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Abraham Accords: New hope for peace in Middle East

The historic signing of peace agreements among Israel, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates at the White House yesterday confounded diplomats and experts on three continents. It marks a true turning point in Middle East affairs.

Count me among many Arabs who have long believed that the peace plan deserves a chance – albeit one of the few who says so publicly. I have held this view to the surprise of many American, Israeli, and Palestinian friends.

Americans I know disparage the architects — led by Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner — as too young and inexperienced to develop a viable solution.

Most Israelis I know have doubted whether any plan that meets Israel’s minimal security requirements for a solution could win Palestinian acceptance — to say nothing of a plan that exceeds those requirements.

As to my Palestinian friends, who adopt a moderate outlook not dissimilar from that of left-of-center Americans and Israelis, they have feared the erosion of the two-state solution.

Kushner’s years of patient and quiet behind-the-scenes negotiation paid off. Tossing out the tired scripts of past talks, he listened, he learned, he summarized to show his understanding, and he asked fresh questions.

Kushner succeeds in getting his vision adopted.

Still, many challenges lie ahead. The peace deals brought angry, even threatening remarks on social media across the Arab world. Bahrain and the UAE’s leaders were brave to stand against a sometimes-violent opposition.

These Arab leaders know that after Egypt’s President Sadat visited the Knesset in the 1970s, Sadat was kicked out of the Arab League, widely criticized and ultimately killed. Yet they also know that the David Camp Accords still stand and Egypt has regained its sovereignty over the Sinai. They, like Sadat, are heroes – even if few recognize it now.

The lasting effects of diplomacy are rarely visible at the time.

Other Arab lands may probably follow sometime. Each has its reasons, its strategic interests. Israel, the “start-up nation,” offers new technology for its Arab nations with young, growing populations. And Iran, a Shiite theocratic dictatorship, has been funding and arming extremists to subvert its Sunni neighbors. This combination of opportunities and threats may well bring other nations to the table.

For the Palestinians, it offers a new beginning, though few see it now. The majority of Palestinians are under 35; they want jobs, homes, hospitals and schools for their children. They know that you can’t make peace by refusing to meet and that the status quo is hard to endure.

They also know that it is called the Arab world has never been monolithic. Countries that do not border Israel are not directly affected by the plight of Palestinian people, other than by considerations of international law, charity and mercy. Without the unity of the Arab world supporting a stalemate that has dragged on for half a century, the Palestinians will have to readjust their strategies.

Israel, too, may change. Trade, the peaceful exchange of goods and ideas, may forge new connections among the young and ambitious, on both sides of the Arab-Jewish divide. In time, the bitterness of the old may be replaced by the hopefulness of the young.

A just and lasting peace, a two-state solution, may slowly emerge, in fits and starts, in the coming decades. Only then will we know if yesterday at the White House was truly a turning point. But it sure has the makings of one.

Ahmed Charai is on the board of Directors of the Atlantic Council and an international counselor of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

Tags David Camp Jared Kushner

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