The principle of peace is at the very heart of the Abrahamic faiths. The Quran describes Islam as “the ways of peace,” while the Talmud explains, “The entire Torah is for the sake of the ways of peace.” In fact, the word shalom (peace) appears over 400 times in the Hebrew Bible.
This yearning for peace, which unites Jews and Muslims, is at the forefront of my mind as U.S. President Joe Biden visits Israel for the first time since being elected and then travels on to Saudi Arabia. In one short trip, he will visit the most holy lands for Jews and Muslims.
Long anticipated but frequently delayed, this visit comes during a period of political upheaval in Israel. While the trip was scheduled with former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in office, Biden was greeted by the new Prime Minister Yair Lapid. Biden will also meet with opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, a reminder of the precarious and dynamic nature of Israeli politics.
However, while Israelis are divided on a range of issues, when it comes to expanding the reach of the Abraham Accords, we and our leaders are united. Whoever wins the next election will be committed to deepening our ties with the Arab world, including countries with which we have normalized ties and those that have yet to cross the Rubicon.
This is perhaps the first time a U.S. president has visited a Middle East that is not only united by the fear of outside threats, but also by the possibilities of cooperation. The ground-breaking Abraham Accords shattered the idea that Israel would only be welcomed into the wider region once it made peace with the Palestinians.
This was a truly historic event, the biggest breakthrough in Middle East peace in almost three decades. And the Accords have aspired to much more than a cold, top-down peace. They are characterized by real warmth and burgeoning people-to-people, civil society and business ties, as well as a genuine commitment to a new Middle East.
The United States should take much credit for the Abraham Accords. While they were initiated by the previous administration, they remain firmly in America’s core national interest, and it is important to maintain the momentum they created, irrespective of which party is in power.
There are many Arab and Muslim countries that have yet to normalize relations with Israel, and efforts should be made to capitalize on this moment and bring them under the warm blanket of peace. Not sometime in the future, but now.
Without doubt, the most significant country of all is Saudi Arabia, custodian to the Two Holy Mosques and protector of the Two Holy Cities. It is an open secret that the Saudis have many quiet contacts with Israel and extensive cooperation in many important areas. These contacts take place both behind the scenes and increasingly out in the open, with many Israeli businessmen reportedly traveling to Saudi Arabia on Israeli passports in recent months. Now, America must take advantage of historical circumstances and a convergence of interests to formalize these ties.
The new generation of leadership in the Middle East is positively engaged and holds the keys to peace. Whatever the outcome of the Israeli elections, there will be broad support for a deal with the Saudis, particularly given that the deals with the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco have proven so successful.
It remains true, of course, that the Saudis have unique sensitivities that have made them reluctant to formalize a relationship with Israel. The Palestinian issue may yet prove to be a difficult obstacle, but with active U.S. involvement, it can be overcome. And when the Saudi foreign minister announced this year at Davos, “We always envisioned that there will be full normalization with Israel,” a clear message was being sent.
Achieving normalization between Saudi Arabia and Israel is one of the greatest gifts the Biden administration could bring to the Middle East and indeed the world. The message of hope it would send to the youth of this region has the potential to trigger an unstoppable chain reaction that will have a deeply positive impact on our societies.
I, like so many other civil society and business leaders across the region, am waiting with open arms to endorse, embrace and empower this move. We are calling on President Biden to crown the Abraham Accords with the addition of Saudi Arabia, allowing our generation to build bridges to a better, peaceful future for our region and all its peoples.
Eitan Neishlos, grandson of a Holocaust survivor, is the founder and chairman of the Neishlos Foundation and an ambassador to and strategic partner of the March of the Living.
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