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Thursday , October 29 2020

The circle of peace can heal our troubled region

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

CONGRATULATIONS to the peoples of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Israel who following the historic signing of the Abraham Accords on the Sept 15, 2020 in the White House Rose Garden can now look forward to a wealth of new opportunities in all fields of endeavour. These are exciting times opening all kinds of doors for our children and grandchildren.

Thanks to the forward thinking of HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, and the Bahraini Monarch HH 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 clamouring 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 ‘the Deal of the Century’ during his 2016 campaign. There were those who laughed at the suggestion. This may not be the deal he envisaged that was roundly rejected by the Palestinians on the grounds of pro-Israel bias and, indeed, it was heavily weighted in Israel’s favour.

However, I think the Abraham Accords has far greater potential than that largely conceived by Jared Kushner, especially if it expands to include other major Arab countries and flourishes. Together with Egypt and Jordan, that signed peace treaties with Israel, the UAE and Bahrain are the kernels of hope 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 they had absolutely nothing to lose. It stands to reason that the more Israel is connected with its Arab neighbours 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, they should quit their policy of self-isolation and begin talking else risk being disregarded.

Notably, Hamas launched 15 rockets into Israel as soon as the Emirati Foreign Minister HH Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan began delivering his speech on Tuesday. What exactly does Gaza that is bleeding from poverty and joblessness gain from such pinprick attacks when more often than not Israel retaliates with excessive force? 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 United States and the world.

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

Our utmost respect and appreciation go to Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed for his courage and determination to keep the UAE 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 (PBUH) 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 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 the currency are on the rocks and sanctions have decimated the country’s oil revenues. If only the Iranian leadership wakes up and changes course, everyone would greatly benefit. For one thing, there would be less spent on weapons leaving more to better standards 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 to join the circle of peace.

Lastly, it is my hope that this Israeli-Arab détente will not merely remain on paper but will be embraced by governments as well as citizens. Let us open our arms to a warm peace that will stand as an inspiration to all.

By Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor

UAE Businessman

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