Three months ago I wrote a blog called A New Landscape as Countries Establish Relations with Israel. It pointed out how agreements with United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Bhutan (the last two not Gulf countries) meant changing opportunities – for business, education, travel, diplomacy and the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Sudan, too, signed on to the Abraham Accords.
This week it was announced the formation of an umbrella organization to oversee Jewish life in UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia, The Association of Gulf Jewish Communities (AGJC). This privately funded communal organization, a first for the region, will oversee aspects of Jewish life, including the establishment of a Bet Din, a Jewish court, the Arabian Kosher Certification Agency as well as educational services.
The incoming head, Rabbi Dr. Elie Abadie, was born in Beirut to Syrian Jewish refugees, and president Ebrahim Dawood Nonoo, born and raised in Bahrain and of Iraqi descent, will lead this new organization. Their own stories are not only interesting, but their family histories also bear witness to the history of Jews in the region. In Aleppo, Syria, Abadie’s family witnessed riots in which 75 Jews were killed and the Jewish synagogue was vandalized and Torah scrolls were burned. Nonoo’s family lived in Bahrain when rioters destroyed its synagogue and stole Bahrain’s only Torah scroll.
I think about how the landscape has changed and will continue to change. Countries that would never have acknowledged Israel’s right to exist are now signing agreements and opening themselves to a different kind of future.
At the same time, here in the US, anti-Zionism at US universities and antisemitism are both on the rise. As I wrote in a blog on the Israeli-Palestinian stalemate, conflating pro-Palestinian positions with an anti-Israel stance not only doesn’t help but even hurts the cause of finding a resolution. Why do I bring this up now? Because too many dismiss what is happening with Israel and these countries as unimportant. Some do this because the agreements mostly took place during the previous administration; others don’t want to acknowledge its significance because they see Palestinian concerns about normalization and watch as the once-held premise that Arab states will refuse to acknowledge Israel until the conflict is resolved begins to dissipate.
As I argued in my original blog about the changing landscape, Palestinians need to recognize the shift and see how they can leverage it. These countries can and should push for help in getting back to the negotiating table. At the same time, author Yossi Klein Halevy, in this piece in the UAE publication TRENDS Research & Advisory, emphasized what the US could do in this context:
“It is amply clear by now even to the most optimistic believers in the Oslo process that, left to their own devices, Israel and the Palestinian Authority will not manage to negotiate an end to the conflict in this generation. But some kind of agreement may be possible within a regional context, with the active cooperation of Arab states – and that is precisely the framework that the Abraham Accords can provide. For the first time, Israel can speak of “Arab allies”, a concept that still seems almost surreal for many Israelis.”
There is an opportunity here. During the campaign for the US elections, as Klein Halevi notes, “the Democrats tended to dismiss the historic significance of the Abraham Accords which were widely identified in a politically polarized America as a Trump administration initiative.” The election is over, it is time to change the lens and take advantage of this changing landscape.
This week, a Jewish umbrella organization was established in the Gulf when only 50 years ago, Jews were fleeing all Arab countries. I look at the contrast between how Israel and Jews are being viewed and treated in the Gulf countries today — more welcomingly — versus the growing antipathy in the West and I am dumbfounded.
Can all the folks who want to see an end to the Israel-Palestinian conflict please raise their hands? Can those of you who believe problem-solving begins with assessing the situation and finding solutions — and not clinging to destructive methods that have not worked — please keep your hands up?
Those of you who are left, I ask you — after reading my earlier blog on this changing landscape and Klein Halevi’s on the opportunity this presents to Democrats, how would you take the current and changing landscape and put it to use?