Gulf states need to solve own problems, says prominent U.S. Rabbi

The “ultimate deal” between Israel and the Palestinians will never come to fruition unless the US first makes peace between the six Persian Gulf states.

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December 29, 2017 10:38
4 minute read.
Gulf states need to solve own problems, says prominent U.S. Rabbi

Leaders and representatives of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) attend a meeting during their annual summit in Kuwait City, Kuwait, December 5, 2017. . (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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President Donald Trump’s dream of brokering the “ultimate deal” between Israel and the Palestinians will never come to fruition unless the US first makes peace between the six Persian Gulf states, a high-profile US rabbi said this week.

Marc Schneier, the rabbi of the tony Hampton Synagogue in New York, is in Israel after spending a week in Qatar and Bahrain, where he met the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, and spoke with Bahrain’s King Hamad.

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Qatar and Bahrain are on different sides of the divide in the Gulf, which Schneier said roughly splits the six countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) into two camps: Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain on one side of the divide, and Qatar, Kuwait and Oman on the other.

“There is a serious conflict in the Gulf, in terms of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the Emirates against Qatar,” said Schneier, a prominent figure in the US promoting Jewish-Islamic ties as head of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding.

“I firmly believe that Israel is sitting on an extraordinary opportunity to actually realize peace with the Gulf states, but I don’t believe there will be regional peace with the Gulf until the internal conflict among these countries is resolved,” he said.

Schneier, who is expecting to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before he returns home next week, said his message to the prime minister will be to use his influence with the US administration to encourage more active involvement in brokering a resolution to the conflict splitting the Gulf countries.

“This conflict is a priority in the Gulf today,” Schneier said, reflecting what he heard in the Gulf. Following almost a week in Qatar and Bahrain, he visited Azerbaijan – another Muslim country – and met with President Ilham Aliyev.

Gulf nations cut ties with Qatar (credit: REUTERS)

Without a rapprochement between the Gulf countries, he said, the GCC as one will not put its shoulder to the wheel behind a regional peace process. This process is built on the assumption that the Arab world can use its leverage to press the Palestinians to make concessions they might not be willing to make on their own. But if the council is split, then a unified voice on this matter will not be heard.

“I know from first-hand experience how powerful things can be when all six countries are on the same side,” Schneider said, adding that he worked closely with Bahrain’s king in 2015 to get the GCC to declare Hezbollah a terrorist organization.

“Now there is an opportunity to have all six Gulf states on one side in terms of reaching a historic peace with Israel,” he said, lamenting that the focus is on dealing bilaterally with Saudi Arabia, “without taking into account the opportunities that exist with the other five.”

Overall, Schneier said that Israel’s relations with the Gulf states are characterized by “two steps forward, and one step back,” with the step backward evident this week when the Saudis denied Israeli chess players entrance to a tournament there.

“Maybe we Jews overreact without taking a step back and putting things in context,” he said, adding that the relationship with the Gulf is far beyond where it was five years ago.

For instance, he said, Qatar has said it will welcome Israel when it hosts the soccer World Cup in 2022, something the emirate would not have said a few years ago.

Schneier, who has also been active in the past in building bridges between the Jewish and African-American communities, said that in contrast to the perception here that the Afro-American community is one of the most difficult demographics for Israel in the
US, the relationship between the Jewish and black communities is one of cooperation more than confrontation.

When reminded that the Black Lives Matter movement has a strong anti-Israel plank in its agenda, Schneier said that most mainstream leaders of the US black community have no idea about this plank, and that no one takes it seriously.

The Jews, he said, “are hypersensitive” to this issue, while most black leaders have no idea where Black Lives Matter stands on Israel.

Schneier said he was not concerned that Israel and Netanyahu’s embrace of Trump for his recent proclamation on Jerusalem will hurt Jewish-black ties in the US or antagonize the African-American community. “They have other issues to worry about, from healthcare and education to combating economic inequality, and the Jewish community has stood in solidarity on these issues with the Afro-American community.”

Schneier said that he did not think Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital will tip any support of the US Jewish community from Democrats to Republicans.

“Speaking for myself, I appreciate Trump’s support of Jerusalem; at the same time there are a litany of issues back in the states where he and I disagree a great deal,” he said.

“There has been an alarming rise in Islamophobia, and attacks on Muslims and mosques; there has been an exponential growth in anti-Muslim sentiment,” he said. “That is the climate in the US today, a climate he created.

Asked if the Jerusalem decision would be enough for him to vote Trump, he answered simply “no,” but added: “That doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate what he did.”•

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