Is There a Shift Towards Arab-Israel Normalization?

Monday, April 01, 2019 |  David Lazarus

UAE Offical: Boycott of Israel was Mistake

In what feels like more movement towards Arab-Israeli normalization, a top United Arab Emirates official seeks to improve ties between Israel and the Arab states.

United Arab Emirates Foreign Affairs Minister called for a “strategic shift” in Israel-Arab ties, saying that Arab world’s decades-old decision to boycott the Jewish state had been a mistake. “Many, many years ago, when there was an Arab decision not to have contact with Israel, that was a very, very wrong decision, looking back,” the senior UAE official said in an interview with the UAE National news agency.

The Arab boycott which began in 1945 stopped all trade with Israel. A secondary boycott was later imposed on non-Israeli companies that do business with Israel, and then third boycott blacklisted firms that do business with other companies that do business with Israel. Although these boycotts hurt Israel, they failed to cripple the country economically and Israel has managed to build one of the strongest economies in the region and in the world. Several Arab states no longer adhere to the boycott.

Israel’s relations with some Arab Gulf states have seen some improvement in recent months with senior Israeli officials being openly invited to visit. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was welcomed to Oman last October. Later that month, Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev visited Abu Dhabi and the Israeli national anthem was played for the first time in the Arabian Peninsula, after an Israeli won the gold medal in Judo.

According to a new survey published by the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem this week, 42 percent of the public in the Emirates is interested in establishing relations with Israel.

Israelis in Bahrain

This week, in a move that irked Arab leaders, three Israelis were invited to speak at the Global Entrepreneurship Congress in Manama, Bahrain.

The invitation was quickly condemned by members of the tiny Gulf state’s parliament who said they were against hosting Israeli speakers in Bahrain. Like most Arab states, the Gulf state does not recognize the Jewish state.

Pressure from influential business men who recognize the Jewish state’s world-wide capabilities in global commerce persuaded the government to allow the Israeli participation. Among the Israelis invited to speak at the business forum is Anya Eldan, the female deputy chief of Israel’s Innovation Authority, one of the world’s leading agencies in innovation and creative startups.

Like in many other Arab nations, Bahrainis would love to be able to work with Israeli entrepreneurs and high-tech innovators, but their leaders keep them locked in to the old mantra of the “Palestinian cause.” To justify their disapproval of the Israeli business leaders in their country, Bahrain’s official Facebook page posted, “Parliament stresses its support for the just cause of the brotherly Palestinian people, and it will remain a priority for the Bahraini and Arab people. The end of the Israeli occupation and the withdrawal from all Arab land is an absolute necessity for the stability and security of the region and for a fair and comprehensive peace.”

These repetitive excuses for refusing to have diplomatic or business relationships with Israel sound more and more lame as polls show that Arabs across the Middle East are losing interest in supporting the so-called “Palestinian cause” and want to normalize relations with the Jewish State. Officially, Israel only has diplomatic relations with two neighboring Arab states, Egypt and Jordan.

Still there is a long way to go before one can talk about normalizing relations between Israel and the Gulf states, or with any Arab nations for that matter. Virtually all Arab countries strongly condemned the US recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, and the US Embassy move to Jerusalem, Israel’s capital. So too have all Arab government officials denounced Prime Minister Netanyahu’s declaration that, “Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people — and not anyone else.” Anwar Mohammed Gargash, a senior UAE official wrote: “Not only are PM Netanyahu’s comments repugnant, but they provide vindication sought by extremists. The road to peace is further undermined by this shameful approach.”

And yet, in spite of it all, including recent events in Gaza, the sands of change are shifting slowly across the Middle East towards normalization with Jerusalem.

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