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September 3, 2020 4:01 am

A Tectonic Shift in the Middle East

avatar by Ariel Kahana / JNS.org

Opinion

A general view of the Business Bay area, after a curfew was imposed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, March 28, 2020. Photo: Reuters / Satish Kumar / File.

JNS.orgOver the past decade or so, I have reported from around 100 countries. I have been in the White House during the good moments (with President Donald Trump) and the bad ones (with President Barack Obama). I have witnessed the return of the remains of an Israeli soldier from Syria through Moscow, and traveled with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Uganda, Brazil, Ethiopia, and Beijing for his diplomatic visits. But Monday’s flight from Tel Aviv to Abu Dhabi was something completely different. It underscores the major breakthrough between the United Arab Emirates and Israel.

The fact that El Al’s Star of David flew over Saudi Arabia symbolizes the tectonic shift underway in relations between Israel and the Arab world. Israel took a giant leap forward on Monday in its effort to integrate into the region. The hostility and the boycotts are now a thing of the past, and a new era of cooperation and friendship has begun.

The enormity of these developments was palpable among all those who were on board, not just the Israeli and US officials but also the flight crew and reporters. Everyone talked about how it was such a great privilege to be taking part in this historic event. Special face masks decorated with the flags of the United States, the UAE, and Israel were handed out; the boarding passes also had a special design. It’s also worth noting that throughout the three-hour flight, Israeli and US officials sat next to each other as if they were family or citizens of the same nation.

One of the most moving moments was when the head of Israel’s National Security Council, Meir Ben-Shabbat, addressed the Emirati people in Arabic, with the Israeli flag and the El Al plane in the background at the Abu Dhabi airport. This image will live forever in Israeli history books, for good reason.

Now that the festivities are over, however, the hard work begins. This part usually takes longer and will no doubt be more complex. Crises may emerge, but the overwhelming majority of issues don’t require any gaps to be bridged.

More important is the question of what will happen with the extension of Israeli sovereignty to Judea and Samaria. Israel has agreed to put this on hold in exchange for normalization with the UAE, but sooner or later this suspension will come to an end. That may be a key test for both nations.

Ariel Kahana is a diplomatic correspondent for Israel Hayom, where this article first appeared.

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