To Israel, the UAE and Bahrain: Mazal Tov. Mabruk.

Written by on September 15, 2020

“Instead of focusing on past conflicts, people are now focused on creating a vibrant future filled with endless possibilities.”

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, United Arab Emirates (UAE) Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed and Bahrain's Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al Zayani standby prior to signing the Abraham Accords with US President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington, US, September 15, 2020. (photo credit: REUTERS/TOM BRENNER)

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, United Arab Emirates (UAE) Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed and Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al Zayani standby prior to signing the Abraham Accords with US President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington, US, September 15, 2020.

(photo credit: REUTERS/TOM BRENNER)

Finally, some good news. No, not good news, great news; historic news.

Tuesday’s ceremony on the White House Lawn, where Israel signed agreements with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, is the fulfillment of a decades-long Israeli dream: Acceptance. Maybe not blanket acceptance, but acceptance by some very significant regional players.

That this too place as coronavirus gloom envelopes the land, makes it even more welcome. With the country on the verge of a Rosh Hashanah lockdown, this ceremony gave us all something to smile about, at least briefly.

And the agreements with the UAE and Bahrain are worth smiling about. Even those who dislike Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump should be applauding these accords, because they are Mideast game-changers, regardless of who will get or take credit for bringing them about.

Why? Because they usher in a new period when the Middle East is not chained to the tragedies of the past, but looks for a creative, constructive way to move into the future.

As Jared Kushner, the US president’s senior adviser, who deserves much credit for midwifing these accords, said Monday: “Instead of focusing on past conflicts, people are now focused on creating a vibrant future filled with endless possibilities.”

There is much to that. One can either be paralyzed by the past, or decide to move on. For too long, this region – especially the Palestinians – have been paralyzed by the past.

The significance of Tuesday’s ceremony is that key regional players said publicly to themselves, and the world, that it is now time to move forward. This doesn’t mean the disagreements and clashes of the past are forgotten or washed away, only that they will not be allowed to hold the future hostage forever.

The agreements signed in Washington do not solve all of Israel’s strategic problems. Iran remains a threat, Gaza a humanitarian tragedy, and the Palestinian issue continues to fester.

But the agreements show that it is possible to decouple the Palestinian issue and think differently and creatively. Until Tuesday, the world was shackled to an all-or-nothing Mideast peace paradigm that did not work for the last quarter-century: Either peace with the Palestinians, or nothing with the Arab world.

But reality can be much more nuanced, and this accord recognizes that. It is possible to have something with the Arab world, even in the absence of full peace with the Palestinians, amid the hope that – among other benefits – improved relations with the Arab world could actually lead to a better chance of peace with the Palestinians.

How? Because key Arab states may now nudge the Palestinians toward more flexibility, because they may realize that time is not their friend, because Israel may eventually feel secure enough to take risks it hitherto deemed too risky.

One of the failed equations of previous Israeli-Palestinian peace making efforts was the idea that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. That equation ground the process to a halt. What happens if some things can be agreed upon, but others not, or at least not now? Instead of moving forward where possible, this all-or-nothing approach prevented any movement at all.

This thinking also dominated the approach toward normalization between Israel and the Arab world. Normalization was impossible until there was full peace with the Palestinians. But since that peace proved impossible, it also meant no normalization – which was bad for everyone.

That formula has now been replaced with a new one: Move forward where you can, hoping this creates opportunities to make it possible to deal later with extremely knotty issues that in the past were simply too difficult to untie.

More than 40 years after the Egyptian-Israeli peace agreement, only those wearing ideological blinders would say that the Camp David accords did not bring great benefits to Israel, Egypt and the region, even though they did not solve the Palestinian question.

The same is true today. Only those blinded by ideology will argue that the accords signed Tuesday are not good because they solve only some problems but not all of them. The enemy of the good is the perfect.

Is the agreement perfect, does it solve all issues? No. But is it good because it solves some of them and paves the way toward moving forward on others? Most definitely.

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