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This Easter, the resurrection of a new Middle East might be upon us

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09 Apr 2023 02:04:09 GMT9
09 Apr 2023 02:04:09 GMT9

For the first time in decades, winds of hope are blowing across the Middle East this Easter. And the timing could not have been more significant for Arab Christians celebrating Easter Sunday today, Muslims who have been fasting through the ongoing month of Ramadan, and Jews who have just celebrated Passover.

The Beijing-backed Saudi-Iran peace deal has just taken a step forward with the foreign ministers of both countries officially signing the pact into existence last Thursday. Upon implementation, not only will we see a restoration of diplomatic ties, resumption of flights, and issuing of visas, but also an agreement to non-aggression and respecting sovereignty which might resolve several long-standing regional disputes.

Should Tehran play ball, the Saudi-Iran agreement could enable both regional powers to discuss how to help Arab countries which have long suffered due to the presence of Iranian militias. Essentially, this could mean better lives for people in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq.

However, the deal has already reflected positively on Yemen, where we are seeing a truce which has so far held for the longest time since the conflict erupted. We are also hearing of Saudi-Omani efforts to ride the current positive wave and have a shot at a permanent peace agreement between the warring factions within Yemen which, if signed, would hopefully end the conflict and redirect efforts toward rebuilding and rehabilitation.

Last year, we saw a reset of Saudi-UAE and Egyptian ties with Turkiye. This suggests that whatever happens in the upcoming Turkish elections, relations will have a chance to improve under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan or start on a fresh and positive note with a new leader.

And in 2021, as a result of the AlUla Agreement, the rift with neighboring Qatar ended the boycott of that country just in time for the 2022 World Cup which has been described as one of the best ever hosted.

Indeed, what we are seeing is a Saudi-led “Tsunami of Peace,” as Saudi political analyst Salman Al-Ansari described it to this newspaper in a recent interview. If this momentum continues, I believe we will be seeing the manifestation of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s vision that the Middle East can become the “new Europe,” something he alluded to as his hope for the region during a panel at the 2018 Future Investment Initiative conference in Riyadh.

The only bad news this Easter is unfortunately coming from the Holy Land itself. Sadly, since January the situation between Israelis and Palestinians has deteriorated, mainly due to the swearing in of an ultra right-wing government spearheaded by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

There is a genuine opportunity for the Israelis to build on the positive momentum in the region, should they want to.

Faisal J. Abbas

The continuous provocations, from a serving member of Israel’s Cabinet who said there was no such thing as the Palestinian people, to the Israeli military’s attacking and arresting Muslim worshippers praying in Al-Aqsa Mosque, are only making things more complicated.

In fact, as I have repeatedly said in this column, such actions by the Israeli government embarrass those Arab countries that signed the Abraham Accords in good faith, and create more difficulties convincing those that did not — such as Saudi Arabia — that embracing Israel before resolving the Palestinian issue will encourage the Jewish state to become a more rational player.

Naturally, the extent of such disruption of the status quo would also trigger escalation in areas such as Lebanon and Gaza. Of course, Israel will — rightly so — say it has a right to defend itself, but there is an overwhelming consensus among pundits and observers that the recent provocative behavior in Al-Aqsa is an attempt to distract attention from the huge Israeli protests and anger at Netanyahu’s proposed judicial changes.

Regardless of how Netanyahu’s team sees the situation, or what they think of the Palestinian leadership, there is a genuine opportunity to build on the momentum now evident in the region, should they want to. It is really surreal and unfortunate that the existing dovish Arab push is paired with an extremely hawkish government in Israel. Yet, this might still be turned into an opportunity if Netanyahu manages to display true leadership, rein in the extremists, and convince the far right that peace is the best and most secure way forward.

If the Saudi-Iran peace deal sticks, then Israel might find itself the only missing piece in a new regional map that is built on peace and prosperity. I genuinely advise them to compare the short-term gains they win from increased right-wing provocations to what is at stake in the long run. They should remember that in a 2022 interview with The Atlantic, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said that the Jewish state could be a potential ally of Saudi Arabia.

“We don’t look at Israel as an enemy, we look to them as a potential ally, with many interests that we can pursue together… But we have to solve some issues before we get to that.”

  • Faisal J. Abbas is the editor in chief of Arab News. Twitter: @FaisalJAbbas
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