United Arab Emirates (UAE) Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed, Bahrain?s Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al Zayani, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Donald Trump stand together after signing of the Abraham Accords, normalizing relations between Israel and some of its Middle East neighbors in a strategic realignment of Middle Eastern countries against Iran, on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, U.S., September 15, 2020. Photo: REUTERS/Tom Brenner / NTB scanpix
A growing number of Arabs, particularly those living in the Gulf, say they finally understand that Israel is not the enemy of the Muslims and Arabs.
This change of heart manifested even before the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain signed peace agreements with Israel during a ceremony at the White House on September 15. It is the direct result of the expansionist ambitions of Iran and Turkey in the Arab world and the feeling among Arabs that those two states pose the real threat to their national security.
Until recently, it was unimaginable to see Arabs openly admitting that they had been mistaken in their belief that Israel was the enemy of the Muslims and Arabs. Now, Arabs seem to have no problem saying that they were wrong all these years about their attitude toward Israel. These Arabs now are saying out loud that Iran and its proxies in the Arab world, and not Israel, are the real enemies of Arabs and Muslims.
Until recently, most Arab writers, journalists and political activists avoided any form of criticism of the Palestinians. Such criticism was considered taboo in the Arab world: the Palestinians were considered the poor spoiled babies who were suffering as a result of the conflict with Israel. Now, however, one can find in Arab media outlets more criticism of the Palestinians and their leadership than in Western media, or even in Israeli media.
Until recently, for most Arabs, the terms peace and normalization (with Israel) were associated with extremely negative connotations: humiliation, submission, defeat and shame. No longer. Many Arabs are openly talking about their desire for peace with Israel. These Arabs are saying that they are looking forward to reaping the fruits of peace with Israel and that it is time that Arab countries prioritize their own interests.
Of course, none of this means that the entire Arab world has changed course and is ready to recognize Israel and establish relations with it. The voices of the Arabs and Muslims who reject any peace treaty with Israel remain vocal and representative of the sentiments of the majority of the people in the Arab and Islamic countries, especially those that have not educated their public for peace.
Yet, it is remarkable to see how an increasing number of Arabs are airing their views regarding Israel and the Palestinians in the public sphere. The message coming from these Arabs: «We helped the Palestinians for many years; we gave them money; we gave them weapons, and some of us even fought wars with Israel because of them. In the end, we discovered that our Palestinian brothers are ungrateful, obstinate, lack good leadership and are refusing to move on with their lives.» The Arabs are telling the Palestinians: «You no longer have a veto on peace with Israel.»
Most importantly, the Arabs of the Gulf are openly admitting that it is Iran, and not Israel, that poses a major threat to peace and stability in the Middle East. The Gulf Arabs are saying that Iran and its Palestinian and Lebanese proxies — such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah — are destroying Arab countries and dragging them toward more bloodshed, violence and chaos.
As Saudi writer Mohammed al-Sheikh recently noted:
«For us in the Gulf, Israel is no longer the No. 1 enemy, as it was before the Persian mullahs seized control of Iran in 1979 and began exporting their revolution, or before Erdogan assumed the presidency in Turkey and worked to restore the Ottoman occupation of the Arab world.»
Al-Sheikh said that the Gulf Arabs are the only ones entitled to assess the dangers and threats surrounding them:
«It is we, not other Arabs, who assess the dangers surrounding us and arrange our priorities. The problem is that most Arabs, including the Palestinians, insist on playing the role of guardians over us and on defining for us our priorities. They continue to argue that the mullahs of Iran and Erdogan’s Turkey do not pose a threat to us as much as Israel does.»
Praising the prospect of peace and normalization with Israel, the Saudi writer pointed out that:
«Israel is an advanced and superior country in all fields, and by creating a space for peaceful cooperation with it, we believe that we will benefit from its progress and superiority.»
Arabs who are opposed to peace with Israel, al-Sheikh added, «do not care about development and modernization, and that is why they are at the bottom of countries in terms of modernity and development.»
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Echoing a common theme in the Gulf states nowadays, al-Sheikh said that peace with Israel would benefit the Arabs as much as Israel. He is saying, in other words, that the Arabs stand to gain a lot from making peace with Israel.
«We are certain that our cooperation with the superior Israel and the US will definitely affect our national interests, and it will have the best impact on our national security, specifically toward our enemies, and it will positively reflect on our development.»
Ahmad al Garni, editor of the Saudi newspaper Sada al Hijaz, said that the days when Arabs used Israel to scare other Arabs are finally gone. «Scaring us with Israel has become a thing of the past,» al-Garni wrote.
«We are not afraid of Israel. We are not cowards. Dealing with Israel does not mean that we love it. It’s one thing to love Israel, and another thing to have commercial, economic and political relations with it.»
Expressing growing disillusionment with the Palestinians in the Arab countries, Saudi writer Amal Abdel Aziz al-Hazany said that the Palestinians who are now condemning the UAE and Bahrain for making peace with Israel were among the first Arabs to normalize their relations with Israel when they signed the 1993 Oslo Accord.
Al-Hazany pointed out that Iranian meddling in the internal affairs of the Palestinians has resulted in the separation of the West Bank from the Gaza Strip and triggered a power struggle between the two main Palestinian factions, Fatah and Hamas, that continues to this day.
She said that despite Iran’s endorsement of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the Arabs continue to support the Palestinian cause in international forums and remind the international community on every occasion that the Palestinian issue is the Arabs’ first concern. Al-Hazany also noted that funds nevertheless continued to flow to the Palestinians, especially from the Gulf states:
«The Arabs, especially Saudi Arabia, have provided everything possible in favor of the Palestinian issue, and millions of dollars have not stopped flowing to the PLO, without accountability, but with the hope that they would spend this money to provide a decent life for the Palestinians… Can the Arab countries be blamed today for looking after their interests by establishing open relations with Israel? Times change, everything has changed, except for the Palestinian mood that rejects anything and everything. It is not in the Palestinians’ interest to adopt a negative attitude towards the countries that decide to normalize the relationship with Israel, which is increasing and will increase with time.»
Emirati political analyst Issa bin Arabi Albuflasah expressed outrage and disgust over the Palestinian leadership’s recurring insults and attacks on the Gulf states for daring to seek peace with Israel. «Palestinian leaders are the main cause for the suffering of their people,» Albuflasah remarked. «They have achieved nothing for the Palestinians. They only care about power and achieving personal and partisan gains at the expense of the Palestinian issue.»
Accusing the Palestinians of being ungrateful, the Emirati analyst said:
«The UAE and the rest of the Gulf states opened their doors and institutions to the Palestinians, where they lived as brothers, enjoying everything that the citizen enjoys, and receiving care and attention. The Palestinians are now responding by insulting us and aligning themselves with Iran, Turkey and the Muslim Brotherhood.»
Saudi writer Mohammed al-Saed also lashed out at the Palestinians and accused them of living in «a miserable film.»
«Human history will not see the birth of a Palestinian politician. I wish to remind everyone of the weakness and confusion that dominates the Palestinian issue and of the guns and explosives that were directed mostly at Arab and Western civilians to cover up the [Palestinian] state of bankruptcy.»
Noting that Palestinians have a long history of rejecting peace offers with Israel, he said that the Palestinians did not bother to inform their Arab brothers of their intention to sign the Oslo Accords:
«It was excessive selfishness from [former PLO leader Yasser] Arafat and his unfortunate negotiating delegation who participated in Oslo. Within 50 years, Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and many Arab countries paid a heavy price and fought several wars on behalf of the Palestinians. Yet Arafat did not let them know about the negotiations that led to the signing of the Oslo Accords.»
Explaining why Arabs are now moving closer to Israel, Saudi writer Fahd al Degaither commented:
«Geopolitically speaking, new enemies of the Arabs have appeared in the region, with new and very dangerous ambitions that are declared and different from those of Israel. We were told that Israel’s slogan was [to expand] ‘From the Euphrates to the Nile.’ Iran, however, does not hide its expansionist ideological trend, which it is already practicing through its militias in Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen. Turkey, on the other hand, is seeking to seize new sources of energy in Libya and has sights on Africa along the Red Sea. These developments prompted the moderate Arabs to start reconsidering previous their political positions.»
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Saudi writer Osama Yamani concurred:
«Our enemy today is Iran and Turkey, who occupy Arab lands in the name of the Palestinian issue. As for the enemy of the Palestinians at home, they are the corrupt leaders and traitors who rest in the bosom of Iran. For us, the real issue now is development, peace and justice that were stolen from the Arab world and forgotten by the Arab peoples. The Palestinian issue concerns the Arab peoples who want a solution, but the leaders benefit from the status quo. These leaders benefit from the problems and suffering of their people. There is no solution under corrupt leaderships. The Palestinian leadership is in the hands of traitors and beneficiaries.»
Saudi writer Saeed al-Farha al-Ghamdi, in an article published in the Saudi newspaper al-Madina on September 4, says he can’t understand why the Palestinians fail to read reality. «The Palestinian issue is in retreat and Palestinian leaders are moving in the opposite direction, as if their minds have been frozen. The Palestinians have become lost and without a leadership that looks after their interests,» al-Ghamdi said, urging the Palestinians to keep a distance from Iran, Turkey and Qatar, «which have agendas that seek to exploit the [Palestinian] issue.»
Saudi writer and researcher Fahd al-Shkiran advised the Palestinians to «catch up» with the normalization agreements between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain. «The historic agreement will change the face of the region,» al-Shkiran wrote.
«It is tantamount to turning the tables on the axis of resistance and its terrorist militias. It is not reasonable for the Palestinian Authority to remain in its negative attitude regarding the changes that are sweeping the world.»
Al-Shkiran also advised the Palestinians to hold their leaders accountable on two levels:
«The first is political accountability: The reasons and causes of the continued rejection of all realistic deals that were offered to them since the beginning of the problem until today. Second: Opening the files of corruption. The Palestinian has the right to ask about the billions of dollars paid by the Gulf states for the Palestinian cause. All that money has disappeared.»
Judging from the comments of many Gulf Arabs, it is evident that a growing number of Arabs realize that they have been misled about Israel for decades. They were brainwashed to believe that Israel was the true enemy of all Arabs. It is refreshing to see that many Arabs have become aware of the misconceptions and lies they were fed all that time. The Palestinians, however, are unlikely to see similar changes as long as their leaders continue to inform them, in no uncertain terms, that normalization and peace with Israel constitute the high crime of treason.
Khaled Abu Toameh, an award-winning journalist based in Jerusalem, is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at Gatestone Institute.