Last week brought the welcome news of the normalization of relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates.
I’m taken aback and frankly disappointed that this development has not been fully celebrated in all quarters here in the U.S. That may be, in some part, due to how we overwhelmed we are by domestic concerns right now, or maybe because of our fractured political times and the key role that our current administration played in facilitating this agreement. It would be regrettable if we chose to ignore this historic moment only because President Trump was the one who announced the agreement from the White House.
As Rep. Max Rose (D-NY) said this week: “Not everything needs to be partisan, and especially Israel.”
So I’d like to take this moment to expand on our statement this week welcoming the announcement and to explain why we did so.
First, anything that serves to normalize Israel’s presence in the region is a good thing. Israel continues to be the only country that is not only challenged in the international arena for its actions, but also regularly questioned for its legitimacy altogether. This step by the U.A.E. – and others that may soon follow – advances the just and still necessary cause of normalizing the very existence of the world’s only Jewish state.
Second, this new, important step strengthens the cause of peace. When the international community treats Israel like any other country, one which fully belongs among the nations, good things happen – such as the Egyptian peace, the Oslo Accords. Israel being treated like a pariah only amplifies the Israeli people’s legitimate sense of isolation and vulnerability as a country in a largely hostile region. Their understandable and reasonable reaction is to focus on self-defense as the primary driver of national discourse. This week’s events demonstrate to Israelis first and foremost that the benefits, for them, of peacemaking, are in fact possible and tangible; namely recognition and normalcy in the region.
Third, “suspending” talk of plans for annexation gives everyone – including us in this county – an opportunity to step back from the heated rhetoric and emotional fractures of earlier this summer. From our synagogue Zoom rooms to the halls of Congress, we were tearing each other apart by debating and publicly criticizing something that never came to pass. At this point de jure annexation is farther from a realistic possibility than it has been for some time, a reality that, still this week, some in this country refuse to acknowledge. This past week’s events reinforce an Israeli political center that wants normalcy and engagement with its neighbors. The stakes of what could be lost for Israel’s center should talks of annexation rise again, have been heightened by bringing more Arab nations to the table of recognition, with all the commensurate benefits.
To put it another way, as Ambassador David Friedman (someone who we at JCRC have been deeply critical of in the past) said: “We prioritized peace in the region over West Bank annexation…you can’t have peace and annexation at the same time.” That’s a shift. It’s a good thing. Let’s embrace and build upon it.
Lastly, for us and for the Israelis we’ve come to know and believe in, peace with the Palestinians remains the ultimate goal. We know this can only be accomplished through building societies that recognize the dignity and humanity of the other. We believe that building and deepening public exchanges with a range of Arab countries advances a regional culture of such recognition. This development can help that process, and that is another reason that it should be viewed as a step toward progress.
Of course, it’s only one step in a long line of many that must still be taken to build more ties between Israelis and Palestinians, so that they recognize each other’s dignity. We can hope that this past week’s developments will serve as a launchpad for further progress toward peace for Israel, the surrounding Arab States, and the Palestinians. And we urge Congress and the American people to invest the necessary capital for peacebuilding between Israel and its neighbors, to achieve progress toward peaceful coexistence in the region and encourage similar diplomatic actions in the future.
On July 24th, the Middle East Partnership for Peace Act (MEPPA) was passed with bipartisan support in the U.S. House of Representatives. The legislation would provide $250 million over five years to radically scale up peace and reconciliation programming. And now the legislation moves to the Senate.
To learn more about the work of investing in peacebuilding and the role the U.S. Congress has to serve, JCRC of Greater Boston is partnering with the JCRC of Greater Washington and others to invite you to a program on August 27 at 2pm EDT to learn about our advocacy together with the Alliance for Middle East Peace in support of this legislation, “The Partnership Fund For Peace.”It is an opportunity to learn about the legislation and the impact the fund would have on grassroots peace-building and economic development efforts in the region – directly from those doing the work, and also to learn what you can do to help champion this vital piece of legislation.
We invite you to be a partner to the people of Israel, to the Palestinians, and to the kinds of forward-thinking responsible actors in the region who made these recent developments possible.