A united GCC is best for Israel

  Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani is seen during the match of France's Gael Monfils against Andrey Rublev of Russia (photo credit: REUTERS/IBRAHEEM AL OMARI)
Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani is seen during the match of France's Gael Monfils against Andrey Rublev of Russia
 I AM convinced that as Israel recently celebrated the 70th anniversary of the State of Israel, we are on the cusp of achieving peace and mutual recognition between Israel and the Gulf States. Having made more than 20 trips to the Gulf over the past decade – meeting kings, prime ministers and foreign ministers from all six countries comprising the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) – Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, and Oman, I believe it is only a matter of time.
Indeed, I am hopeful that the day of recognition of Israel by the nations in the Arabian Gulf – the physical and spiritual heart of the Muslim world – will happen within the next few years and will bring with it ultimate peace in the Middle East.
Yet, as tantalizingly close as that historic day is, it will not arrive until we overcome one formidable hurdle – namely, bringing about the reunification of the GCC itself. A year ago, Saudi Arabia, and its allies, UAE and Bahrain broke off diplomatic relations with Qatar and imposed a trade and travel ban on that Gulf state. Until the blockade of Qatar is ended and a united GCC restored, it is impossible for any of the Gulf States to take the risk of making peace with Israel, knowing others will accuse them of selling out the Palestinians and the cause of Islam itself to the ‘Zionist enemy.’ In short, all members of the two opposing camps within the GCC – Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain on one side and Qatar, supported by Kuwait and Oman on the other – need to heal their breach and step forward together to recognize Israel or none of them will.
We have seen in the past how a united GCC benefits Israel. I personally have witnessed firsthand the willingness of various Gulf states to contemplate the once unthinkable prospect of peace with Israel during meetings I have held over the past eight years with top leaders of those countries. On my first visit to the royal palace in Manama in 2011, King Hamad of Bahrain shared with me that Israel and the Gulf states face a common enemy in Iran and said that the key to maintaining a moderate Arab presence in the Middle East is a strong Israel. In 2016, King Hamad was successful in convincing the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to formally label Hezbollah a terrorist organization.
In addition to the example above with Bahrain, there is other proof that the other states are interested in discussing diplomatic relations with Israel. Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir has repeatedly emphasized to me during meetings over the past halfdecade that “the road to Middle East peace runs through Riyadh.” Saudi Arabia’s willingness to work together constructively with Israel became much clearer over the past year with the rise of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Qatar has also moved in a positive direction. The emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad, reassured me recently in Doha that his country is committed to fighting terrorism and extremism. His Highness went even further praising the State of Israel and discussing opportunities for joint economic and commercial developments. In August 2017, at the behest of Leah and Simcha Goldin, I delivered directly to the Emir a letter from the Goldin and Shaul families asking the Qatari ruler to help secure the return to Israel for burial the bodies of their sons, two IDF soldiers, Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, killed by Hamas in Gaza in 2014.
Fortunately, reuniting the Gulf is something that the Trump Administration, intent on achieving the ‘ultimate deal’ of Middle East peace that eluded its predecessors, is well-positioned to achieve. To accomplish that aim, the President and his Middle East negotiating team, headed by son-in-law Jared Kushner, will need to lean on their close friend and ally, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, whom Trump welcomed several weeks ago to the White House, to end the blockade.
The Jewish people is the nation whose anthem is “Hatikvah,” meaning “the hope”; and after 70 years, there is great cause for optimism in expanding Israel’s diplomatic ties to the Gulf. Think for a moment of the economic and strategic heft of an Israeli-Gulf alliance; bringing fruitful collaboration between the countries with the world’s greatest reserves of oil and Israel, with its unsurpassed acumen in the fields of hi-tech and water management. Think of the possibilities for affecting healing and reconciliation between Muslims and Jews around the world, if the King of Saudi Arabia, “Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques,” makes peace with the Prime Minister of Israel. In this spirit, let us channel our energies and resources to reunite the GCC as the next step to realizing a genuine peace between Israel and its Gulf neighbors.
Rabbi Marc Schneier is president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding and co-author with Imam Shamsi Ali of ‘Sons of Abraham; A Candid Conversation About the Issues that Divide and Unite Jews and Muslims.’