The small Arabian Gulf island kingdom of Bahrain has followed its larger regional neighbor, the United Arab Emirates, in what diplomats characterize as normalizing of ties with Israel. This is a big deal and a huge feather in the cap of the Trump administration as well as that of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. President Trump’s Senior Advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner deserves sincere accolades for this effort in what has otherwise proven a fruitless pursuit of the peace process. Bahrain now joins the UAE, Jordan, and Egypt as the only Arab countries to seek to build political, economic, commercial, and perhaps eventually social, cultural, and even security relations with Israel. Again: This is a big deal. A game changer.
The question for many is which country or countries might follow suit. Some speculate it will be Oman or Sudan. I imagine that the Qataris would be favorably disposed to establish ties with Israel if the UAE or Saudi Arabia might be persuaded to end their ridiculous “mean girls” squabble and reinstate ties with the small emirate.
What most don’t realize is that Arab countries like Qatar, the UAE, and Oman, in particular, have joined in unofficial exchanges with Israel for years, laying the groundwork for just such a momentous occasion. This is evident in sports, technological, and commercial fields. And, in assistance, with Qatar contributing heavily to development in Gaza, coordinated comprehensively through the Israeli government.
I stand by my earlier criticism of the move of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. It scored a symbolic victory for a few parties but also agitated tensions, provoking protests, violence, and the inevitable loss of some fifty Palestinians. This was unnecessary.
While we contemplate who else in the Arab fold might move beyond the moribund status quo of regional peace, two other questions arise: What does this mean for the Palestinians? It’s my hope that the Palestinians might unite and see that their security and prosperity is tied to the future, not a flag or the past. The UAE’s lead on this should signal strongly to them a chapter has closed on their hope for the restoration of their traditional homeland. It’s unclear to me what this will mean for the thousands of stateless Palestinian refugees, though. They deserve our compassion and support for resolution.
The second question pertains to Iran. Where does this leave the broader region’s top pariah? Certainly, this move by Bahrain and UAE, arguably the two Gulf countries with the strongest religious and economic ties to Iran, countermands the revolutionaries’ claims of Islamic manifest destiny vs. the lesser of the Great Satans. Unsurprisingly, Iran has come out in strong condemnation of Bahrain’s announcement, calling it a betrayal of the Palestinians.
What’s clear, though, is that this bold move by the U.S., Israeli, UAE, and Bahraini leadership is a step forward in promoting regional peace. But like all good initiatives, it will be follow-through and robust commitment in the face of inevitable setbacks that will count the most…