Arab Zionists Are the Key to Mideast Peace
Are Arabs becoming the world’s most ardent Zionists? And, more to the point, why aren’t Western governments celebrating the breakdown of psychological and other barriers that might one day lead to a lasting peace between Jews and Muslims?
It was the late Egyptian president, Anwar Sadat, who came to the Knesset in a historic overture, thus breaking the peace impasse. “We used to reject you; we refused to meet you; we referred to you as the so-called Israel,” Sadat told Knesset members in 1977. Sadat wanted peace, and he also wanted the Sinai desert. Ironically, today, Egypt and Israel work actively together to secure the Sinai from forces hostile to both nations.
Two decades ago, Israel and Jordan formalized a commitment to non-violence with each other. There continues to be a very strong military and security relationship between the countries, with the economic dimension now strengthened as Israel begins selling gas to Jordan.
State-to-state relations between Israel and the wider Arab and Muslim world were always more complex and multi-dimensional than simple slogans and bouts of war fever. But technological innovations and bitter frustration at their own societies are forcing Arab intellectuals and ordinary citizens to re-think the dogmatic trope that Israel equals evil. Indeed, Israel may equal hope for the average Arab citizen who is tired of too many failed promises and too little progress at home.
Shortly after 9/11, the United Nations released a scathing report about progress in the Arab world. In areas such as research, science capability and output, educational attainment, political participation, women’s rights and consumer spending, countries in the Arab world lagged decades behind the OECD countries of advanced nations — of which Israel is now a formal member.
The Arab world’s anger at these statistics simmered until the Arab Spring, when furtive fingers tapped out messages of cyber-appeal to the world. Very few, if any, of these messages focused on Israel — meaning Arab citizens may have learned that demonizing Israel isn’t going to solve any of their problems.
At a time when events in the Arab world fill bloody volumes of ethnic, national and religious strife, peace is becoming a stronger imperative for the people in these countries. They are tired of hearing threats, demands, thirsty calls for revenge or promises of a return to the glory days. How, exactly — they ask– will glory be achieved when most of the Arab world lacks the tools to compete, let alone to conquer?
Today, some Sunni-Arab countries openly state that Iran is more of a danger than Israel. Covert and even more public dealings with Israel are becoming routine. Instead of trying to exploit this phenomenon, the Obama administration reached out to the true enemies of peace in the region, such as Iran. And President Obama never moved the needle beyond the truly empty slogan of the “peace process.”
But with or without Washington, the wider Arab world is beginning to realize that Israel is not the source of its problems. And that is a cause for celebration and hope.
Neil Berro is a longtime Jewish communal professional who writes on issues related to Israel and the American Jewish community.