Abraham Accords herald a new normal for Israel, Arab allies - opinion

Sometimes things that suddenly seem normal tell you how the world has changed.

 JARED KUSHNER arrives with his wife and fellow senior adviser, Ivanka Trump, for the signing ceremony of the Abraham Accords at the White House last year. (photo credit: TOM BRENNER/REUTERS)
JARED KUSHNER arrives with his wife and fellow senior adviser, Ivanka Trump, for the signing ceremony of the Abraham Accords at the White House last year.
(photo credit: TOM BRENNER/REUTERS)

While Americans were traveling for Thanksgiving, Defense Minister Benny Gantz arrived in Rabat to sign unprecedented security and intelligence agreements between the Jewish state and the Atlantic Arab state.

Little more than a year ago, such an official visit, let alone the signing of mutual cooperation agreements, would have been unthinkable. This past week, the Moroccan press largely covered it as an important event.

It is the latest in some 20 agreements signed between Israel and Morocco.

New institutions have been created, including the Moroccan-Israeli Business Council and the Moroccan-Israeli Chamber of Industry, to allow Israelis and Moroccans to meet each other and strike business deals. Trade between Israel and Morocco has surged by 50% in the first six months of 2021 alone.

Nor is Morocco alone among Arab states. Under the Abraham Accords, three other Arab lands have officially made peace with Israel and opened their borders to merchants, traders and pilgrims.

 Rabbi Levi Duchman lights the Hanukkah Menorah on November 28th, 2021 at Dubai Expo 2020 in Dubai, UAE. (credit: Courtesy JEWISH UAE) Rabbi Levi Duchman lights the Hanukkah Menorah on November 28th, 2021 at Dubai Expo 2020 in Dubai, UAE. (credit: Courtesy JEWISH UAE)

This week marked the second year in a row that Jews openly celebrated Hanukkah in the United Arab Emirates. Arab tourists are visiting Israel in increasing numbers, from Tel Aviv’s beaches to Jerusalem’s holy sites.

This year, some hundreds of thousands of Israeli tourists have booked hotels in Morocco. Israeli investment in the Gulf Arab states is fueling hi-tech start-ups, while Arab investment in both Israel and the Palestinian territories is growing rapidly.

Less than two years ago, most Arab nations would not admit travelers who had Israeli stamps in their passports. That restriction is now gone, and millions of Arabs and Israelis have visited each other. Indeed, all of these things have become so common that they are no longer remarked upon.

Count me among the many Arabs who have long believed that the peace plan deserves a chance – although one of the few to say so publicly. Now it is a reality.

If the Arab street has anything to say about it, more Arab nations will make peace with Israel and begin trading and investing with the nation that some Arab state-run broadcasts still refer to as the “Zionist entity.” Many Arabs in Iraq, Syria and Libya, courageously, without fear or hesitation, now say that they favor normal relations with Israel. The momentum for peace across the Arab world is real and growing.

This normalization process is being carefully watched across North Africa and the Middle East. The best way to bring more Arab nations into the fold is with a relentless march of completely normal events: friendships struck at business events, visiting students and scholars quietly learning that “the other” isn’t really so different after all, and diplomats and generals working across borders to stop anarchists who express themselves with bombs, not words. The cumulative impact of these quotidian events will do more to increase the momentum of the peace process than any speech or sermon.

BEHIND THIS historic achievement was a man who believed, who fought, and who faced the rejection of large swaths of the American establishment: Jared Kushner.

In a better world, he would share the Nobel Peace Prize. In our world, his reward is measured by the many enriching encounters between Israelis and Arabs that simply would never have occurred as recently as a year ago.

Kushner’s great insight was that the younger Arab generation has a fundamentally different perspective from that of its elders. More than 60% of Arabs are too young to remember the 1967 and 1973 wars with Israel, and many more consider them to be ancient history.

As a result, young Arabs widely accept Israel’s existence as a given and generally view trade with its thriving economy as essential to their own personal prosperity. They want ordinary things, Kushner realized: a steady job, a nurturing school, a safe street and a durable reason to hope that things will get better.

The Abraham Accords that Kushner championed made all of these things a real possibility for the first time since 1948.

THE BIDEN administration was right to signal its support for the signed peace agreements between Israel and Arab countries. This, too, helped accelerate the momentum for peace.

If the wave of peacemaking translates into tangible benefit for Arab youth, pan-Arab support for peace with Israel will only grow.

We need a new regional order where Israel is a stakeholder and no longer a foreigner in its own region. This new regional order should not be seen as against anyone, but, rather, as beneficial to all. Also, this new regional order should be based on an updated joint assessment of threats, but also on how to generate opportunities that promote stability and future development.

This time of year in America, it is common to pray for peace. Simply put, security and prosperity demand peace between people.

The Biden administration should accordingly push for a broader effort at cultural reform with the potential to generate the popular support necessary to sustain a peace process.

Doing so means urging and equipping Arab allies to roll back generations of rejectionist messaging in Arab establishment-owned media, mosques and schools. It means supporting the rising tide of bold, grassroots Arab voices that have been calling for specific relations between Arabs and Israel.

Rather than returning to the old clichés of the “peace process,” we could encourage America’s diplomats and scholars to see the extraordinary power in ordinary things.

The writer is publisher of The Jerusalem Strategic Tribune. He is on the board of directors of many think tanks, including the Atlantic Council, Center for Strategic and International Studies, International Crisis Group, International Center for Journalists, Foreign Policy Research Institute, Center for National Interest, and the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security.