The hope of a ‘warm’ peace in the Middle East - analysis

While the Egyptian and Jordanian peoples have never taken to Israel, the UAE deal has the potential to be embraced by the Emirati people.

A United Arab Emirates (UAE) flag waves alongside an Israeli flag (photo credit: REUTERS/CHRISTOPHER PIKE)
A United Arab Emirates (UAE) flag waves alongside an Israeli flag
“On the plane we asked the pilots to fly faster because there is great urgency between the people of both countries to break down old barriers, to get to know each other, to form new and hopefully very deep friendships. While this peace was forged by its leaders, it’s overwhelmingly desired by the people.”
Thus spake Jared Kushner, US President Donald Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, on the tarmac in Abu Dhabi on Monday after landing there on an El Al plane with a large Israeli delegation that flew direct from Tel Aviv, over Saudi Arabia.
If, indeed, this peace – as Kushner declared – is “overwhelmingly desired by the people,” then that would set it apart from the peace agreements Israel has with Egypt and Jordan, agreements which, though recognized for their utility by the governments in both Cairo and  Amman, never took off among the Egyptian and Jordanian people.
While the peace with both Jordan and Egypt can be characterized as a cold peace, the expectation – and one which Kushner is raising – is that the peace between Israel and the UAE will be a warm one, one desired by both peoples.
And if the signals being sent by top UAE officials, by UAE newspaper editorials and by UAE citizens on social media are any indication, there is good reason to believe that this will indeed be the case.
But Yitzhak Levanon, a former diplomat who helped pave the way for low level ties between Israel and seven Arab countries following the Madrid conference in 1991, and who served as Israel’s ambassador in Egypt from 2009-2011 – urged caution and wisdom.
“Now it looks like it will be a warm peace, but I’ll take you back 40 years and that is the way it looked when we signed the agreement with Egypt, and our ambassador went there, and we opened an embassy. The euphoria on both sides was sky high,” he said.
But this did not last long because then the realities of the Mideast intervened – the first Lebanon War, the first intifada and then the second – and the enthusiasm waned.
Levanon said that the key in anchoring the peace – so that it will withstand the vicissitudes of this troubled region – is to anchor it in things that the UAE needs from Israel.
“If there is a war with Hezbollah tomorrow, a third Lebanon war, and Israel bombs Lebanon, there is going to be pressure on Arab countries who have ties with us,” Levanon said.
The way to counter that is to create interests so that it will not be worth the UAE s while to cut ties even if things get difficult. One example of this with Egypt is the Qualifying Industrial Zones (QIZ) free trade industrial zones, which prove a livelihood to thousands of Egyptians.
Similar mechanisms need to be established with the UAE, he said. Among his suggestions: cyber security cooperation and experimental farms in the desert not for Israeli profit, but for the good of the Emirates. What is needed are elements that are important to the people of the UAE, so that during a crisis when they question whether to retain their relationship with Israel, retaining these elements will convince them to maintain the ties.
The problem today with the relationship with Egypt, he said, is that outside of the QIZs, these types of interests do not exist. “There is no agriculture, no tourism, nothing,” he said, adding that while security cooperation is important, it is temporary and changes as the situation on the ground changes.
“We have to be thinking about businesses with the Emirates that will not make some tycoons here money, but will be things that the people in the Emirates need, something of significant interest,” he said.
Levanon added that the makeup of UAE society lends itself more to the possibility that the peace will take root among the people, not only among those in the government – as is largely the case with Egypt and Jordan.
“We have no territorial dispute with the Emirates. We did not fight each other. There is a generation there that grew up in prestigious universities in the US and Europe. They are a rich country. There is no middle or lower class; they are all making a good living. When you have money you look for the dolce vita.”
Unlike Egypt, where Levanon said that 60% of the people are living in poverty and 50% are illiterate, the situation in the UAE is different: “They have money, and the percentage of the illiterate is small. They read newspapers, are exposed to facebook and social media” and, as a result, have a more positive view of Israel.
Ron Prosor, a former ambassador to the UN and director general of the foreign ministry, expects that the peace with the UAE will be warmer because he anticipates more people-to-people contact.
“The UAE has a young generation out there that is well educated, with a leadership that understands that the oil economy is not the answer because at the end of the day it will exhaust itself, and they are investing in high tech.”
Prosor, who in 2004 as the foreign ministry director general visited the UAE to help establish an economic representation there, said that while in most Arab countries the economy is run from the top down, the UAE’s leaders have made it a point to allow more economic freedom from the bottom, something likely to drive more people-to-people contact.
“The UAE has a young population that has been abroad and their attitudes and their impressions of Israel is more positive,” he said. “You absolutely don’t feel there what you feel in Egypt and Jordan toward Israel.”