U.S. rabbi speaks of growing relations between Israel and Gulf states

"Of course, there is nervousness. It is a process. Now the good news is that the journey has begun," U.S. Rabbi Marc Schneier said to CNN's Becky Anderson. "And that is a part of the process."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/REUTERS)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman
American Rabbi Marc Schneier spoke with CNN last week about the continued improvement in relations between Israel and the Arab Gulf states and how he sees the shifting tide is bringing us into an "exciting" time for interfaith politics.
Schneier is the head of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, which is a not-for-profit organization based in New York that focuses on improving Muslim–Jewish and black–Jewish relations.
"My observations from an interfaith point of view is that the process has begun in terms of reaching the Promised Land of greater understanding, cooperation and coexistence among faith communities. And you see this now taking place throughout the region today," Schneier told CNN.
A few months ago, Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu visited Oman, an Arab Muslim state which has no diplomatic ties with Israel.
He did so at the invitation of the country’s leader Sultan Sayyid Qaboos bin Said Al Said.
Interviewer Becky Anderson touched on this topic. "It’s no secret that ties between Israel and certain Arab states are warming," said Anderson. "Is Iran the driving force behind this rapprochement, as we might describe it?" she asked Schneier.
"I believe there are three critical reasons for this rapprochement," Schneier said.
"First, there is the concern, the threat from Iran. It’s a common enemy that the Gulf and Israel share. Number two, there is an economic transformation that is taking place in the Gulf, particularly because of the diminishing demand for oil. And many Gulf leaders see Israel as that ultimate economic partner, Israel being the start-up nation.
"And then finally I believe the Gulf nations want to strengthen their relations with the United States, particularly with the Trump Administration. And they see Israel as the conduit not only to the Trump Administration but also to winning over the United States," he concluded.
Shifting the discussion to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Schneier believes that the Gulf can play a major role in the talks. In the past, however, he recognized that the peace initiative from the Gulf sates was always, "Israel, Palestinians, here is the plan; work it out and then call us," whereas now there is recognition among the Gulf leaders that they need some "skin in the game."
In regards to relations with the United Arab Emirates, the “overriding consensus” among ranking ministers in the UAE is that relations with Israel are just “around the corner,” Schneier told the Jerusalem Post a couple weeks ago.
Speaking with the Post from Abu Dhabi, where he was one of dozens of religious leaders whom Pope Francis addressed at an interfaith gathering on the second day of the pope’s three-day historic visit to the Gulf state, Schneier said he sat with a number of UAE ministers who said they were “looking forward” to ties with Israel, and that it was “not a question of if, but a question of when.”
A couple weeks back, the UAE recognized the Jewish community existing in Dubai for the first time. The Emirates published a book, Celebrating Tolerance: Religious life in the UAE, celebrating acceptance and religious diversity in the UAE which included the Jewish community's formal recognition in print, sponsored by the Ministry of Tolerance. Schneier said that there was “no question” that the formal recognition of the Jewish community is a “result of the warming of relations between the UAE and Israel.”
When speaking to the Post, Schneier pointed out that there are possibly two main front runners to be first to establish and firm diplomatic relations with the Jewish state.
"If there is any country that deserves to be first it would be Bahrain. The king of Bahrain, since I first met him in the palace in 2011, has consistently and publicly demonstrated his support and wanting diplomatic relations with Israel," Schneier said. "It was the king of Bahrain who said to me in 2016, which was a public statement, that, for a strong moderate Arab voice in the Gulf, we need a strong Israel."
However, Anderson pointed out the fact that when CNN reached out to the Bahraini leadership for comment, the Arab Gulf nation was "reticent" to confirm, citing possible public shyness over the subject.
"Of course, there is nervousness. It is a process. Now the good news is that the journey has begun," the American rabbi said to Anderson. "And that is a part of the process."
Tovah Lazaroff and Herb Keinon contributed to this report.