Monday, May 20, 2024

A window for Middle East peace has opened. Let’s grab it!

by Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor

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The human race has been gifted with an amazing capacity for problem-solving. With God’s will there is nothing we cannot achieve. Scientists have cured illnesses that used to be death sentences. We take for granted that we can turn wind and sun into electricity, sea into drinking water and hold face-to-face conversations with people on the other side of the planet.

We have also been successful in resolving the bitterest of conflicts. Who could have imagined that Germany and Japan would become two of the closet US allies or that negotiations could bring down the Berlin Wall and free Soviet satellite nations from Communism?

Humanity always finds a way forward on the path to peace, with one exception – the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that has painfully dragged on in one form or another ever since the birth of the Israeli state condemning millions to misery.

This untenable situation has resulted in serial wars between Israelis and Arabs and failure to reach an accord is not for the want of trying on the part of mediators. In 2000, a Palestinian state was close to being a reality but was thwarted by leadership changes in Israel and the US where voters delivered hawks.

Any efforts in that direction have been nothing other than token since then. Palestinian hopes have been dimmed and most fear they have been abandoned by the community of nations and by a Palestinian-fatigued media.

I have been batting for my Palestinian brothers and sisters since I rushed home to listen to Former Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s weekly radio addresses as a boy. Former Palestinian President Yasser Arafat was a personal friend of mine and until today I do what I can to alleviate the financial burdens of Palestinians in dire need. It goes without saying that I would love to see a Palestinian state emerge on 1967 borders in my lifetime but reality dictates that pragmatism must prevail over what has become a mirage.

I was once an idealist; no longer. Unrealistic dreams are of no use to a people yearning for a place where they can live peacefully and prosper in dignity. The painful truth is that resistance against a militarized, nuclear state has only served to elicit a brutal backlash encouraging the occupying power to dig in its heels.

In short, it is time to implement new strategies requiring creative thinking and courage from all sides. A brand-new page must be turned; a clean slate where the dredging-up of past injustices has no place. Right now is the moment to write a new chapter, Israelis and Arabs together.

“Israelis and Arabs together”, the very phrase will offend the ears of many entrenched Israeli and Palestinian supporters, but since we are the parties to the conflict is there any other way? If so, tell me about it. To quote the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin whose life was robbed due to his peace efforts in partnership with Arafat, “You don’t make peace with friends. You make it with enemies.”

You may be asking yourself, why now, when there is a pro-Israel president in the White House and Israel has a hardliner prime minister?

In my opinion, it is now or never. Firstly, US President Donald Trump would be ecstatic to tout that he is the only US leader who succeeded to secure a deal. Secondly, and most importantly, the implacable enemies of Israel are also the enemies of almost all Gulf States and their Arab allies. Combating those mutual threats rests on cooperation between threatened countries. As they say, the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

There is one state which together with its overt and covert allies and proxies that is the greatest supporter of terrorism within the region and further afield: Iran. It operates on medieval values; it craves an Ottoman-style empire and disseminates a poisonous, backward ideology. Its aggression harms the Arab world and is seen in Israel as a threat to its very existence. Close cooperation between Saudi Arabia and Israel on that front would stop Iran’s ambitions in their tracks.

The late Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz offered an olive branch in 2002 during an Arab League Summit in Lebanon in the form of the Arab Peace Initiative, a solid proposal based on a two-state solution. Israel left the offer hanging. Perhaps then the timing was not right.

The logical step now is for Israel to recognize the legitimacy of Palestinian aspirations by agreeing to a viable Palestinian state or, at the very least, working towards a one-state solution with seriousness and dedication. Both the Israeli and the Arab sides should offer security guarantees backed by the United States.

Just days ago, Israel’s Chief of General Staff of the Defence Forces Gadi Eisenkot told the online Arabic language journal Elaph that Israel is ready to share intelligence with “moderate” Arab states such as Saudi Arabia to thwart Tehran which he accused of “seeking to take control of the Middle East… We must prevent this from happening,” he stressed.

I could not agree more, but absent of any vision to improve Palestinian lives, cementing ties with Israel will engender conflicting emotions within the minds of Arab leaderships and peoples. Surely relinquishing land mostly populated by Palestinians is a relatively small price to pay for an enduring peace with almost the entire Arab world that would bring mega economic, diplomatic and social rewards to all participating states. The only other alternative is one state where Israelis and Palestinians live side by side enjoying equal rights.

Lastly, I would remind Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the half-open window of opportunity to end decades-old tensions can shut just as fast as it opened. It has been created by a confluence of circumstances whereby Israelis and Arabs must overcome the nefarious schemes of a common enemy.

Mr Netanyahu, this is your one chance to make history not only as an Israeli patriot but as a peacemaker, a man capable of displaying pragmatism for the benefit of your people and ours. Let us put our hatred and fears behind us so that we deliver freedom to generations of Palestinians while beating back those wishing to do us harm.

As a first step, I advise you to approach the Saudi leadership as well as other Gulf Cooperation Council member states, such as the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, with sincere resolve. If you do, I strongly believe you will encounter fertile ground in which the first seeds of peace can be planted. Be brave enough to take a leap. Create a legacy of which you can be proud to safeguard generations of Israelis and Arabs to come.

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