Leftists Alarmed At Trump Hopes For Mideast Peace
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
No sooner has the Arab-Israel Spring started to blossom than the Leftists are up in arms. Gulf capitals now formalizing relations with Jerusalem are, they complain, ruled by non-democratic bad guys. Exhibit A: Bahrain, where a Sunni minority, backed by Saudi Arabia, rules over a restive Shiite population.
Bahrain has just announced that it will join the United Arab Emirates Tuesday at a White House ceremony, where President Trump and his top Mideast aide and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, are scheduled to host Prime Minister Netanyahu and the U.A.E.’s foreign minister, Abdullah bin Zaid. In the event, the first peace agreement between (now two) Arab countries and the Jewish state in a quarter century will be sealed with handshakes.
Mr. Trump hints of more to come. Saudi Arabia, vying for leadership in the region, is the big prize. The U.A.E., and certainly Bahrain, wouldn’t have signed on without its blessing, but, even as it allows for Israeli flights over its skies, Riyadh has yet to join them.
Critics won’t be inaccurate in noting the failures of the Gulf’s emirates, sultanates ,and theocracies involved in this breakthrough. Yet haven’t those same critics for years insisted that “you make peace with enemies”? Don’t they push the line that there can be no true peace before Jerusalem comes to terms with the Palestinian Authority, which similarly fails the paragon-of-democracy, benevolent-ruler test?
No doubt it’s hard to be a fan of the Gulf states. The wealthy ones use foreign workers as partial slaves. On a visit to Qatar several years ago I noticed that “pedestrian crossing” road signs show a silhouette of a man in a galabieh, the traditional dress, while “men-at-work” signs do not.
Similarly, while Dubai and Abu Dhabi have become the envy of the Arab world, under the glitz you’ll find people from east Asia, Africa, and other Third World lands in horrid, near slavery conditions while paving roads or constructing palatial homes.
Then again, these countries employ high-salaried European, Canadians, and Americans, imported to advance high-tech, agriculture, education, medicine or art appreciation. That’s how Qatar, the UAE and others used their petrodollars to become 21-century phenoms, while poorer Arab states remain stuck in the distant past.
It is in that context that wealthy persons in the Gulf started looking closer to home and, with the help of diplomats, intelligence types, and other midwives, discovered the Start-Up Nation. Israel was eager for integration in the region where it‘s been shunned for decades.
By the time the pending normalization with the Emirates was announced last month, some 70 Israeli firms were already active in the U.A.E. You can find Israeli entrepreneurs all the way to the Gulf from Morocco, including in countries that have no relations with, and are often officially hostile to, Israel.
One of them is Bahrain, again, far from a symbol of democratic rule. Unlike allied Gulf states with fairly cohesive tribal majorities, Bahrain is deeply divided. The king, Hamad al Khalifa, is a Sunni while some 70% of the population is Shiite. At the height of the so-called Arab Spring, Shiites, egged on by Tehran, rebelled. Bahrain was in danger of becoming an Iranian beachhead at Riyadh’s doorstep.
In 2011, the Saudis organized a posse among their Gulf allies — who at the time included, in addition to the UAE, also their current bitter nemesis, Qatar — to save the Bahraini kingdom. Iran was stirring the pot of rebellion, but the Saudi-led coalition sent troops that put down the insurrection with brutal force. The heavy hand hasn’t abated since.
After Riyadh built a bridge connecting the two kingdoms, Bahrain became a Saudi protectorate. Wealthy Saudis go there to gamble, booze, and do things religious police frown upon at home.
So are these our friends now?
Critics harp on the Bahrain invasion, the war in Yemen, and the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi as reminders that, at best, the Saudi-led Gulf states are unsavory allies. Don’t trust them, they say. The August announcement of the Israeli-UAE deal “enshrines what has been the emerging status quo in the region for a long time,” tweeted President Obama’s erstwhile deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes.
Mr. Rhodes, though, lacks for credibility; he was one of the architects of Mr. Obama’s appeasement of Iran. While he and other Obama aides slam Riyadh for every crime under the sun, they gloss over similar or worse transgressions perpetrated by Tehran, Ramallah and other would-be peace partners they champion.
Angels are rare, if they exist at all, in the Middle East. Yet if Israel can find true peace, even with imperfect regimes, the region would be better off. One side benefit: some Arab leaders begin to realize that, beyond entrepreneurship and high-tech, emulating Israel’s liberal ethos could be useful for them as well.