The Israel-UAE deal is a “Big Deal’ – an Arab perspective
By Lay of the Land founders David E. Kaplan, Rolene Marks & Yair Chelouche
Whatever the motivations and machinations of those that brought about the historic agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) that has animated some sectors of the media, what has been patently neglected – particularly in the Western media – has been coverage of Arab commentary on this ‘game-changer’ issue.
Hasan Saleh Al Mujaini, a senior executive at the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company and an activist for peace and regional reconciliation, titled his August 14 article for the Arabic international newspaper Al-Sharq Al-Awsat headquartered in London:
“The Warm Peace between Israel and the UAE is a Victory for Us All”
His subhead was no less telling of his enthusiasm:
“Real and lasting victories are the victories of peace, not the victories of war.”
Al Mujaini chategorises the deal as being:
“…. at the gates of a historic era of peace between the State of Israel and the United Arab Emirates. This will be a warm peace because unlike Jordan or Egypt, the UAE has never fought a war with Israel.
Peace and coexistence are the pillars of Judaism, Islam and Christianity. It is no wonder that the hearts of both Israelis and Emiratis are filled with joy after news of the historic agreement between our two countries!”
Reassuring to Al Mujaini was the reception of the news of the deal in the UAE:
“There is a great sense of optimism in the UAE today and a real desire to get to know Israelis better, on a personal and human level.
Most residents of the UAE are excited to visit Israel, to see your beautiful country and to meet Israelis. Likewise, let me assure you that whenever you visit the UAE you will be warmly welcomed in our country.”
No doubt, Israelis who are perennial travelers, will look forward to the end of the Corona and setting their sights on the Gulf!
Al Mujaini counsels to view the deal as a building block to even wider ties in the region and beyond:
“A forward-looking attitude and a real commitment to change are always necessary in order to overcome past conflicts and to break down barriers. This peace accord between our two nations provides precisely this kind of opportunity, which we must grasp and use as a foundation not only for peace between Israel and the Emirates, but a broader peace between Israel and the Arab world.”
Most important, asserts Al Mujaini, is the hyped publicity of the deal on Arab social media. There is nothing secret; the news is out there to share:
“The atmosphere in support of peace and the interaction we are witnessing through social media platforms in the UAE and Israel, and increasingly in more Arab countries, give us a great sense of hope that such lasting peace is indeed possible.”
What is more, the news has not only been welcomed by the general populace but by the leadership in all strata of UAE society:
“Many prominent people in the UAE have praised and congratulated this agreement ……. We must let the past be the past and look forward to the opportunities of tomorrow, full of sincere cooperation and synergy.”
Al Mujaini does however lament – hardly unexpected – that:
“Although we also have empathy for the Palestinian people, it is regrettable that instead of grasping this opportunity to advance their own situation, their leadership has yet again dismissed an outstretched hand for real and meaningful change.”
Most encouraging is Al Mujaini’s vision for the future:
After the historic peace agreement last week, we feel a real mutual sense of excitement and hope for a better future. It is our dream that others, especially in the Arab world, will see it also and join us!”
Also writing in Al-Sharq Al-Awsat was Mishary Al-Dayidi, whose article on the Emirati-Israel agreement, said it all succinctly and simply in the title:
“BREAKING THE BARRIERS OF ILLUSION”
For this writer, the UAE “achieved a major political, psychological and security breakthrough in the Middle East with the announcement of its historic agreement to normalize ties with Israel. This agreement not only protected the Palestinians’ right to establish their own independent and sovereign state, but also preserved the sanctity of all Muslim sites in Israel.”
According to Al-Dayidi,the deal:
“strengthened the moderate Arab world and united it against the Muslim Brotherhood, the Mullahs and the Arab nationalists who have been rearing their heads in the Middle East,”
while at the same time:
“The UAE reaped a tangible gain for the Palestinian cause, not by words but by deeds: It brought to an immediate and unequivocal end to the Israeli encroachment of West Bank territory, an achievement explicitly outlined in the tripartite statement released by the UAE, the US and Israel.”
Under no illusions, Al-Dayidi warns what to expect next with the “well-oiled propaganda machines in Turkey, Iran and Qatar, alongside radical groups like al-Qaeda, Islamic State and the Houthis,” all rushing “to attack the Emirates. They will describe the UAE as a “traitor” and as “weak.” But the truth is far from that. Egyptian president Anwar Sadat was vehemently attacked after signing a peace treaty with Israel. But the fact of the matter remains that in historic perspective, he liberated Egyptian lands and prevented a bleak future for his country. He was a true hero of war and peace, and Egypt is still reaping the fruits of the peace he created.”
Al-Dayidi notes that the King of Jordan, Hussein bin Talal, “was also attacked after reaching an agreement with the Israelis, but he refused to submit to these accusations. This led his country to the great Wadi Araba Treaty, which ensured Jordan’s territorial integrity and water rights with Israel. Therefore – and because he is a realistic and responsible Arab leader – Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi took the initiative to commend this development.”
Exposing hypocrisy and advocating pragmatism, the Al-Sharq Al-Awsat writer continues”
“Most ironically, those very countries that responded with criticism – Turkey and Qatar – are also those maintaining the most extensive covert trade and tourism ties with Israel. Whether one supports it or not, the Emirati-Israeli agreement will not come at the expense of the Palestinians, but rather in their favor. Like it or not, Israel is one of the countries of the region.”
As far as Al-Dayidi is concerned, “this historic diplomatic achievement will enhance peace in the Middle East and preserve the two-state solution on the ground, not in the imagination. This is a historic agreement that brings back memories of great leaders who dared take risks to bring about peace.”
Thoughts of an Arab Student
We felt it instructive and illuminating to conclude with a perspective from a young Emirati writer, Maryam Al Zaabi, a 19-year-old student at Sorbonne University in Abu Dhabi.
Majoring in history and international relations, Al Zaabi reveals that that she also learned “how Israel is very multicultural, multi-ethnic and very diverse, which is what I love, coming from a country that has more than 200 nationalities living in it.”
She reveals that she only started hearing about Israel at the age of eleven and had “no misconceptions regarding the Jewish state that Israelis and Jews might think an Arab would have. I was even ignorant about it, because the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was not an interest of my parents or my school, so the topic barely came up.”
She then started learning “by myself about the history of Jewish people and Judaism. I learned that being Jewish is also a peoplehood and that they have a connection to the land (Israel).”
With no inherited baggage and acknowledging that she has made many Jewish and Israeli friends – she writes:
“I do not have a reason to hate the country, and I don’t look for one. Every country has its flaws, including Israel, but its existence is not one of them.”
What was so amazing for her was having “this dream” for her country – the UAE – and Israel to work together, when “All of a sudden, after a busy day,” she reads a tweet announcing the deal. She responds by tweeting herself:
“I’m so shocked, happy and honored.”
In an article published in JNS, Al Zaabi writes that:
“As an Emirati, what I truly hope for after establishing bilateral relations between our countries is for us to have real and warm relations. Not only between governments, but very much between the people as well. I don’t wish for merely a “cold peace,” which is only for preventing war. I would love for people on both sides to learn from each other, exchange ideas, become the best of friends, and most certainly break stereotypes.
It only makes sense for us to be the closest of allies in this region. After all, we are cousins.”
The wise counsel from much of the Arab world to the Palestinians is that it is time to get over their shock at the deal; to not categorise it as a “betrayal” and begin to see the Israeli-Emirati breakthrough as a potential bridge to restart talks with Israel. The time may be ripe to turn a “crisis” into an “opportunity”.
Increasingly, more and more countries in the region and beyond will hopefully see the value in peace and mutual cooperation. A “Winds of Change” once having blown across the African continent is blowing through the Middle East, hopefully starting to sweep away ancient hatreds and bring about a new season of brotherhood.
*Lay of the Land thanks Asaf Zilberhof for some of the translation from the Arabic.
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