One of the more amazing things in the last couple of months, and encouraging to the whole world, are the growing prospects for widespread peace in the Middle East.
The leaders of Egypt and Israel won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1978 after a deal brokered by President Jimmy Carter led to Egypt agreeing to recognize Israel and the two nations establishing normal relations. In the intervening 40+ years, little progress has been made on bringing peace to the Middle East by any nation or US President, Republican or Democrat.
Yet, in the last three months, and to the pleasant surprise of the world, peace agreements have been announced between Israel and three Muslim majority countries, two of which are in the Middle East. The United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Kosovo have all recognized Israel’s right to exist and those countries and Israel have announced a normalization of relations. Even more historic, Kosovo’s President Hashim Thaci announced that his country would put its embassy in Jerusalem.
But the news doesn’t stop there.
In the last week, US Secretary of State Pompeo made a trip to the region and stopped to meet with the leaders of Saudi Arabia, the largest Arab nation and home to the Muslim holy sites of Mecca and Medina. After the meeting, word leaked that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the head of the Israeli Mossad (their equivalent of the CIA) secretly flew to Saudi Arabia to meet with Pompeo and members of the Saudi Royal Family, as well.
The meeting gave hope that there was a chance of even broader peace between the traditional enemies.
That was the first time that high ranking officials from Saudi Arabia and Israel had met. Pompeo, hoping to build on the recent momentum, says the US is working with other countries in the region in hopes of getting additional agreement on peace in the historically unstable region.
The recent US approach has been unconventional in the sense that, up until the last couple of years, there was an assumption that no Arab nation would agree to peace with Israel until it signed an agreement with the Palestinians. Palestinians were assumed to have widespread, deep support and in effect, the Palestinians had a veto on any Middle East peace. Yet that turns out not to be the case. When the peace agreements between the UAE, Bahrain and Israel were signed, many expected widespread demonstrations to break out in other Arab countries. Yet in the capitals of Arab countries, there were no mass demonstrations, no outcry from the Arab League and the only notable protests were in the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza.
Even more than building a peace in a region that has lived under the threat of war for generations, these agreements have far reaching implications. For example, friendship between Israel and its Arab neighbors will help control Russian expansion. How? Israel currently imports much of its oil from Russia. But with trading agreements now in place with oil rich Arab countries, Israel will turn to its neighbors for oil and money to fuel Russia’s military buildup will shrink
The results of these peace initiatives are even more stark, because they are in dramatic contrast to the approach of the Obama Administration and then Secretary of State John Kerry.
Kerry, infamously summarized his thoughts at the end of his term in a forum at the Brookings Institute. There he said, and said emphatically, that there would be no peace in the Middle East until Israel and the Palestinians had peace.
“There will be no separate peace between Israel and the Arab world” before a two-state solution with Palestine has been reached. “There will be no separate peace between Israel and the Arab world. I want to make that very clear to all,” Kerry said again. He added, “I can tell you that…there will be no advance and separate peace with the Arab world without the Palestinian process and Palestinian peace. Everybody needs to understand that.”
Less than four years later, events have proved how wrong he was and how he abdicated any chance at peace by pursuing the approach that worked through the Palestinians rather than directly with Arab states.
Fortunately, a new approach has brought new hope for peace.