy media want to credit Donald Trump — certainly not during a presidential campaign. Had Barack Obama facilitated a deal between Israel and any Arab nation, it would have dominated coverage. Rightly so.
Even the stories written about the deal attempt to diminish the role of the Trump administration. The New York Times headline, for example, is “Israel, U.A.E and Bahrain Sign Accords, with an Eager Trump Hosting.” Sunni nations and Israel have a number of geopolitical reasons to strengthen ties — one of them the Obama administration’s coddling of Iran. But it was Trump who seized on the opportunity, and for that he deserves at least as much credit as Jimmy Carter did for the Egypt–Israel peace deal or Bill Clinton did for the Israel–Jordan peace deal.
Second, many reporters, think-tankers, and D.C. foreign-policy experts are all part of a hive mind in which the word “peace” means little more than the creation of Palestinian state and an embrace of Iran.
And Washington’s foreign-policy consensus has taken a body blow. In four years, Jared Kushner has done more to advance the cause of peace in the Middle East than the entire Brookings Institution foreign-policy team has in a lifetime.
The John Kerrys of the world have long argued that wider peace would not be possible without acquiescing to the Palestinians first. They were wrong. After the Trump administration moved the American Embassy to the Israeli capital of Jerusalem, the same people warned that an eruption of violence would envelop the Middle East. They made the same claim after Trump assassinated Qasem Soleimani. Wrong. And wrong, again.
The Abraham Accords also laid to rest the myth that Israel would find itself in “deepening international isolation” if it failed to heed Obama’s efforts to create a Palestinian state. The Abraham Accords offer considerable economic benefits for all sides.
Israel is already a major investment destination, and it now has economic ties to increasing numbers of prosperous Arab nations. A Dubai-based port operator has already reportedly partnered with an Israeli firm to bid on the largest shipping hub in Israel.
The BDS movement and other economic boycotts of Israel are now little more than an anti-Semitic outlet for Western radicals.
With economic ties come cultural ones, as the nations promise to “promote tourism cooperation” as well as ”people-to-people” exchanges. For years, Arab nations have depicted Jews in the most nefarious ways. Yet, only two weeks after the announcement of Israel–United Arab Emirates, the latter is teaching and praising the peace initiative with the Jews. Its Islamic Studies textbook is teaching and praising the peace initiative with the Jews.
Perhaps most important, the Abraham Accords may just be the beginning of the thawing. Trump says he expected Saudi Arabia — the steward of Islam’s holiest sites — to recognize Israel. “At least five or six” other countries may as well, Trump says. We’ll have to see about that. But Saudi Arabia has announced that it will permit commercial flights from Israel to pass through its airspace. Bahrain would never have agreed to a deal with Israel without the Saudis’ blessing. These deals only make more normalization possible.
Though there are no guarantees in the Middle East, these peace deals also probably make an Israeli–Palestinian deal possible. Kushner approached Palestinian leadership to engage in these talks, and he was rebuffed. Mahmoud Abbas is waiting out Trump for a more friendly administration. It’s probably too late.
Since the early 1990s, every attempt to create a lasting agreement in the region has been bogged down by intractable Palestinian demands to make Jerusalem their capital and force Israel to accept the suicidal “Right of Return.” These are non-starters. This isn’t merely a Likud position; it is the position of every major party in Israel and, increasingly, a reality accepted in wider Arab world. The Abraham Accords, for example, pledge to deal with Palestinian issues in a manner that “meets the legitimate needs and aspirations of both peoples, and to advance comprehensive Middle East peace, stability and prosperity.” Nowhere does it mention anything about handing over Jerusalem, a Right of Return, returning to 1967 lines, or even a Palestinian state.
The decades of Middle East policy being conducted through the grievances of the PLO are likely over. Without obligatory backing from the Arab world, Palestinians may be forced to embrace reality, too. If not, they’ll continue to be left behind.
Some critics have pointed out that Israel has now struck deals with a number of authoritarian nations. Well, guess what, Hamas and Fatah are also authoritarians, and yet the Washington foreign-policy establishment want to give them their own state.
Alas, there are the realities of the region. One hopes that Arab theocracies accelerate their liberalization, but right now it is Iran, and its proxies in Syria, Yemen, and Lebanon, that threaten peace. New alliances between Jews and Arabs, on the other hand, can only strengthen it.