(September 16, 2020 / JNS) The peace agreements between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain are an economic, diplomatic and strategic breakthrough.
On the economic front, they are a connection between the most innovative country in the world, Israel, and two of the wealthiest countries in the world; an encounter that may be transformative not only for the Middle East but for the whole world. Even before the agreement was signed, Israeli and Arab businessmen hurried to sign deals of cooperation and mutual investment.
On the diplomatic front, this is an agreement that refutes all the theses concerning the peace process that have existed for 30, 50, even 70 years. Even in the early 1950s, the Americans and British suggested a format based on the principle of land for peace, which included the demand from Israel to give Egypt almost all of the Negev. The fervent belief that Israel must buy peace with the Arabs persisted after the 1967 Six-Day War as part of the peace accords with Egypt and Jordan. The current peace deals, however, were achieved without giving up one millimeter of land.
Another belief was that the Israeli-Arab conflict was central and fundamental in the Middle East, and that its origin is in the conflict with the Palestinians. By that same belief, the core of the conflict surrounds the settlements in Judea and Samaria and eastern Jerusalem. Yet these deals were achieved with no advance whatsoever with the Palestinians, and without removing Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria, without even a settlement freeze.
Finally, for many years there was a belief that the Palestinians, because of their weakness, needed incentives to enter negotiations, even after they left the table. So they received billions, an embassy in Washington and recognition from most countries of the world. This time, as opposed to the past, the Palestinians left, they ran away from the talks—and they were punished. Therefore, beyond the economic and diplomatic achievements, the peace agreements have a significant strategic importance.
The Arab governments over the past years dealt with insufferable dangers from Iran and Erdoğan’s Turkey, who support Hamas and Islamists. At the same time, as the United States began a process of removing itself from the region and supporting those Arab countries, the Bahrainis and Saudis had no choice but to turn to Israel, the only superpower in the Middle East that doesn’t threaten them, that in fact is willing to help them defend themselves.
These peace deals will allow us and the moderate Arab states to forge an open front against the Iranian-Syrian axis, and against Turkish aggression.
The tangible interests behind the deals can’t lessen the great achievement of Israeli diplomacy. Credit is due to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his team, who managed to take a historic opportunity created by the Trump administration’s presence in the White House and the willingness of the Gulf states to move from covert to overt relations.
This achievement will be studied in diplomacy books. And yet, we must not be complacent. We must prepare for the possible outcomes of the U.S. elections in November, which may lead to the renewal of the nuclear agreement with Iran and the strengthening of Palestinian recalcitrance.
Furthermore, we must take into consideration that like after every other deal, terrorism will surge and we will have to respond and defend ourselves determinedly. In this case, we must take into consideration the influence our reaction will have on the agreements. The most difficult part for some of the public will be that we will need to show restraint when it comes to annexation.
However, and despite the suffering caused by the lockdown, this is a happy day for the State of Israel and all of the Middle East.
Michael Oren is a former Israeli ambassador to the United States.
This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.
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