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Baby Steps toward the Normalization of Arab-Israeli Ties, by Evelyn Gordon (Mosaic)

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Apr. 21, 2016

The case for optimism.

Defending her cautious optimism about improving relations between Israel and the Arab states, Evelyn Gordon argues for the cumulative significance of seemingly minor steps:

[I]n recent weeks, scarcely a day has passed without another example [of changes in Arab attitudes toward the Jewish state].

Perhaps the most remarkable was an offshoot of last weekend’s Egyptian-Saudi deal under which Egypt will transfer two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia. . . . Israel gave [its] consent [to the transfer] because Riyadh provided a written pledge to honor the terms of the [1978] Israeli-Egyptian treaty. . . . Saudi Arabia [thus] formally committed itself to a peace treaty with a state it officially doesn’t recognize.

A few days later, a former Iraqi diplomat arrived in Israel as an official and very public guest of Israel’s Foreign Ministry. Hamad al-Sharifi served in the Iraqi embassies in Kuwait and Jordan and as an adviser to Iraq’s defense ministry. Before coming, he declared, “I consider myself a friend of Israel. At this time, Arabs need to understand that there is no conflict between Israel and Arab states, rather there is an Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” . . .

[These and other instances] are just the first baby steps on a very long road; it will take decades, if not generations, for these views to spread to the broader Arab public. But for most of the seven decades since Israel’s establishment, there has been no movement at all toward reshaping public attitudes; even major events like the peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan were strictly government-to-government, and entailed no effort to change popular perceptions of Israel as a loathed enemy. . . .

Thus the fact that these attitudes are finally being challenged by Arabs themselves is of real significance. It won’t lead to any practical change in Arab-Israeli relations for a long time to come. But it’s a necessary first step toward such a change, and as such, constitutes genuine grounds for optimism.

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