A brave new dawn in Arab-Israeli relations

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Khalaf Al Habtoor, Founding Chairman of Al Habtoor Group (AHG)

 ‘If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.” This is one of South African President Nelson Mandela’s many pearls of wisdom.

Following 18 years of incarceration on Robben Island, Mandela finally understood that violence against a militarily superior foe would not end apartheid. So he skilfully employed dialogue, forgiveness and reconciliation to achieve his aim of coexistence between his people and the regime that oppressed them.

Unfortunately, his strategy that 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 how to better the lives of Palestinians preferring to hang on to the same old rhetoric and unrealistic scenarios that belong to 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 fantasy land, 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 United States. To imagine that boycotting Israeli goods will force the collapse of the Jewish state is infantile and hypocritical. Many of the components in your computers are Israeli-made and Israeli microchips can be found in over 100 million devices worldwide. To isolate Israel within the region only convinces Israeli 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, an erosion of negotiating chips, for many years neither the Palestinians nor their Arab backers have had any leverage over Israeli decision-makers.

The Taba talks that were so close to fruition came to a grinding halt when the hard-line warhorse Ariel Sharon succeeded Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and US President George W. Bush took the White House. President Bush held his nose to pay lip service to the so-called Road Map because he was eager to lure Arab states on board the invasion of Iraq. President Barack Obama talked a good talk, but his administration opposed UN Security Council pro-Palestinian Resolutions, and as for President Donald Trump, he has behaved like Santa Claus showering his friend Benjamin Netanyahu with gifts.

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 in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and elsewhere. Never going to happen, and they know that 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 home. Refugees pass on false hopes to their children along with the keys to the former homes of their fathers or grandfathers and keep a visceral hatred for Israelis alive down the generations. I believe this is unfair for both generations. There are two million Palestinians, the descendants of Palestinians 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 their situation 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 violence that rebounds onto the poor residents of Gaza and is the main reason for the crippling blockade. Arabs should not support Hamas that is 100 percent Palestinian yet cosies-up with Iran.

The beauty of the Abraham Accords is that it greatly benefits all signatories in terms of trade, commerce, tourism, technology and security. Moreover, it cements a united front against a common enemy working towards manufacturing nuclear weapons with which to hold its neighbours hostage.

Provided this new détente 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 that have peace treaties with Israel, the more influential our bloc will become within the US and on the world’s stage.

Lebanon is undergoing arguably the most challenging periods in living memory. Peace with Israel would be a major game changer, and I suspect that the Lebanese people would approve if it were not for the obstacles strewing 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 also should want the same, to remove all the obstacles/issues 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 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 between the warring sides.

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 mists. And, 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 should be tried for instigating criminal wars as well as its stranglehold over Lebanon that 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 cancellations. Until today there has been no genuine normalization of relations except on paper, a cold peace still reigns.

The Abraham Accords significantly differ 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 make the three-way accords 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 exciting opportunities for all for this is the finest legacy we can leave to our children and generations to come.

By Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor

UAE Businessman

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