The ‘private diplomacy’ that laid groundwork for UAE, Bahrain agreements
"The US, Netanyahu, the Bahrain and UAE governments get the credit for these agreements, but the ties and relationships that were made were very important,” said Hoenlein.
By JEREMY SHARON
The historic normalization agreements reached between Israel and the United Arab Emirates in August, and Bahrain just last week, have been hailed as milestones in the standing and acceptance of the Jewish state in the Middle East.And while these successes have developed through diplomatic channels between the Gulf states, Washington and Jerusalem, so-called private diplomacy conducted by several organizations, such as the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, the American Jewish Committee and the World Jewish Congress has also played a large role in laying the groundwork for these recent developments.Speaking to The Jerusalem Post, longtime senior official of the Conference of Presidents and current vice chair Malcolm Hoenlein noted that the organization began its outreach to the countries of the Persian Gulf a quarter of a century ago.They began with Qatar, which eventually chose a different path, but continued with delegations and flourishing ties with the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and beyond.Hoenlein said that he and the various missions met with regional leaders, discussed challenges such as the Iranian threat felt mutually by the Gulf states and Israel, Turkey’s growing assertiveness, terrorism and economic and business opportunities.“Each step contributes, it’s like building blocks. The US, Netanyahu, the Bahrain and UAE governments get the credit for these agreements, but the ties and relationships that were made were very important,” said Hoenlein.“I believe strongly in private diplomacy if it remains private because it gives you credibility. It builds bridges of trust, and shows people the value of a relationship with Israel, not just as a way-station to get to Washington, or against Iran, but for business, for medicine and for every field of endeavor.Advertisement“Both Israel and the Gulf states have so much to offer each other.”Hoenlein said, however, that their regional interlocutors always knew that they were not acting as emissaries of Israel or the US administration, but simply as people trying to create positive relationships and collaborative initiatives.Another organization which has done much work on forging these ties is the American Jewish Committee, which also began its outreach to the Gulf Arab countries 25 years ago.Jason Isaacson, AJC’s chief policy and political affairs officer, began leading outreach to these Arab countries in the early 1990s, with the purpose of cultivating relationships and mutual confidence.“Our intention all along has been to relieve individuals in the region of misconceptions about the Jewish people, and counter the conspiracy theories and propaganda that has polluted minds in the Arab world for decades,” Isaacson told the Post.“And we were also able to talk about the opportunities and benefits of engagement with the wider world and the Jewish community on the diplomatic, economic, and academic fronts.”Isaacson said that the AJC had facilitated the introduction of business leaders in the Gulf and Israel, helped facilitate the adoption of some Israeli technology and forge cooperative endeavors such as the Middle East Desalination Research Center in Muscat, Oman.The organization also helped promote free trade agreements between the US and the UAE, Bahrain and Oman.“It’s about building trust, proving that the promise of benefits can be realized, and build momentum for peace and cooperation and demonstrating that Israel can be a valuable partner beyond just the security dimension.Hoenlein said that he hoped the two recent agreements will pave the way for further developments, such as the recent Saudi agreement to open its skies to Israeli commercial overflights, and further economic cooperation with Israel and the Gulf states, as well other Arab and Muslim countries beyond.He also opined that these developments should act as an incentive to the Palestinians to reengage with Israel, and to show them that “time is not on their side.”Said Hoenlein: “The message is that it’s time to get to the [negotiating] table or all these ships are leaving the docks without you.”Asked if there is a concern Israel could forget the importance of resolving the conflict with the Palestinians, Hoenlein said that the Palestinians have been responsible for allowing the conflict to fester without resolution.He added that while many of the Arab leaders still believe that it is important to resolve the conflict, they have become frustrated with the Palestinians “resistance and obstinacy” and do not wish to continue paying a price over this issue forever.