Arab solidarity was already dead before UAE deal

MIDDLE ISRAEL: The Abraham Accord picks up from where the Weizmann-Faisal deal left off, but comes wrapped in three big lies

ABU DHABI’S Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan receives Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the Presidential Airport in Abu Dhabi in November. (photo credit: WAM/REUTERS)
ABU DHABI’S Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan receives Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the Presidential Airport in Abu Dhabi in November.
(photo credit: WAM/REUTERS)
“I know that the Arabs despise, condemn and hate the Jews,” wrote British colonel and diplomat Mark Sykes to Faisal, then king of Syria, before imploring him:
“Believe me... this race, despised and weak, is universal... all powerful, and cannot be put down... remember, these people do not seek to conquer you... Look on the Jewish movement as the great key to Arab success... recognize them as a powerful ally.” (Quoted in Jehuda Reinharz, Chaim Weizmann II, Oxford 1993, p. 255)
Made in March 1918 with World War I still raging, this plea was part of Britain’s effort to shape the post-Ottoman Middle East.
The plea fell on attentive ears, first producing a meeting between Faisal and Chaim Weizmann and then, on January 3, 1919, an agreement in which Faisal acquiesced to unlimited Jewish immigration to Palestine, and to Palestine’s exclusion from his realm.
Faisal later backtracked from his pro-Zionism, but historians say his initial sympathy was genuine, in the spirit of his letter to Zionist leader Felix Frankfurter: “We are working together for a reformed and revived Near East, and our two movements complete one another.” (Walter Laqueur, A History of Zionism, New York 2003, p. 237)
This history must be recalled as Middle Israelis assess the meaning of El Al’s historic flights this week from Tel Aviv to Abu Dhabi and back.
The good news is that the aptly-named Abraham Accord picks up from where the Weizmann-Faisal Accord left off. It takes no diplomat to understand that the Emirati move is effectively a Saudi move, the equivalent of Noah’s release of the dove from his ark. As such, it vindicates Faisal’s original view, that the Jews are not enemies of the Arab cause, as he understood it then, and as the Saudis view it now.
The sad news is that the deal between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Mohamed bin Zayed (MBZ) reached us wrapped in three big lies.
THE FIRST lie is that the deal is “peace for peace.” It isn’t “peace for peace,” on both sides of this equation: on its one side because there was no state of war between the Emirates and Israel, and on its other side because Netanyahu abandoned his annexation designs.
Lurking behind Netanyahu’s bravado is a deeper fallacy, a reincarnation of Weizmann’s conclusion from the meeting with Faisal that “he did not have to negotiate with the Palestinian Arabs” (Reinharz, p. 256). Netanyahu is still there, in 1919, effectively ignoring the size, location, and hostility of the West Bank’s Palestinian population, and Israel’s inability to digest it.
The second lie is that the deal with the Emirates is fully Netanyahu’s baby. It isn’t.
The breakthrough with the Emirates is the maturation of what began with Yitzhak Rabin’s visit to Oman in 1994, with Shimon Peres’s visit to Qatar in 1996, and with Ariel Sharon’s dispatch of an economic delegation to Dubai in 2003. Relations with the Gulf are now more than a quarter of a century old.
That is indeed why trade with the Emirates is set to expand quickly. It’s not beginning from zero, and there really is plenty that both countries have to offer each other in tourism, technology, biomed, defense and finance.
It’s been an open secret that Israel-Gulf trade in general, and with the Emirates in particular, has been around since the turn of the century. Evidently, the Arabian Peninsula is now dotted with leaders who, in the spirit of Faisal’s original attitude, realize Israel’s ability and happiness to help Arab success.
Historians will debate whether or not the Abraham Accord was a child of the Oslo Accords, which for much of the Arab world legitimized trade with Israel. There will be no debate that relations with the UAE did not begin with Netanyahu, and in all likelihood would have matured with or without him.
The Abraham Accord’s first two lies, then, concern its diplomatic meaning and Israeli fatherhood. The third lie concerns its Arab side, and involves one of the era’s emptiest slogans: Arab solidarity.
FOR A CENTURY, ever since they pressured King Faisal to abandon his sympathy to the Zionist enterprise, Palestinian nationalists have been condemning and harassing Arab leaders out to harmonize with Zionism.
Palestinian leaders used the Arab-solidarity button to make Arab governments join bloody wars with Israel, boycott the Israeli economy, abuse Palestinian refugees by denying them citizenship and jobs and to sabotage Arab attempts to accommodate the Jewish state.
This Palestinian reflex is still around, as demonstrated by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s condemnation of the Abraham Accord as an Emirati “betrayal.” What’s gone is the reality of Arab solidarity. With Arabs killing, dispossessing and displacing thousands of fellow Arabs in multiple civil wars – any talk of Arab solidarity is empty rhetoric.
Yes, the UAE demanded an Israeli gesture on the Palestinian front, but that was lip service. The Palestinians are right in their impression that MBZ sees their cause as their business, rather than his. So does Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who called MBZ to praise him for the deal.
Indeed, Arab disunity is but a side effect of the Arab future’s hijacking by zealots who flooded it with hatred; the hatred that first made Arab turn on Jew, and then made Arab turn on Arab.
It has been one long, post-colonial road to perdition, whose alternative was mapped by King Faisal when he sought to build the Arab future with the Jews, a nation whose “vigor, and tenacity, and moral ascendancy” he came to admire, as he wrote after meeting Weizmann. (Reinharz, p. 256)
It is this alternative road which has just been taken by one Arab leader, and in due course will be taken by the rest.
The writer’s bestselling Mitzad Ha’ivelet Ha’yehudi (The Jewish March of Folly, Yediot Sefarim, 2019), is a revisionist history of the Jewish people’s leadership from antiquity to modernity.