JERUSALEM – What were we asking for, if not recognition of our right to live, flourish and one day die – of old age, if possible – in the land of our ancestors? Are Jews to be denied the basic right to which so many other peoples are entitled?
“Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? … If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh?” For how long will Shylock’s speech from “The Merchant of Venice” be relevant? From generation to generation … forever? But that’s just it – it is changing, and in giant steps. Two Arab states, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain – both full members in the Arab League, which has always opposed our very existence – have come to Washington to sign a peace agreement with us.
Yes, it’s dramatic.
It’s dramatic because it’s being done proudly, openly and with joy – and not only on our side, but also theirs. It’s an enormous change, a sea change, one we were hoping for. Recognition of Israel not because there is no other choice, but due to the realization that good relations with Israel will improve the lives of their children along with the lives of ours
I hear people trying to play down the importance of the event, and I’m sorry, because this is peace for all of us. And it is peace, not normalization. Many among us translate everything into petty politics, but this truly is a major event. What peace-seeking Israeli can remain indifferent or apathetic? Yes, even during a pandemic and on the brink of a lockdown we are allowed to rejoice, because this deal inspires a great deal of hope for the future – especially needed at the current time. Economic pandemic? Think about the billions that will be invested here as a result of this deal. And they will be.
Egypt under Anwar Sadat and Jordan under King Hussein gave us deals that excited us, but in both cases it was a cold peace that didn’t touch the lives of the people. In Cairo and Amman, we were asked to be discreet. I remember the criticism of Israel from the liberal protesters in Tahrir Square. I also heard a lot of anger about the peace deal in Amman. We need not dwell on the Oslo Accords. We wanted to believe, but we knew they didn’t stand a chance.
That didn’t stop our media from getting excited and announcing a “new Middle East.” Actually, it was the old Middle East, but the hawk had disguised itself as a dove, and we fell for it. Anyone who dared criticize or, heaven forbid, demonstrate against the accords was labeled a warmonger or an enemy of peace. More than 1,000 of our citizens paid with their lives during the Second Intifada. Buses were blowing up in Israel, and there, they were handing out candy.
But this time, with our friends in the Gulf dancing a celebratory hora at the prospect of peace, it’s hard not to notice the bunch of skeptics who are trying to spoil the party by focusing on the F-35s that are supposedly part of the deal and will destroy us any minute now (Iran is of greater concern to the Emiratis), or who state absolutely that we have forgone any application of sovereignty in Judea, Samaria and the Jordan Valley, which is not entirely accurate. Sovereignty is important to us, and it will come.
Personally, I’m excited today. I remember my visits to Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Bahrain in the early 1990s. I remember the Saudi party-goers who crossed the bridge into little Bahrain. I remember the lovely Nunu family who invited me to prayers, and to their home. All that was with a French passport. Today, we can visit on our blue passports, the ones with the menorah symbol.
Yes, it’s thrilling, and not because it’s never happened before. It’s exciting because this time, it will be done in the open, not in a back room. Peace in the light of day. I remember my previous visits to Abu Dhabi, when I would be on my way back from covering the Iraq war, and as soon as I got there I felt more at ease, because I saw an “enemy” that was much more tolerant. But someone had to cultivate that tree and harvest the fruit, the fruit of peace. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is the one who did.
So then people say: it was easy and required no effort. Nonsense. I was the ambassador to Mauritania, and we had a flag and an embassy there, but the Mauritanians didn’t want a public ceremony like this one. They always wanted to keep a low profile, even when it came to peace. Today, for the first time, we will see two Arab states sign a peace agreement with us, in broad daylight and with love. At least that’s the feeling the reporters sent to Abu Dhabi came back with. People are saying that Sudan and Morocco are next in line.
And Saudi Arabia will join, and from then on, the history books will say that once, long ago, Jews and Arabs were at war.
We aren’t there yet, and we have a long road ahead of us. Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria and Iran (which is not an Arab state) are far from eradicating the Shylock. But the events of today are changing history. Yes, we can also say an enormous thank you to the leaders of the Gulf states, to U.S. President Donald Trump, and to Benjamin Netanyahu.
Boaz Bismuth is editor in chief of Israel Hayom.