“The Palestinians will get on the train … It will just not happen at the very first stop.”
By Ruth Wasserman Lande, a former advisor to President Shimon Peres
After more than 70 years of exclusion in the regional realm, the sovereign State of Israel has gained recognition in broad daylight. It’s not that there were no relations between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and other countries in the region prior to the signing of the Abraham Accords, but now the “secret mistress” – the one that everyone knew about anyway – has been taken out of the closet.
More peace agreements are anticipated with other countries in the region, but more importantly, this recent development constitutes a change of consciousness with regard to Israel. The boycott thereof has literally been broken. If we put cynicism and politics aside for just a moment, it is a spectacular, historic and very important step, despite the fact that it is not without complexity.
As someone who lived for several years in Egypt – whose leadership was ahead of its time and with extraordinary courage promoted peace between the two countries, after years of bloody wars and heavy losses on both sides – I cannot ignore the fact that unlike the important, strategic, yet cold peace with Egypt, the peace with the Gulf states includes normalization.
And this normalization is public and completely unapologetic!
The word “normalization,” or tatbi’a in Arabic, is no less than a curse in neighboring countries with which Israel made peace decades ago. This time, front-page headlines in Arabic in the UAE speak of a new dawn, and Hebrew captions appear on the Dubai’s official state television as a symbol of celebrating the newly-announced peace accord. The once clandestine connection is now “halal.”
In fact, the agreements between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain finally put an end to the conditioning of normalizing relations between Arab countries and Israel, on the full solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
It is not that the Gulf states are not interested in resolving the Palestinian issue. Their citizens are interested, and thus, the leadership cannot wholly ignore it. Nonetheless, the citizens of the UAE are not interested enough in this issue to disturb their daily routine and oppose their leaders’ quest to forward peace with Israel until the Israeli-Palestinian conflict shall be completely resolved.
In addition, the public, especially in the UAE, is no longer willing to condition the economic, commercial, cultural and technological progress in the region to satisfy the dignity of the current Palestinian leadership in the West Bank and Gaza.
“The Palestinians will get on the train,” they say. “It will just not happen at the very first stop.”
The name “Abraham Accord” comprises a wonderful symbolism that was undoubtedly intended when the title was chosen. After all, our ancestor Abraham failed in uniting his two sons, Isaac and Ishmael, during his lifetime. However, they both buried him together after his death. Fraternity overcame hostility, even if for a moment, in the face of a significant event – the death of their father.
THIS SYMBOLISM is well understood by Arab-Israelis. They understand that the era in which the Palestinian leadership in Gaza and Ramallah dictates to the entire world, and to the people of the region in particular, when Israel may finally be an accepted partner in the neighborhood is over. And they do not like this!
On all Arab television networks and social media, Knesset members from the Arab Joint List are interviewed and speak out against the agreement, thus angering bloggers, thinkers and policy-makers in the UAE. Some of the opponents, who belong to the Balad Party, even go as far as to claim that the Abraham Accord shall “sow destruction in the region and in the entire world,” as Balad MK Mtanes Shehadeh said in a September 15 interview with Geula Even Sa’ar on Channel 11.
Usually, the majority of the Jewish public in Israel tends to learn of the nature of the Arab population via their members of Knesset. After all, the Arab members of Knesset, representing the Joint List, are frequently interviewed, both in the international, regional and Israeli media. In many cases, the Palestinian leadership in the Knesset does not truly represent its constituency’s true public opinions. Who truly listens to the ordinary Arab citizen? In fact, relatively few Jewish Israelis are exposed to the true opinions of the country’s Arab population.
The same Arab street is usually divided into two groups of unequal size. The larger group includes most citizens who are simply struggling to make ends meet in the face of the already precarious economic situation of Arab society in Israel, and even more so during the COVID-19 crisis.
The smaller group consists of shrewd and well-established businesspeople who view the recent developments in the Gulf and the burgeoning official relations with Israel as a spectacular, exciting and excellent opportunity for their business and economic advancement. The latter group is hardly heard from at all. Business should be promoted quietly, and in low profile, so as “not to arouse jealousy” among the rest of the Arab public.
Regardless of political views, and whether everyone likes it or not, Arab society in Israel constitutes about one-fifth of the population. As such, it is an integral part of Israeli society. With the recent peace-oriented developments taking place in the region, this is the time when this population, which masters the Arabic language and is deeply familiar with the regional culture, enjoys an acute advantage.
The importance of the aforementioned advantages when promoting commercial and economic relations between the partners on both sides cannot be overstated. Decision-makers in the field of policy and economics in Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain will certainly manage to promote the high-level strategic economic agreements without any special assistance.
Yet the rest of the public can certainly enjoy the rest of the fruits of peace in many forms, both business and commercial, and here there is a significant advantage to the Arab population in Israel. I believe that the latter will not miss this opportunity, despite the fact that its political leadership recommends to do just that!
About the Writer:
Ruth Wasserman Lande is the CEO of Ruth-Global Innovative Advisory and a former adviser to President Shimon Peres. Born in Israel and raised in South Africa where she matriculated at Herzlia School, the writer served for three years as political and economic advisor in the Israeli Embassy in Cairo, Egypt.
A graduate of Bar Ilan University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Harvard University, Ruth speaks Hebrew, English, Russian and Arabic.
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