The best analysis of why the Israeli-Palestinian peace process is so dysfunctional is that it has always been plagued by too much process, not enough peace. If anything is to be learned from the UAE and Bahrain’s normalization of ties with Israel, it is that peace can happen quickly and the process can come later.
Of course, one cannot compare more than 70 years of occupation and the legitimate calls to end it, as is the case with the Palestinians, with almost no hostilities whatsoever between Israel and Gulf states.
Yes, there are divisions between Fatah and Hamas. Yes, there is corruption in the Palestinian Authority. Nevertheless, as US President Donald Trump’s adviser Jared Kushner has pointed out, the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. When will they learn that every time they turn away from the negotiating table, the pie only gets smaller? Compare what was offered to them in 1999 and what is being offered now — and to this day, every time they are offered less, the Palestinian leadership seems to want more. The loss of historical Palestine is indeed a hard one to bear, but the Palestinians — indeed all of us — must put emotions to one side and embrace the reality.
But the fault is not all on one side. By expanding illegal settlements and continually adding insult to injury, Israel makes it impossible to reach a viable deal. As the UAE demonstrated when it asked for freeze on annexation of swaths of the West Bank, Israel needs to learn that there are rewards — and worthy ones — for acting responsibly, in a way that encourages a peace deal rather than undermines it.
So, will Saudi Arabia follow the UAE and Bahrain? If I had a few dollars for every time I’ve been asked that question, I would be a wealthy man.
The best analysis of why the Israeli-Palestinian peace process is so dysfunctional is that it has always been plagued by too much process, not enough peace.
Faisal J. Abbas
Riyadh has made its position clear: It remains committed to the Arab Peace Initiative, which Saudi Arabia itself pioneered in 2002, stipulating a Palestine state with its capital in East Jerusalem in exchange for normalization of ties with the Kingdom (home to Islam’s two holy shrines) and all other Arab states.
Despite this position being affirmed time and time again, many Western pundits over-analyze it; they are split between those who think Saudi Arabia would never recognize or normalize ties with Israel, and those who seem to believe Riyadh is secretly rushing to do so.
Much of this confusion, of course, is deliberately sown on the other side of the Arabian Gulf. Many people might be led to think that Saudi Arabia and Iran share the same views about Israel. That is neither true nor fair. Iran and its proxies are on record as wanting to throw Jews into the sea and wipe Israel off the map. They use this rhetoric to justify their destabilizing behavior in the region and their deployment of armed militias — which, far from “liberating” Jerusalem, instead occupy four Arab capitals.
On the other hand, Saudi Arabia’s official position has always been reasonable, and never anti-Semitic. Simply, Riyadh has always opposed the illegal occupation of Palestinian territories as defined by the UN and international law. For decades, it has advocated peace and gone out of its way to end Palestinian divisions.
Of course, nobody denies that there were elements in Saudi society who were disgracefully anti-Semitic. But in the past four years there has been serious reform of school curriculums, new hate-speech laws, and unprecedented steps toward dialogue with and openness to other faiths — a virtual revolution largely unreported by Western media.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman himself has met leaders from other religions, including Judaism, both inside and outside the Kingdom. The Muslim World League, led by Sheikh Mohammad Al-Issa (also a Saudi) has gone far in unequivocally criticizing Holocaust deniers and encouraging a more open, more tolerant interpretation of Islam.
As for the Manama rapprochement, one of the funniest things I read was an “analysis” suggesting that Bahrain, as a tiny Gulf state, would never have been able to normalize ties with Israel without a green light from Saudi Arabia. Not only is this derogatory to Bahrain, an independent kingdom, it is also loaded — like asking: “Have you stopped beating your wife?” The implication is either that Riyadh dictates policy to Manama,or that Saudi Arabia will have an issue with Bahrain over its decision; neither of which is correct.
In the end, even if the Palestinian issue is resolved and the whole region normalizes ties with Israel, many misconceptions need to be corrected, and hate must be extracted from the equation. That won’t be easy, but it starts by admitting mistakes. I hope that the agreement with Bahrain and UAE helps end hateful rhetoric against Arabs in Israeli media and books, and of course vice versa.
Arab News is putting our money where our mouth is. Today we begin a new series called Minority Report, in which we will cover the plight of minorities in the region, and Arab Jews will be a major focus. It starts with a brilliant “deep dive” into the history of Lebanese Jews produced by my colleague Ephrem Kossaify.
Faisal J. Abbas is Editor-in-Chief of Arab News. Twitter: @FaisalJAbbas