Last week at the White House, Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain signed the Abraham Accords which formalized an official peace agreement between Israel and the UAE and between Israel and Bahrain. These agreements are historic as they reflect the first time in over 25 years that Israel has made peace with an Arab partner. It is my hope that these agreements will send the message to the Palestinians that time is not on their side and failing to negotiate with Israel will only further isolate them as time passes.
Some have questioned what the big deal was with these agreements. After all, for years Israel has enjoyed good relations with both the UAE and Bahrain. These agreements just reflected already existing facts on the ground and they really haven’t changed anything.
I strongly disagree with this assessment, and I think that the time period in which we find ourselves can help us better understand the significance of these agreements. We now find ourselves during the Aseret Ymei Teshuva, the ten days of repentance, and the Rambam famously provides four steps to achieve repentance: regret for having sinned, leaving the sin, resolve not to sin in the future and vidui, or confession. The last step, vidui, involves verbalizing that we have sinned.
Rav Soloveitchik explained that there are two main reasons why the Torah obligates a penitent to confess. First, confession forces the penitent to crystallize both his remorse over the past and his commitment to future change. Second, by forcing us to admit the facts, confession robs us of the ability to fool ourselves. There’s no hiding from the truth if you are forced to openly admit the truth.
This is how I view last week’s historic peace agreement. Yes, there may have been good relationships between Israel and these countries beforehand. However, it’s one thing to be friends behind the scenes. It’s another thing to admit publicly in front of everyone that Israel is my ally, my partner and my friend. I remember time after time attending AIPAC conventions and hearing from political insiders that Prime Minister Netanyahu has personal connections with so many Arab and African leaders and that Israel enjoys a warm behind-the-scenes relationship with so many Arab and African countries. However, these same countries will attack Israel, or vote against Israel, at the United Nations. Privately, they convey one message to Israel, but publicly they convey an entirely different message to world.
Therefore, it is very significant that the UAE and Bahrain formally verbalized their desire for peace with the State of Israel. No longer can either country say one thing to Israel privately and another thing to the world publicly. These agreements crystalized the relationship between these countries and Israel. Additionally, these agreements opened the door for other Arab countries to publicly say vidui, as well, to publicly confess their friendship with Israel. After all, these countries signed agreements with Israel, and there was relatively little opposition in the Arab world. Until these agreements, Arab countries might have been concerned that it’s impossible for an Arab country to befriend Israel and get away with it. However, the vidui by the UAE and Bahrain demonstrated how wrong they were. We hope and pray that this new year brings about many more formalized peace accords between Israel and much of the Arab world.