A brave new dawn in Arab-Israeli relations
One of former South African President Nelson Mandela’s many pearls of wisdom was: “If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.”
After 18 years of incarceration on Robben Island, Mandela understood that violence against a militarily superior foe would not end apartheid. So he skillfully employed dialogue, forgiveness and reconciliation to achieve his aim of coexistence between his people and the white minority that oppressed them.
Unfortunately, his strategy, which resulted in the cessation of hostilities between black and white South Africans, escapes the reasoning of some of my fellow Arabs, who have no solution as to how to better the lives of Palestinians. They instead prefer to hang on to the same old rhetoric and unrealistic scenarios that belong in the mid-20th century.
I have been a supporter of the Palestinians all my life, both morally and materially, but, over the decades, circumstances have changed. I’m a realist. I cannot remain stuck in some fantasyland and neither do I wait indefinitely for miracles.
Like it or not, Israel exists as an economic powerhouse under the unwavering protective umbrella of the US. To imagine that boycotting Israeli goods will force the collapse of the state is infantile and hypocritical. Many of the components in your computers are Israeli-made, with Israeli microchips found in more than 100 million devices worldwide. To isolate Israel within the region only convinces its governments to buy more weapons and construct more walls, both literally and figuratively.
I would say to those critics of the historic Abraham Accords, who say it means a loss of Palestinian leverage or an erosion of negotiating chips, that for many years neither the Palestinians nor their Arab backers have had any leverage over Israeli decision-makers.
The 2001 Taba talks that came so close to fruition ground to a halt when the hard-line warhorse Ariel Sharon succeeded Ehud Barak as Israeli prime minister and US President George W. Bush took the White House. Bush held his nose to pay lip service to the so-called road map because he was eager to lure Arab states on board with the invasion of Iraq. President Barack Obama talked a good talk, but his administration opposed pro-Palestinian UN Security Council resolutions and, as for President Donald Trump, he has showered his friend Benjamin Netanyahu with gifts.
The more Arab states that have peace treaties with Israel, the more influential the bloc will become.
Khalaf Ahmad Al-Habtoor
There is a valid argument that says the Israelis have been intransigent. But the same can also be said for the Palestinians, who still insist on the right of return for refugees who are in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and elsewhere. That is never going to happen, and they know it full well.
They would be better off asking the host nations to tear down the camps and allow the refugees the right to work and own their own homes. Refugees pass on false hopes to their children, along with the keys to the former homes of their fathers or grandfathers, keeping a visceral hatred for Israelis alive down the generations. I believe this is unfair for both generations. There are 2 million Palestinians — the descendants of those who stayed in 1948 — who have Israeli nationality. Most take pride in their Arab heritage, whether Muslims or Christians, yet are content to call themselves Arab Israelis.
It is beyond time for the Palestinians to quit blaming everyone else for the situation they find themselves in today. Instead of condemning long-standing Arab allies, who have stood by them to the tune of billions of dollars — and, in the case of Egypt and Syria, waged war with Israel on their behalf — they should first quit feuding with each other.
Hamas and other militant groups must turn their backs on the violence that rebounds onto the poor residents of Gaza and is the main reason for the crippling blockade. Arabs should not support Hamas, which is 100 percent Palestinian yet cozies up to Iran.
The beauty of the Abraham Accords is that they greatly benefit all signatories in terms of trade, commerce, tourism, technology and security. Moreover, they cement a united front against a common enemy that is working toward manufacturing nuclear weapons with which to hold its neighbors hostage.
Provided this new detente is successful, Israel will want to preserve the agreement and thus we will gain the ability to push for Palestinian rights from a position of strength. This is basic common sense. Compromise only occurs when both sides have something important to lose. The more Arab states that join Egypt, Jordan, the UAE and Bahrain in having peace treaties with Israel, the more influential our bloc will become within the US and on the world stage.
Lebanon is undergoing arguably the most challenging period in living memory. Peace with Israel would be a major game changer, and I suspect that the Lebanese people would approve were it not for the obstacles strewn in the path. The Lebanese need the courage to express what is in their hearts and decide to live in peace.
Lebanon and the Lebanese people should want the same: To remove all the obstacles/issues that are holding this back. Once those issues are overcome, then a peace agreement becomes evident and the people of Lebanon can prosper. The Lebanese have to be brave enough to decide to live in peace. On this front, there is a glimmer of hope. In recent days, Lebanon and Israel, which consider themselves to be in a state of war, have agreed to hold US-mediated talks on their respective maritime limits in light of new oil and gas finds throughout the eastern Mediterranean. This could evidently pave the way for further negotiations to demarcate their land borders, leading to a long-awaited peace deal.
Hezbollah’s domination of Lebanon is reaching its end. Hassan Nasrallah and his slavish following are becoming so despised that they are attempting to disappear into the mist. To remain within the political arena, his allies are bound to distance themselves. To ensure Hezbollah never again rears its ugly head, the people should demand that its leadership and terror commanders be tried for instigating criminal wars, as well as for their stranglehold over Lebanon, which has delivered nothing but ruin, misery and unprecedented poverty.
There is no doubt that the Abraham Accords are history-making in that they are a departure from the previous Israeli-Arab peace agreements that were signed grudgingly. In the case of Egypt, the purpose was to gain the return of lands captured by Israel during 1967, while US President Bill Clinton heaped pressure on Jordan to sign up in return for debt cancelations. Until recently, there had been no genuine normalization of relations except on paper; a cold peace still reigned.
The Abraham Accords differ significantly because all sides are enthusiastically intent on creating a strong alliance to bolster a peaceful and prosperous future for the region. Economic interests dictate global policies these days, and it is the business communities that will provide the glue to ensure the three-way accords are a great and lasting success. Israel will soon discover that our nations could not be better allies.
My homeland has a progressive, tolerant culture and my compatriots have embraced multiculturalism, offering friendship and respect to people of different races and religions. We are a people who settle our differences calmly and politely, without argument or violence. We do not have time for squabbles; we are too busy working hard and making the most of our leisure time.
Lastly, I would urge all Arab leaderships to bury old hatreds that have consumed their foreign policies for 72 years without bearing fruit. Join us in forging a peaceful Middle East, with new and exciting opportunities for all, for this is the finest legacy we can leave to our children and the generations to come.
- Khalaf Ahmad Al-Habtoor is a prominent UAE businessman and public figure. He is renowned for his views on international political affairs, his philanthropic activity, and his efforts to promote peace. He has long acted as an unofficial ambassador for his country abroad.