UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, who represented his country at the White House unveiling of the Abraham Accords on September 15, 2020, visited Israel yesterday to mark the second anniversary of the blessed peace deal.
His visit highlighted the beauty of the Abraham Accords, meaning that they are marked by warm friendships, and backed a discourse of genuine tolerance and ideological moderation. This is even more important than the burgeoning trade and amazing defense relationships with the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco.
In repeated visits to the Gulf, my Arab interlocutors have indicated that they seek nothing less than to redefine the identity and global image of Arab Muslims, and that they see Israel’s blending of tradition with enlightenment as a role model for this.
Imagine that: Israel as a role model for modernizing moderate Arab societies.
This is so encouraging, indeed empowering to me, as a Jew and as an Israeli. It gives new meaning to the biblical prophesy that “From Zion, Torah shall go forth, and the word of God from Jerusalem.”
The basis for this is the similarity of our societies. Israeli society and the societies of UAE, Bahrain and Morocco cherish their strong ethnic, cultural and religious identities while appreciating modernity. They concurrently uphold proud nationalist sentiment and a broad-minded approach to advanced education, international brotherhood and regional cooperation.
But blending tradition with enlightenment is a complex task, which Israel has done relatively well. Lo and behold, the Abraham Accords partners want to learn from Israel in this regard. To me, this is the whirlwind peace bonanza, an ideological breakthrough of near-biblical magnitude.
Here is a concrete example of the new moderate Arab discourse. The Institute for Monitoring Peace and Tolerance in School Education (IMPACT-se) has found that much of the old anti-Israel material in Emirati textbooks has been deleted or altered. Passages that previously demonized Israel, presented antisemitic conspiracies, and blamed “the Zionist enemy” for seeking to “exterminate the Palestinian people” have been removed.
Especially noteworthy is the removal of passages that presented the Palestinian issue as “the basis of conflicts in the Middle East.” Passages focusing on tolerance toward Jews have been inserted instead.
Moreover, by referencing the Abrahamic common heritage of Muslims and Jews in the foundational document of the Abraham Accords, and repeatedly playing “Hatikvah” in their royal palaces, Arab countries implicitly are acknowledging that Jews are a biblical people indigenous to the Land of Israel.
This is a joyous revolution that overturns generations of Arab and Islamic ideological delegitimization of Israel. And it is a stinging repudiation of the ongoing Palestinian campaign to deny Jewish history and criminalize Israel in international institutions.
“Hatred is not from God. It does not flow from logic. And hatred is not the future,” a very senior Emirati who is close to UAE President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed told me recently. “We are investing in Israel-Arab ties as a force-multiplier against hate, for the long term, for our own good as well as yours.”
ALAS, SOME grouches on the political Left still dismiss the Abraham Accords as a product of Trumpian razzle-dazzle that were finalized thanks only to billion-dollar arms deals and other diplomatic rewards. They assert that the accords will be short-lived and unravel under Iranian pressure and Western disinterest.
I say that this is a complete misread of Emirati, Bahraini and Moroccan commitments in pursuit of peace with Israel. The Abraham Accords are deeply rooted in genuine ideological intentions (as well as urgent security realities) and are locked in for the long term.
In this context, it is worth noting that the Abraham Accords passed their first stress test during last year’s Israeli-Palestinian dust-up in Gaza and Jerusalem. While Gulf and Moroccan leaders issued condemnations of Israel for its tough police response to Arab riots on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, no Abraham Accords country did more than protest.
None withdrew their ambassadors from Israel, and none slowed the pace of developing economic ties. (Compare this with the Second Intifada in 2000, when Tunisia, Morocco, Oman and Qatar dissolved their less-than-full diplomatic ties with Israel.)
Most notable of all, neither the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan nor Morocco truly criticized Israel for striking hard at Hamas in Gaza. In fact, they probably cheered this, quietly. Their mild press releases about the fighting resembled standard State Department calls for de-escalation and restraint. In sum, none of these Arab countries added to the diplomatic pressure on Israel in any substantive way.
It is true that at an event celebrating the Abraham Accords at the Atlantic Council in Washington last week, UAE Ambassador to the US Yousef al-Otaiba (a key architect of the accords) referred to the Palestinians as “the elephant in the room,” and called on signatories to the accords to do more to advance a two-state solution.
“The accords were not meant to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but they were meant to buy space and time to create room for diplomacy to address the two-state solution,” he said.
Well, there is no argument that an Israeli-Palestinian accord would be good for all parties. Indeed, everybody hoped that Palestinian leaders would take the Abraham Accords hint and realize that the time to compromise with Israel irrevocably had come.
There are so many new regional forums relating to gas supplies, water cooperation, environmental projects, tourism and defense that the Palestinians could join to their benefit. The Abraham Accords need not “sideline” the Palestinians if the Palestinians don’t sideline themselves.
But Arab leaders knew in advance of signing the Abraham Accords that the current Palestinian leadership is light years away from being ready to compromise or cooperate with Israel.
They knew in advance, and they certainly know ever-more two years later, that Abbas and his cronies, as well Hamas chieftains in Gaza, have locked themselves into a doomsday loop of destruction – both a commitment to Israel’s destruction and to the Palestinian people’s own obstinate self-destruction.
Israel faces another Palestinian wave of terrorism these days not because of any “provocative actions” on Israel’s part nor because “a political horizon for the Palestinians” is missing, but because killing Israelis has been the DNA of the Palestinian national movement going back 50 years to the Munich Olympics massacre in 1972. And despite the Oslo process, Palestinian leaders haven’t matured much beyond that.
Moreover, the deleterious dynamic of Fatah-Hamas competition – i.e., the complete dysfunctionality and corruption of Palestinian politics – leads to ever-more radicalism as the two rival movements seek the upper hand by demonstrating their anti-Israel and antisemitic bona fides.
The bottom line is that waiting for the Palestinians to wise up is a loser’s game, and Abraham Accords countries are too smart to play this game any longer.
The winning game involves nurturing the better nature of peoples through cultural and business partnerships and so many more peaceful interfaces. The winning game strengthens every party while simultaneously solidifying the regional infrastructures of Middle East peace and prosperity.
The writer is a senior fellow at The Kohelet Forum and in the research department of Israel’s Defense and Security Forum (Habithonistim). The views expressed here are his own. His diplomatic, defense, political and Jewish world columns over the past 25 years are archived at davidmweinberg.com.