Rabbi Marc Schneier in Abu Dhabi.
(photo credit: FOUNDATION FOR ETHNIC UNDERSTANDING)
United Arab Emirate leaders are “confused,” “baffled” and “perplexed” by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s pre-Election Day comments about the possibility of annexing parts of the West Bank, Rabbi Marc Schneier said on Wednesday, following meetings in Abu Dhabi at the beginning of the week.
“I heard from several UAE officials that they are confused by the mixed messages, and that while they recognize the prime minister’s desire to establish relations with the Gulf States, they are baffled and perplexed by his comments about annexation of the West Bank,” he said.
Schneier, a Long Island rabbi who heads the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, an organization promoting Jewish-Islamic ties, travels frequently to the Gulf State. While there, he interacts with various Arab leaders and discusses not only Jewish-Muslim relations – he was in Abu Dhabi from Thursday to Monday discussing several interfaith initiatives – but also about ties between Israel and the Arab world.
Schneier said that despite “all the euphoria” about burgeoning ties between Israel and the Persian Gulf countries, “the plight of the Palestinians is of primary importance. Some people are under the misconception that they no longer care about the Palestinian cause, but it is of the utmost importance to them, and to think otherwise is dead wrong.”
The rabbi would not identify the leaders he spoke to, other than to say they were senior UAE officials with whom he engages on a regular basis. He said that their message to Netanyahu was to be careful about how his message is heard, not only among leaders in the Arab world, but also among the masses.
Despite concern about Netanyahu’s comments, Schneier would not characterize the reaction in the Gulf to Netanyahu’s reelection as “disappointment.”
Rather, he said, leaders in the Gulf were “concerned by the election results” and the prospect of the formation of a hard right-wing coalition. “I mentioned that it took a right wing coalition to make peace with Egypt,” he said, referring to the 1979 Israel-Egypt peace accord signed by Menachem Begin.
He estimated that the reelection of Netanyahu would not set back the process of strengthening ties between Israel and the Persian Gulf countries, and that there is a sense that “we can now just click onto the play button, and don’t have to go to the very beginning of the process. I think there is momentum, and the election didn’t set anything back.”
REGARDING THE long-awaited US administration peace plan, which is now expected to be rolled out in June, Schneier said that it is clear to the Gulf “that they will be playing a very significant role in the plan from an economic point of view. There are many who believe that this latest peace initiative is very economically driven, bringing financial and economic empowerment to the Palestinians.”
Schneier said that the Persian Gulf involvement is expected to be “very large.”
“They are no longer just standing on the sidelines, looking in,” he said. “They will be very much involved.”
Schneier said that the Persian Gulf states feel they are currently facing two existential threats: Iran, and economic challenges caused by the drop in international dependency on oil and the need to recalibrate their economy. Israel, he said, is seen in the Persian Gulf as a country that can help them deal with both those challenges, even in an era when there will be a different – and perhaps less sympathetic – US president.
Schneier quoted the King of Bahrain, Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, as telling him in the past that “our only guarantee for a strong Arab moderate voice in the Gulf is a strong Israel.”
He said that the cancellation earlier this week of a high-level and high-profile Israeli delegation to an innovation conference in Bahrain underlined the common threats that Israel and Bahrain face, since the pro-Iranian Shia terrorist organization that threatened to target the Israeli delegation is the same one that has threatened Bahrain’s leaders.
“This is another example of the common threat and the common enemy,” Schneier said, adding that in a “twisted way” this threat demonstrates the two countries’ common interests.
The 30-person delegation of executives and government officials led by Economy Minister Eli Cohen was slated to take part in a business conference in Bahrain organized by the US-based Global Entrepreneurship Network (GEN), but canceled its participation after the Saraya Waad Allah Militia posted a video simulation on Sunday of an armed drone attacking the hotel where the Israeli team was meant to stay.
The delegation cited security considerations for it cancellation.
Nevertheless, a senior Israeli official confirmed a Channel 13 report that a foreign ministry delegation did travel to Manama this week and held meetings on the sidelines of the GEN conference.
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