During his recent trip to the Persian Gulf, Israel Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz unveiled plans to build a high-speed rail connection from Haifa to the Persian Gulf. The proposed fast train route would connect through Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Arab states in the region, bypassing Iranian-backed Shiite territories.
The plans to link Israel with surrounding Arab states represents an unprecedented rapprochement between the Jewish State and her Muslim neighbors. Since the establishment of modern Israel, Arab nations have forbidden Israelis from entering their territories, except Egypt and Jordan, where travel is extremely limited and dangerous. Even airplanes leaving from or arriving in Israel are restricted from flying over Arab countries. Opening travel for trade and tourism between Israel and her Arab neighbors has the potential of transforming the entire Middle East, spreading Israeli technology, democratic values and Jewish ingenuity to the heart of the Muslim world. “The train will connect Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, and in the future Iraq as well,” Katz said.
Katz showed the plans to build the fast rail connection in a recent surprise visit to Oman, where the nation's ruling sultan expressed great interest in the proposal. Katz’s trip came just weeks after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a surprise visit to the Gulf state. Netanyahu has been encouraging ties with the Sunni Arab Gulf states in the face of Iranian Shiite aggression across the region. Ideas for the rail connection to the Arab nations also came in the wake of a visit by Israel Culture Minister Miri Regev to the United Arab Emirates, where she attended an unprecedented medal ceremony for an Israeli judoka who was draped in an Israeli flag while HaTikvah, Israel’s national anthem, played in the background.
Even though the rail connect would open unparalleled economic and travel opportunities for Palestinians, too, Palestinian officials have rejected an Israeli offer to build the railway through territories they control en route to the Arab nations. “Israel offered us the chance to participate in a railway scheme linking Haifa to Jenin to a number of Arab capitals,” Hussein al-Sheikh the Palestinian Authority's Civil Affairs Ministry wrote on Twitter. “But we rejected the offer," al-Sheikh continued. "We won’t normalize relations with Israel and we won’t take part in economic solutions that perpetuate the occupation."
The rejection comes amid fears of normalization between Israel and Arab states. Palestinian leaders view any normalization between Arab states and Israel as a threat to their untenable plans to build a nation-state in pre-1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital. For 70 years, Middle East Arab countries surrounding Israel have tried to use boycotts and diplomatic pressure to force Israel into land concessions with the Palestinians. Yet, in the face of sanctions, blockades and wars, Israel continues to prosper and thrive. Many Muslim countries are waking up to the reality that Israel is here to stay and that opening up to the Jewish nation will bring blessing and prosperity to the region. Arab countries are also increasingly fed-up with the Palestinians' unjustifiable rejection of any reasonable attempts to reach a peace agreement with the Israelis.
After Netanyahu’s recent visit to the Gulf state Bahrain, the Prime Minister’s Office leaked a video showing Bahrain's foreign minister, Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, admitting that the Palestinian issue is no longer their main concern. “We grew up talking about the Palestine-Israel dispute as the most important issue,” the Arab leader said. "But then we saw that the most toxic challenge came to us from Tehran.”
The plan for a high-speed train route connecting the Mediterranean Sea to the Persian Gulf has reportedly received warm approval in Washington.
PHOTO: Netanyahu and Katz riding the new high-speed train between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)