Israel’s peace agreements with the United Arab Emirates, and now, Bahrain, are important and even historic achievements. Alongside the diplomatic, economic and security benefits these agreements are expected to provide, they are also proof of the ability to break the artificial obstacle imposed by the Palestinian question on Israel’s path to peace with the Arab world.
First and foremost, however, the treaty brings wonderful tidings for the UAE, potentially turning it not only into a leader in the Persian Gulf but into a key and influential player in the wider Arab world. The daring and courage displayed by the UAE, which not only dropped the jaws of experts and pundits and catapulted it ahead of far larger countries, are not just a testament to its strength, but to the calculated risk it took, that panned out nicely and transformed the tiny Gulf state into a rising power whose sphere of influence will only spread in the coming years.
Peace with Israel is no longer a contemptible necessity foisted upon Arab states, which they then neglect so as not to antagonize public opinion in their countries. The peace agreements between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain tell us that peace has become a source of pride, not to mention a winning card Arab states play to solidify and bolster their status.
Over the past two decades, the UAE has blossomed into a leading economic hub in the Gulf. That’s not enough, however, because in the Arab world, and the Persian Gulf, in particular, money alone can’t buy durability. If money doesn’t come with military and diplomatic clout, a country will be at the mercy of its neighbors. And with “friendly” neighbors such as Saddam Hussein’s Iraq at the time, and Iran of today, one doesn’t need enemies.
In previous decades, it was Qatar that sought the crown. It invited American forces to its territory, launched the Arab world’s first global satellite network, Al Jazeera, and finally, also cultivated relations with Israel. Qatar, however, lost its momentum and fell behind due to a series of wrong decisions—namely, exchanging innovation and modernity and its ties with Israel for radical Islam.
Qatar’s rulers mistakenly believed that extremism and enmity towards Israel would preserve its influence in the region, but the exact opposite occurred. Qatar squandered its status in the Gulf and wider Arab world. Only Israel unwisely grants it a sliver of legitimacy by allowing it to play the role of mediator with Hamas. It appears that the UAE and Bahrain peace deals are an excellent opportunity to return Qatar to its natural place and keep it locked down and isolated as a kingdom of terror and radicalism.
Either way, the UAE has overtaken Qatar and Kuwait, which with typical ingratitude refuse to help the United States bring stability to the region and peace between Israel and the Arabs. Qatar is “out,” the UAE is “in.” And this is just the beginning. With this peace treaty, Israel not only gains an ally, but also a powerful strategic partner with an increasingly prominent role in the Arab world.
Eyal Zisser is a lecturer in the Middle East History Department at Tel Aviv University.
This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.