Israel-UAE-Bahrain deals awaken hope for additional peace deals - opinion

Encountering Peace: I believe that a majority of the Israeli and Palestinian people want to live in peace.

Palestinian and Israeli flags overlook Dome of Rock and Western Wall (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Palestinian and Israeli flags overlook Dome of Rock and Western Wall
I know as a hard-core leftist I am supposed to oppose the peace deals between Israel, the UAE and Bahrain. I am not supposed to hope that additional Arab states will join the “peace train.” But I do. These Arab countries that are normalizing relations with Israel have abandoned the Palestinians and the Arab Peace Initiative while the occupation continues and even deepens.
This is true – normalization now taking place is above board and not being done under the table as it had been – and the Palestinian people and their struggle for freedom is no longer on the Middle East agenda (for the time being at least). The Arab Peace Initiative is no longer valid as the incentive that will pressure Israel to end the occupation. Eighteen years have passed since its formal inception in March 2002. It was a great idea and the Palestinians themselves were part of its design. Israel never took the bait and never even formally related to it.
If we are going to be brutally honest with ourselves, we must admit that there is no leadership for Israeli-Palestinian peace: not in Israel, not in Palestine, not in the US, nor anywhere else. However, the voices of peace are loud and clear in Israel and in the UAE and Bahrain with each passing day bringing new agreements, contacts, visits, and plans that change the face of the region.
It is true that there was no genuine conflict between those countries and Israel and that what prevented peace agreements until now was the continuation of Israel’s occupation over the Palestinian people. But in the absence of any progress or even hope for progress on the Israel-Palestine front, other common issues and interests have overtaken. Standing by the Palestinians for those Arab countries is no longer the priority when threats from Iran are so clear and present and common economic and security issues interests materialize.
I believe that a majority of the Israeli and Palestinian people want to live in peace. The repeated failures of the peace process, the inability to even negotiate, the continued violence between both sides and the lack of effective peace-seeking leadership on both sides has killed the hope that peace is possible for the time being, or for any time in the foreseeable future.
It does not seem that the current or even next leaders of Israel and Palestine will be advocating negotiations as part of their platform. We have seen repeated elections in Israel where the only relationship to the Palestinians has been a contest of who is more hard-line towards them. As the leadership contest unfolds in Palestine, we are also likely to see those competing for leadership taking more hard-line positions against Israel. “Peace speak” towards each other is not the language of Israeli nor Palestinian politicians at this time. “Peace speak” in the Israeli-Palestinian context amongst citizens of both sides is not what we hear at all.
WHAT IS so remarkable about the unfolding peaceful relations between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain is the prevalence of “peace speak.” There is a clear atmosphere of a warm peace developing.
I have already participated in about a dozen online zoom conferences between Israel, the UAE and Bahrain. Business people, politicians, officials, civil society leaders, artists and academics have joined in expressing hopes of real peace and putting concrete plans on the agenda for developing the peace.
Israelis and Emiratis and Bahrainis are excited about making peace. The media in these countries is filled with “peace speak.” I have traveled in the past to Bahrain, the UAE and even Qatar, but I had to hide my Israeli identity.
That is not the case now. Soon planes loaded with citizens from Israel, the UAE and Bahrain will be flying in both directions, opening doors for opportunities and building bridges of contacts. This is something totally new for Israelis and for Arabs. The peace between Israel and Egypt and Israel and Jordan never thawed from the freezing state into a warm peace between the peoples.
That is clearly because of the occupation. Now we will have the possibility of experiencing something completely new.
Will it be possible to have some of the warmth of this peace rub off on the horrible state of Israeli-Palestinian relations? How do we even begin to renew a peace process between Israel and Palestine that could lead to the end of the occupation and perhaps genuine peace?
The language that Israelis and Palestinian speak to each other is “hate speak.” Just listen to the voices that have come out against the Israeli decision to allow PLO leader Saeb Arekat be treated in Hadassah-University Medical Center, in Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem neighborhood for complications from the novel coronavirus. There are Israeli protesters outside of the hospital with signs that say “let him die.” Saeb Arekat is not very popular in Palestine for a lot of reasons. But when they see Israelis calling for his death, how can they not support him and pray for him while hating Israelis at the same time?
The chances of future peace will not suddenly materialize. It will take a concerted effort to regenerate the belief in peace among Israelis and Palestinians. I have very little confidence that governments and leaders in Israel and Palestine will play a positive role in the effort. It will take Israeli and Palestinian citizens to learn the language of “peace speak” to create an enabling environment that will change hearts and minds among both peoples. Maybe we can all learn something from the new peace agreements.
The writer is a political and social entrepreneur who has dedicated his life to the State of Israel and to peace between Israel and her neighbors. His latest book In Pursuit of Peace in Israel and Palestine was published by Vanderbilt University Press. It will soon appear in Arabic in Amman and Beirut.