Tags: Israel | Middle East | arabs | settlements | west bank | two state | jewish

Arabs Recognizing Israel

the city of jerusalem is shown through a star-shaped window of a building
(Oded Balilty/AP)

By Wednesday, 27 November 2019 04:01 PM Current | Bio | Archive

A group of Arab journalists toured Israel last week as guests of Israel's Foreign Ministry. The journalists came from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, and Egypt. They spent five days in Israel.

Three of those four countries – Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Iraq – do not have official relations with Israel. Of the participating countries, only Egypt officially recognizes Israel. Jordan, which is the only other Arab country to recognize Israel, did not have a participant on the trip.

Participating journalists came, they toured, they were wined and dined, and they returned home, hopefully, in good spirits. This was the second trip of its type in six months. The first trip went a little differently. On that trip, things did not go as smoothly.

Among the first group of visiting journalists was a famous Saudi blogger. He went public with his trip and, in response for being candid, was subsequently assaulted when he went to pray at the Mosque of al Aqsa on the Temple Mount. The Saudi blogger, who was a philo-Semite and had learned Hebrew, was greeted at one of Islam's holiest sites by a chair hurled at him by other Muslims and he was verbally abused and spat upon.

Unlike the first Foreign Ministry sponsored tour for journalists from Arab countries, none of the journalists in the second group went public letting on to their audiences that they were visiting Israel. This group learned from the previous group's mistake. Ironically, last week's visit coincided with the London Conference, a meeting of forward thinking Arab leaders under the auspices of the Arab Council for Regional Integration. One of the agenda items at the Conference was an endorsement for a call to the Arab world to stop boycotting Israel.

The London Conference participants came to the conclusion that rejection of Israel has failed and actually hurt the Arab cause. They determined that the time has come to not just recognize Israel, but to cooperate with Israel. The Conference was sponsored by the Center for Peace Communications, a US group and it featured Arabs from business, academia, the media and even from political families.

It is essential to realize that there are Arab leaders and Arab thinkers who understand that dealing with Israel can be mutually beneficial. That, even when the parties disagree, there are still benefits to meeting and creating deals that will help grow the region. But they are a small minority and until now, their voices have hardly been heard.

As Westerners, we think it is so simple for disparate parties to just sit down and talk. Not so in the Middle East.

It is extremely difficult for the Arab world to even acknowledge the legitimacy of Israel, let alone to sit down, face-to-face, and engage with the Jewish state. Ever since 1948 and the creation of the State of Israel there has been a boycott of Israel by the greater Arab world. Egypt and Jordan broke the glass ceiling, but even their relationship with Jerusalem is cool and sometimes even cold. They are, at least, able to communicate. But in the last twenty years no other country has followed their leads.

As beneficial as partnership, or at least recognized dialogue, would be for Israel and her Arab neighbors, it is Arab states that experience a bigger gain. Since the rise of al Qaeda and ISIS, Israel has proven very effective in battling these extremist terrorists. It is also very clear that Iran is a major "disruptor" in the region, even to Arab nations. And the countries of the Middle East, especially Saudi Arabia, are even bigger targets than Israel for ISIS and Iran.

It is only behind closed doors and in far away corridors that secret meetings take place between Arab and Israeli leaders and their representatives and chiefs of security. With these Foreign Ministry-sponsored visits, Israel is trying to find a not-so-secret outlet, one that can demonstrate to the mainstream Arab world that all is not evil in Israel. If Israel can influence thought leaders in the media, perhaps that media can influence their constituencies.

It is not an easy task. It requires people who have the courage to stand up and suggest that Israel is not an enemy. And, as we learn from the Saudi blogger, it often means a protective detail after going public with your views. If they would only listen, the journalists along with the rest of the Arab world, would hear that they are getting support from outside influencers.

Earlier this week, on Monday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo released several tweets advocating, some might call it suggesting, the Arab world stop boycotting Israel. He said if they would just talk to Israel, the Arab world would gain so much.

Pompeo tweeted: "It's time for Arab countries to abandon boycotts and engage #Israel."

Pompeo tweeted. "#MiddleEast divisions = instability."

Pompeo tweeted: "Arab thinkers who risk their lives to bravely advocate a regional vision of peace and coexistence shouldn't face retribution. We need dialogue."

Secretary of State Pompeo was specifically referencing the London Conference. He was addressing the leading, forward thinking, unafraid Arab thinkers from the 15 countries who bravely gathered to assert the time has come for Arabs and Muslims to embrace Israel.

Kudos to the journalists who came to Israel even in secret. Kudos to those who attended the London Conference. Kudos to Mike Pompeo.

These are steps forward – change is slow but it might, just might, be on the way.

Micah Halpern is a political and foreign affairs commentator. He founded "The Micah Report" and hosts "Thinking Out Loud with Micah Halpern" a weekly TV program and "My Chopp" a daily radio spot. A dynamic speaker, he specializes in analyzing world events and evaluating their relevance and impact. Follow him on Twitter @MicahHalpern. To read more of this reportsClick Here Now.

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A group of Arab journalists toured Israel last week as guests of Israel's Foreign Ministry. The journalists came from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, and Egypt. They spent five days in Israel.
arabs, settlements, west bank, two state, jewish, palestinian, peace
Wednesday, 27 November 2019 04:01 PM
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