By Larry Gordon
It’s been a few weeks since I met Phil Rosen going into one of the local Five Towns stores on a Sunday night.
I was leaving and he was entering, and in those few seconds he said to me that he had just returned from a trip to Saudi Arabia and that we should have a conversation about it. Of course, Phil doesn’t know that I am always thinking about what editorial I’m going to do next, so opening that store door and meeting him was a gift from Above.
The only problem was that it took two weeks for him to call me back because he was not allowed to discuss the matter openly; now, however, the story is out there or at least beginning to make the rounds.
The Abraham Accords, created by President Trump along with Jared Kushner and Ambassador David Friedman, dramatically shifted the dynamic of the relationship between Jews and Arabs in the Middle East and probably around the world.
If you think avid Jewish travelers have been excited about visiting Abu Dhabi and Dubai, just wait until the first mezuzah goes up in Riyadh. The Saudis are the big enchilada in the Abraham Accords equation. For all these decades they were always viewed as the most critical of Israel and the most vociferously opposed to even a hint of any cooperation connected to Israel.
This week, for the first time, a privately chartered El Al plane landed in Saudi Arabia and an Emirati passenger jet from Riyadh landed at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv. Slowly but surely, the walls are coming down.
Interestingly, the first to take the plunge and open up direct contact with Israel were the Emirates and Bahrain, followed by Sudan and Morocco. Assuming Trump would have been reelected, the expectation was that the Saudis would probably come around quickly. But although the Biden victory didn’t bring the process to a halt, it did slow it down significantly.
Since the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993, the expectation has been that an agreement would be developed that would create a state of Palestine and lead to peace despite the seemingly endless struggle, battles, and terrorist attacks visited on Jews in Israel by Palestinians.
Looking back over all these years, Israel’s objective was peace, but that was not the intent of the Palestinian leadership. They didn’t want real peace then and they do not want it now—and that seems abundantly clear to all involved, including the Gulf States like Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
As I write these words, the Biden administration is trying to reduce the Jewish presence in Jerusalem by reopening a closed consulate building, thereby increasing the diplomatic visibility of the Palestinian Authority in Israel’s capital. At the same time, when Israel announced plans this week to build 3,000 new homes in Judea and Samaria, the Biden administration responded that the construction is “unacceptable.”
The great breakthrough a year ago of the Abraham Accords was that the Palestinian obstacle to peace would be bypassed for now and the process would be reversed, with the Accords being used as an impetus for the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah and Hamas in Gaza to sober up and seriously consider peace or be left out of the equation.
The visit to Riyadh recently by Mr. Rosen and a delegation of Jewish community leaders signaled that the Saudis may be ready to make the big move and announce the establishment of diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and the Jewish state.
Phil says that the delegation was treated like royalty by the royal family. He adds that the Saudis, after much contemplation, have carefully weighed the important benefits for them and the other Gulf States and are finally making the move. And the mission to Saudi Arabia may have been the catalyst that led the Biden administration to announce that they are hopeful that the Saudis will join the Accords by signing agreements with Israel.
In a sense, Phil Rosen said, the Saudis have been quietly involved in the Abraham Accords from the very beginning. If the Saudis make the big announcement soon, it is likely that a number of other countries will follow suit, and that might include Kuwait and even Iraq.
As far as the immediate benefits for the Saudis and the Israelis, in addition to the long-term benefit of peace, the Saudis see great economic opportunities that will quickly develop between the two counties. That includes trade and travel for both Arabs and Jews along with all the ancillary financial benefits that are realized by the strengthening of these markets. Additionally, the Saudis and other Gulf countries are looking forward to benefiting from Israel’s advances in technology and in particular the medical innovations in the battle against the coronavirus.
Phil could not say which members of the Saudi royal family he met with, but there were a series of meetings with about half a dozen ministers, which included members of the royal family. He says that when they were asked why they have delayed their entrance into the Abraham Accords while five other countries have already joined, the response was that the members of the delegation certainly understand that none of the countries would have signed on to the agreement without consent from the Saudis.
I asked Phil what it was like landing in Saudi Arabia compared to the coronavirus procedures at Ben Gurion Airport. He said it seemed that the system was tougher at the Saudi airport. On one day they had five meetings with different government officials, and prior to each meeting they were swabbed separately for a rapid test.
From the long view, it has seemed for almost a full year now that the Biden administration is not anxious or determined to move ahead with the Abraham Accords. There was no rush as the Democrat foreign-policy apparatus tries to revert to the old ways of Presidents Clinton and Obama, which involves moving the corrupt Palestinian leadership to center stage, with the long-failed two-state solution as the main focus.
What it looks like today is that the region is moving ahead with or without the Biden administration, as the Gulf States want very much to enter the modern world of the 21st century. It could be that the Jewish leadership meeting with Phil Rosen and his colleagues may have created some pressure on President Biden to play diplomatic catch-up.
It seems odd from the outside, but one of the main reasons for the slow process of normalizing relations between Arab states and Israel is the average citizen on the street who has been indoctrinated by leadership in these countries to regard Israel as a hostile enemy. This is how groups like Hamas in Gaza conduct their business and how the mullahs in Iran deal with their population.
But the Gulf States are governed today by younger visionaries, like Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Saudi Arabia, who have determined that peace and prosperity is the way to go. They’ve had enough of the backwardness, and so have the people. It’s time to look forward, and the most important prerequisite to these possibilities is peace.
Read more of Larry Gordon’s articles at 5TJT.com. Follow 5 Towns Jewish Times on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for updates and live videos. Comments, questions, and suggestions are welcome at 5TJT.com and on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.