Now that the Sudan has joined the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain in normalizing relations with Israel, the future seems bright for even more Arab countries to make peace with their former enemy. Pictured: An Etihad Airways flight carrying a delegation from the United Arab Emirates on a first official visit, lands at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport on October 20, 2020. (Photo by Jack Guez/AFP via Getty Images)
Now that the Sudan has joined the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain in normalizing relations with Israel, the future seems bright for even more Arab countries to make peace with their former enemy. The big prize, of course, would be Saudi Arabia, and already we are hearing rumors from its leaders pointing in that direction. Even Lebanon, which currently houses Hezbollah, has dropped hints about possible peace overtures.
The possibility does exist that before long, most of the Sunni Arab states will recognize that their interests lie in a peace process with Israel. They will see the economic, technological, diplomatic and military advantages in having Israel as an ally instead of an enemy.
An important uniting force behind this movement is Iran, a non-Arab Shiite Muslim state, which is a destabilizing force among other Muslim nations. Iran is the largest exporter of terrorism and the only country with the potential for developing a nuclear arsenal. Its hegemonic goals extend throughout the Middle East and require the overthrow of stable Sunni regimes. These regimes realize that Israel, which is the primary target of Iran’s animosity, will never allow it to develop nuclear weapons. They also realize that Israel plays an important role in constraining Iran’s exportation of terrorism.
But more is involved in this new development than the old cliché of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Israel is a stabilizing influence in an unstable region of the world. It is a democracy, a military and technological innovator, an economically advanced country. It can assist its new allies in each of these areas, as it has already begun to do even in the short time since normalization began.
U.S. President Donald J. Trump hinted at the possibility that Iran may someday join in the process toward a more stable and peaceful Middle East. That seems unlikely with the current regime. The Ayatollahs, with the help of American sanctions, are bankrupting Iran and destroying its historically affluent middle class. Were there to be a popular election, the current regime would fall. The middle unity of Sunni Arab nations with Israel may increase the pressure for regime change in Iran. That would be a good thing for the Iranians and for the region.
The other outlying regime is Turkey, which is a military powerhouse and a member of NATO. Although the Turkish people, like the Iranian people, have no history of hatred against the nation state of the Jewish people, its current leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, like the Iranian Ayatollahs, has stirred up hatred and animosity. They have done so largely for domestic reasons, to distract attention from their failed leadership. It is ironic that not so long ago, Iran and Turkey were Israel’s closest allies in the Middle East, while the Arab states that are not in the process of making peace with Israel were its most intransigent enemies. The Middle East has changed quickly and it can change back just as quickly.
The big losers from these new developments are the Palestinians. Their leadership has “never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity,” as Israel’s former Foreign Minister Abba Eban put it. This may be their last opportunity to achieve a reasonable two state solution. Israel’s Arab neighbors have demonstrated that the Palestinian cause is not as high on their agenda as it appeared to be in the past. These nations understand that the situation the Palestinians now find themselves in have been the result of self-inflicted wounds — most importantly an unwillingness to take yes for an answer when the Israelis have offered them statehood.
Even now, the Palestinian leadership refuses to sit down and negotiate with Israel. They must understand that they will not get a state as the result of the boycott movement, protests on university campuses or meaningless resolutions of the United Nations. Recent developments make it clear that statehood for the Palestinians will come only through negotiations with Israel. The time has come for the Palestinian Authority to join with other Sunni Arabs in recognizing that the nation state of the Jewish people is here to stay and that negotiation is the only road to statehood and a permanent peace that will benefit both the Palestinian and Israelis, as well as the rest of the region, and indeed the entire world.
Alan M. Dershowitz is the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law, Emeritus at Harvard Law School and author of the book, Guilt by Accusation: The Challenge of Proving Innocence in the Age of #MeToo, Skyhorse Publishing, 2019. His new podcast, “The Dershow,” can be seen on Spotify, Apple and YouTube. He is the Jack Roth Charitable Foundation Fellow at Gatestone Institute.