Ohad Zemet

Why are some ‘progressives’ calling the Israel-UAE deal a mistake?

The Middle East is changing – time for many to update their preconceptions

August 21, 2020 12:58

Last Thursday, as Israel and the UAE announced their intention to establish diplomatic relations, Israel’s official social media pages received thousands of messages from people in the UAE, and across the region, who were celebrating the announcement. It was not just Emiratis and Israelis rejoicing, with the news being swiftly welcomed by the UN Secretary General, the European Union, and a host of other world leaders.

Yet many people who describe themselves as progressive claim that this was a mistake and both our peoples should not enjoy the freedom to meet, talk and work together until the Palestinians agree to it. Why can’t such voices accept that the Middle East is changing and that its people want to take hold of their destiny and build a better future?

I think about the Muslim families that will soon be able to visit the holy places in Jerusalem. I think about the upcoming cooperation in fighting Covid-19. I think about Israeli tourists taking selfies outside Burj Khalifa. It is indeed an incredible thing to build bridges, so how can this seem so wrong to them?

One could also look at those who rejected the announcement - Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas - in order to understand  its significance. It reminded me of when the Palestinians saw fit to reject the peace agreement with Egypt, made back in 1979. The Leader of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, Yasser Arafat, famously decried the agreement with the words, “Let them sign what they like. False peace will not last.” Over the next four decades, Arafat was proven wrong and Sadat right - a new path to peace opened with the Palestinians, Jordanians and now the UAE.

It is strange to me that open communication and better cooperation cannot be seen as desirable progress. People should not be afraid of dialogue, diplomacy, trade, and tourism, but most importantly, people should not be afraid of peace. The critics might be surprised to find that peace promotes peace, and understanding promotes understanding.

Just as the UK, Jordan and Egypt enjoy a significant formal diplomatic dialogue with Israel over mutual interests and concerns – which of course includes the Palestinians – so too now can the UAE. Normalization would provide the people of the UAE a better understanding of how Israelis think and what they cherish, and also provide Israelis with a better understanding of their Arab neighbours.

In demonstrating real leadership, the UAE has recognised that the Middle East has changed. From my grandfather’s memories of British soldiers patrolling the streets in Tel Aviv, to my father fighting Egyptian soldiers in the bloody Yom Kippur War, to my first Israeli diplomatic posting in Cairo, this path has taken a lifetime. And our agreement with the UAE gives my daughters the renewed hope that the Palestinians and others may soon join us on the road to peace. As Menachem Begin, Israel’s 6th Prime Minister and our first to make peace with an Arab state, famously said, ‘war is avoidable but peace is inevitable’.

Ohad Zemet is spokesperson of the Israeli Embassy in London

August 21, 2020 12:58

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