Iran threat pushing Arabs closer to normalization with Israel

President Obama and President Abbas
President Obama and President Abbas

Iran threat pushing Arabs closer to normalization with Israel
By Akiva Eldar

…Sheikh Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa notes that peace is not a light bulb easily switched on, but admits that the Arabs have made public-relations blunders. “An Israeli might be forgiven for thinking that every Muslim voice is raised in hatred,” he writes, “because that is usually the only one he hears. Just as an Arab might be forgiven for thinking every Israeli wants the destruction of every Palestinian.” Khalifa urges the Arabs to communicate directly with the Israelis and tell them their story.

If Olmert’s defense of the settlements was grist for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s mill, the Bahraini prince’s call for normalization made Obama’s weekend. The start of normalization between the nations is a key item on the president’s agenda. It’s the undertone intended to ease the creation of a blueprint for a final-status agreement.


There is no question about the Arab push toward normalization for years now. Saudi Arabia, the most reactionary country of all,  has been offering normalization for most of this decade, very publicly, and successive Israeli governments have ignored the offer of something that Israelis used to fantasize about back in the ’60’s. There is no broad strong constituency in Israel to say yes, and therefore there is no government that will say yes. Worse still, we may soon see a strike in Lebanon that will heighten the focus on Iran and distract from the United States and the Quartet’s pressure to freeze settlements and begin a process toward two states.

What is tragic is that Israelis are being hoodwinked by a government controlled by a settler minority into believing that there are no peace partners. For those of us deeply immersed in the Arab world it is a deep shock to see the Israeli community so terrified of peace offers. There will come a time that solutions will be imposed from without, or there will come a time for a one state solution. This may not be a bad thing if it happens slowly and nonviolently. Belgium tolerates an uncomfortable split right down the middle and no group has swallowed the other alive. But we all know that this has been much more bloody.

In the meantime, the tried and true and frustrating simple path is the arithmetic of equal cooperation and collaboration between peoples. This does not sit well wtih the Arab governments or Fatah or Hamas; and states in general do not trust at all their own people, or people to people work. Laws in Israel and Palestine and Syria, and many other countries are designed to keep their peoples apart.

But, in my opinion, the stubborness of Israeli Jews on these matters is born of a level of fear, insecurity, frustrated dreams, politician-driven manipulations, inherited wounds and paranoia that can only be healed–that i have only witnessed to be healed thousands of times–by authentic, profound relationships and cooperation. It is the only way that the full truth of the past and present emerges. It is painstaking work but there may be no way around it. The only way for Palestinians and Jews to face the worst in each of their communities is to develop enough collaboration based on honesty, equality and mutual prosperity, to develop a united front. This has worked the world over and it can work in the less than Holy Land as well.

© Marc Gopin