Israelis are, of course, just getting used to the idea of having friendly relations with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain after signing normalization deals with each country in recent days. Even more intriguing to many Israelis is the fact that these Gulf states have expressed their dissatisfaction with the Palestinians’ behavior in vetoing every peace overture in the last 20 years.
The Kohelet Policy Forum, Shiloh Forum and the Israel Hayom Israeli daily newspaper teamed up to host a special digital conference on the regional peace process, titled “The Abraham Accords: Towards a New Middle East?” The two-day virtual symposium was held on Oct. 21-22. Keynote speakers include Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman and U.S. Special Representative for International Negotiations Avi Berkowitz. The symposium also featured high-ranking Israel and U.S. officials, as well as senior members from the Arab media and prominent Israeli academics.
Kohelet Policy Forum chairman Moshe Koppel said, “After the colossal failures of trying to strike peace through unilateral concessions, we have changed course. The conference seeks to present a new approach with all it implies. Advancing the new Middle East runs through cooperation—not capitulation.”
According to Kohelet, the conference focused on the changing regional paradigms, such as the “peace for peace” equation, new regional alliances, the economic implications of the peace deal and more, as participants try to assess the impact of the peace agreements on Israel’s status in the international arena and especially among Arab countries.
In his address to the conference, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu echoed such messages. “I persevered doggedly for years to achieve this objective. The Arab countries have made a pact with Israel due to two main causes: our fierce stand, which I led, against Iran. … And, in addition to our stand against Iran, we also nurtured Israel’s economic, military, technological and political power.
“This is the truth about the Middle East. I think it applies to the whole world. In our region, it is the strong who are appreciated, not the weak,” he continued. “And you make peace with the strong ones. You make peace with the side that is determined to fight and vanquish Islamic extremism, not with those who would grovel before it.”
Israel Hayom’s editor-in-chief Boaz Bismuth made a point of his own, saying, “Thanks to a man sitting in the White House, we have a new Middle East, based on peace that derives from a position of power, sans buses exploding in the streets or ceding Israeli land.”
‘People of Palestine are hostage to a group of criminals’
The first panel, titled “The Boycott is Over: Israel in the Middle East after the Abraham Accords,” was moderated by Israel Hayom’s chief European correspondent Eldad Beck; and included Saudi TV-moderator Sukina Al-Meshekhis; Bahrain-based British-Arab researcher and commentator Amjad Taha; vice rector of Tel Aviv University professor Eyal Zisser; and Saudi academic researcher and columnist Dr. Najat al-Saied.
In response to Beck’s question as to what extent the Abraham Accords is a game-changer in acceptance of Israel in the Middle East, al-Saied said, “Arab Gulf states are quite different compared to other Arabs. They are more pragmatic and are setting an example [for other countries].”
She said Israel’s peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan “were government-to-government—a cold peace,” whereas the agreements with the UAE and Bahrain are “more people-to-people. People are dealing with business and not politics. I see this as very, very positive,” she said.
Taha said he hopes “this train of peace and prosperity does not stop now. It is a game-changer. Because of a historical deception and mistake in which Communist, Socialist and religious extremists took part in, an inaccurate impression of the State of Israel was created, and this led to its failure of being accepted in the Arab region.”
“The right solution now is to go for peace,” he said. “The people of Palestine are hostage to a group of criminals—groups of gangs who do not want peace or a homeland. They want money, and that is it.”
Al-Meshekhis said she sees “growing popular acceptance among the public of the Gulf states, which is a new phenomenon in Arab societies maybe because their nature is different, perhaps due to the distance of the Gulf states from Israel or perhaps because they had no wars with Israel.”
“If this peace agreement had been signed years ago in the era of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and other countries, we’d be seeing great resistance among the public,” she noted. “But the timing of the agreements comes at a most suitable time. The public in the Gulf states began moving away from the climate of the political Islamic groups, and the reforms in the Gulf states created a good environment for the people there to accept every peace agreement.”
Zisser said these agreements are “a huge breakthrough.”
He noted how the Gulf states “used to be non-important and they used to look to Egypt and Syria. The doors opened, and suddenly, they realized that the Palestinians are not as important. Today, Syria and Egypt are sidelined and the Gulf states have become central.”
‘Palestinian leadership has preferred no end to conflict’
Al-Saied emphasized that for years the Gulf states “were against Israel only because of the Palestinians. We do not have a direct conflict with Israel. Our main enemy is the Iranian regime.”
She also noted Turkey’s expansionist ambitions—led by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan—as a threat in addition to Iran. “Erdoğan is as insane as the Iranian regime,” she said. “He is expanding everywhere.”
Beck asked the panelists for their views on whether people in the Arab world “are fed up with the Palestinians for their largely self-inflicted suffering and their inability to take any decisions or do anything constructive.”
Al-Meshekis said “we go by the slogan, ‘My enemy’s enemy is my friend.’ Even though Iran is a Muslim country, it is not a peace-loving country. It behaves childishly; it wants to bring destruction with its allies like Hezbollah, the Houthis, al-Hashad al-Shabi, Hamas and others.
The Arabs don’t favorably view Iran’s takeover attempts and its ongoing violations that threaten their security, safety and stability. So every one of its threatening moves encourages rapprochement with Israel.
She noted that Palestinian corruption has finally become a hot topic. “Arabs today are more aware that for generations the Palestinian leadership has preferred no end to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict because they make money from it,” she said. “After many years, Arabs realized that identifying with the Palestinian issue has gotten them nothing at all, whereas the Palestinian leaders gained fat European bank accounts from it.”
As she concluded, “I hope the Gulf states put an end to this comedy being run by the Palestinian leadership, and that all the states immediately sign peace agreements with Israel.”
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