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‘Circle of peace’ can heal our troubled region

Bahrain’s FM Abdullatif Al Zayani, Benjamin Netanyahu and UAE FM Abdullah bin Zayed with Donald Trump at the signing of the Abraham Accords. (Reuters)
Bahrain’s FM Abdullatif Al Zayani, Benjamin Netanyahu and UAE FM Abdullah bin Zayed with Donald Trump at the signing of the Abraham Accords. (Reuters)
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18 Sep 2020 01:09:53 GMT9
Khalaf Ahmad Al-Habtoor
18 Sep 2020 01:09:53 GMT9

Congratulations to the peoples of the UAE, Bahrain and Israel, who, following Tuesday’s historic signing of the Abraham Accords in the White House Rose Garden, can now look forward to a wealth of new opportunities in all fields of endeavor. These are exciting times, opening all kinds of doors for our children and grandchildren.

Thanks to the forward thinking of the UAE’s Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan and the Bahraini monarch Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa, who embraced peace with Israel notwithstanding the inevitable critical chorus, there is an optimistic buzz in the air.

My appreciation also goes to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for ignoring the naysayers at home, who have been clamoring to annex Palestinian lands. But the person without whom peace would have remained a distant dream is US President Donald Trump.

Trump promised to cement a Middle East peace deal during his 2016 campaign. There were those who laughed at the suggestion. This may not be the deal he envisaged, which was roundly rejected by the Palestinians on the grounds of pro-Israel bias, and it was indeed heavily weighted in Israel’s favor.

However, I think the Abraham Accords have far greater potential than the deal largely conceived by Jared Kushner, especially if they flourish and expand to include other major Arab countries. Together with Egypt and Jordan, which signed peace treaties with Israel in the past, the UAE and Bahrain are the seeds of hope that are destined to grow into permanent Middle East peace.

Until now, the Israelis felt empowered to take a hard-line stance on just about everything connected with the Palestinians, largely because they could and because they had absolutely nothing to lose. It stands to reason that, the more Israel is connected with its Arab neighbors on multiple levels, the more it will be open to making compromises.

Just about everyone in my part of the world seeks justice for the Palestinians and we will continue to demand that they receive their rights. The UAE and Bahrain have both recently reiterated their support for two states side by side, with East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital.

That said, instead of stomping on Emirati flags and referring to Emiratis and Bahrainis as “traitors,” forgetting all the financial and diplomatic support they have been given over many decades, the Palestinians should quit their policy of self-isolation and begin talking, or else they risk being disregarded.

Notably, Hamas launched 15 rockets into Israel as soon as Emirati Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan began delivering his speech on Tuesday. What exactly does Gaza, which is bleeding from poverty and joblessness, gain from such pinprick attacks when, more often than not, Israel retaliates with excessive force? The Palestinian residents of massively overcrowded Gaza live in misery because Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other militant groups are more attuned to militancy than peace.

I salute President Trump for driving the carriage with determination and transparency. He achieved the outcome he wanted because he would not take no for an answer. He does take a controversial approach in his dealings, which may rattle some people, but he is not afraid to take action and he almost always delivers on the big issues impacting the US and the world.

It is a pity that his successes are often underrated. For this step alone, he should be honored with a Nobel Peace Prize, even though the Nobel committee lost credibility when it chose President Barack Obama as a recipient early in his presidency.

Our utmost respect and appreciation go to Sheikh Mohammed for his courage and determination to keep the UAE as a pioneer in all fields and an ambassador for peace. Sheikh Mohammed realizes the importance of this new accord and the turning point it constitutes in the peace process in the region and the world.

As for me, I could not be happier. From a personal perspective, although I hoped to be able to visit Jerusalem in my lifetime, I did not really believe I would get the chance. Now I am looking forward to a journey of discovery, visiting historic sites, gaining fresh perspectives, exchanging views and even making new business partnerships.

Whatever the passport they hold, people are just people, with similar hopes and dreams. Once Israelis and Arabs begin listening to one another without self-defensive posturing, they will discover that the children of the Prophet Abraham have more in common than they imagined.

Cooperation in a spirit of friendship will certainly deliver enhanced security, stability and prosperity for the participating countries. Success will shine a light on the path, attracting others to complete this courageous “circle of peace,” which will strengthen our hand against our shared enemies.

Peace is always a blessing, yet in the Middle East it has been exceptionally hard to achieve, primarily because some minds were glued to a single, unrealistic signpost pointing to nowhere. So many wasted years. So many wasted lives.

The more Israel is connected with its Arab neighbors on multiple levels, the more it will be open to making compromises.

Khalaf Ahmad Al-Habtoor

The reason our region is viewed around the world as a basket case is due to the fact that certain countries have been stuck in an ideological time warp. Iran is a glaring example: Its messages of hate have not changed since the 1979 Khomeini revolution. Iranians are suffering. The economy and currency are on the rocks and sanctions have decimated the country’s oil revenues. If only the Iranian leadership would wake up and change course, everyone would greatly benefit. For one thing, there would be less money spent on weapons, leaving more available to better the people’s standard of living.

I would urge the ayatollahs to cut relations with all armed proxies, end all support for terrorism, tone down the anti-Western/anti-Arab rhetoric and instead come to the table and join the circle of peace.
Lastly, it is my hope that this Israeli-Arab detente will not merely remain on paper but will be embraced by governments and citizens alike. Let us open our arms to a warm peace that will stand as an inspiration to all.

  • 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.
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