Why Is This Night Different? The Abraham Accords
Witnessing the Abraham Accords signing last week generated the kind of stimulation that usually accompanies a very strong cup of coffee. The effect of such excitement? It’s tough to fall asleep.
The night of September 15, in fact, was different from all other nights. That familiar phrase is generally reserved for a spring holiday that involves the story of the Exodus, unleavened bread, four glasses of wine, a popular spread of chopped apples, cinnamon and wine, and, finally, a proclamation to gather in Jerusalem. Four questions address what makes this night of the treaties different from all other nights.
In the context of the Abraham Accords, these questions might go something like this. On all other nights, Arab leaders would exhibit unconditional animus toward Jews and Israel, dreaming of their destruction. They’d issue curricula and textbooks that are written to poison the minds of schoolchildren, injecting hate against Jews and Israel into the core of their pedagogy. But on this night, no hateful disagreements will disrupt progress, trade, or innovation; same for fighting hunger and sickness. And on this night, the United Arab Emirates will encourage young people to travel to and from Israel to enjoy great food and entertainment, visit and pray at holy sites, and engage in tech mining.
On all other nights, extremists might operate inside major oil-producing countries to plot and fund terror attacks on Western targets, but on this night, the top imam in Mecca, the holiest city among the world’s Muslims, says cooperating with Jews is acceptable and a good idea.
On all other nights, Israeli planes would take a circuitous, serpentine route to fly from Tel Aviv to the Far East. On this night, Israeli commercial flights will be cleared to fly over Saudi Arabian airspace.
On all other nights, Jews continuously pray at the Western Wall of the ancient temple. On this night, the colorful images of the Israel, Bahrain, and UAE flags are projected on the walls of the Old City. Meanwhile, Arabs will be welcome to visit holy sites in Israel and pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site of the Muslim faith.
Finally, after at least 3,000 years of ancient history and 72 years of modern history, there is an official, public rejection of hostilities, with embassies and diplomats planned in each other’s capital cities. The policy model of hate-war-destruction has given way to a very different option — one of diplomacy, a peaceful partnership built on mutual trust, and economic progress. Compared to other historic treaties signed on the South Lawn of the White House, the one signed on September 15 felt very different, according to those who observed them all.
Witnesses to the other Middle East milestone signings recalled the events involving battle-weary Egypt and Jordan, noting distinct caution in the air. On September 15, the leadership of the UAE, Bahrain, Israel, and the US stood shoulder to shoulder. On this day, there were no awkward handshakes, no dubious, glaring looks — or half-hearted, forced, or distrusting full smiles.
Leaders could honestly and publicly state their modified interests in the Palestinian cause, without making their plight conditional to a greater goal — moving forward with cooperation with Israel. In fact, UAE and Bahraini officials are positioned for a new role as an independent third-party, acknowledging that the treaties give Israel and the Palestinians time and space to negotiate an agreement without the looming reality of an “annexation” in Judea and Samaria, commonly known as the West Bank. If the two parties aren’t willing to come to the negotiating table, the new partners are saying publicly, there’s nothing much they can do to advance that process. Meanwhile, the rules governing Areas A, B, and C from the Oslo Accords will remain in place.
The Abraham Accords model is there for the taking, for other Gulf States and even for the Palestinians — the cornerstone to an agreement that is likely to engulf other Gulf States and extend into Africa is economic cooperation. Make no mistake, the Emiratis and Bahrainis still have a soft spot for the Palestinians. However, in the wake of creating a gleaming, modern-day Oz, the UAE and Bahrain are no longer willing to be dragged to a halt, waiting for the Palestinian leadership to fulfill its aspirations. The 72-year-old hate-war-destruction refrain has played like a tired old tune. That strategy has proven far too costly, with zero reward for the risk. These two Arab countries decided to cut their allowance to a petulant child without kicking them out of the house. Their tough love, in effect, came with this advice: “It’s time for you to go find a real job.”
The primary opponents of the Abraham Accords, not surprisingly, were Iran, Turkey, Syria, Hamas, and Hezbollah, among others. Meanwhile, other Arab countries, ready to pull the trigger on an outstanding investment opportunity, were dialing up the partners, wondering, “How do we get in on the action?”
The world is witnessing the beginnings of a tectonic shift — or a “tech-tonic” economic shift. For many Israelis, meanwhile, the feeling of this geopolitical win might be as monumental, if not euphoric, as the 1977 European Cup Championship win by Maccabi Tel Aviv, a victory that lifted the spirit and identity of Israel from such horrifying events as the Olympic massacre in Munich, the Yom Kippur War, and the hostage crisis at the Entebbe airport.
Finally, the winds of change on that bright, clear day last week in Washington opened another door — to broaden the reestablishment of a Jewish community in the UAE and Bahrain. Jews won’t have to conceal their faith to visit these countries. Instead of the destruction of Israel serving as the ideological impetus of the Arab world, the guiding principle offered by the Bahrainis and Emiratis is peace and prosperity. It is not mere policy. It is a plan already being implemented. The peace dividend articulated by the participating countries will manifest itself in young people living and prospering in peace. When words like these filtered through Covid-19 masks worn at the White House, the witnesses knew that leaders were genuinely banking on a future. And that feeling is why this night was different from all other nights.
Charles O. Kaufman is president of B’nai B’rith International.