IN THE MEDIA
Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates fully normalise relations with Israel – ABC Radio interview
Sep 16, 2020
AIJAC’s Ahron Shapiro discussed the US-brokered diplomatic rapprochement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain with ABC Newsradio’s Glen Bartholomew.
Glen Bartholomew: Well, Ahron Shapiro is a policy analyst with the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council, he joins us now from Melbourne. Good morning. What’s your reaction to Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates agreeing to fully normalise relations with Israel?
Ahron Shapiro: Well, it’s really a dream come true. And it’s a win-win because it expands stability and peace in the region and it opens new channels of diplomacy. This has been something that Israel has said for a long time, that talking with your neighbours is how you bring peace. And so I think that this is a step in the direction that will bring Israel into the community of nations in that area. Instead of feeling that they’re surrounded by hostile neighbours, they’ll be able to have a conversation that will ultimately lead to more peace.
Glen Bartholomew: Donald Trump going so far as to call it the dawn of a new Middle East. Would you expect other Arab nations to follow?
Ahron Shapiro: Well, I would. And the question is timing. I don’t think that either the United Arab Emirates or Bahrain would have moved forward without the tacit support of Saudi Arabia. And I think that now that the dam has broken, so to speak, there could be others. It will all come down to national interest.
Glen Bartholomew: As you say, it’s more sort of Saudi Arabia and Syria, Iran, Iraq, the big players in the region. This is, I don’t know how to describe it, it’s kind of comparatively small beer?
Ahron Shapiro: Well, this is the beginning of something that was under the surface for a long time, and this has really transformed the way that people will be looking at the region and all the assumptions that went into relations with the Middle East and now have to be discarded and re-evaluated because the rules of the game have changed.
Glen Bartholomew: The move is being condemned by Palestinian groups who urged others not to follow. It’s been described by their supporters as an insult to Palestinians, an utter disregard for human rights and international law, and a shameful betrayal of the Palestinian people in their quest for freedom, justice and peace.
Ahron Shapiro: Well, from their perspective, I can understand why they’d feel that way. And yet they should be listening to the people who have been in their corner for so long. You know, I’ve often said that sometimes if you’re advocating for someone, let’s say a lawyer is advocating on behalf of a client, sometimes the best advice is to settle. And I think that what the United Arab Emirates and what Bahrain are saying and what the Arab League was saying when it refused to condemn these agreements is that the Palestinians should start thinking in terms of settling, in terms of coming to some sort of a compromise, which right now, up until now, they’ve been very resistant to make concessions that would be necessary for peace. So I think their Arab friends are telling them, please talk, let’s talk about a state that you are prepared to accept.
Glen Bartholomew: Does it suggest Israel would also be prepared to make some concessions or compromises, or does this show that perhaps they don’t need to now?
Ahron Shapiro: I think that Israel has shown many times, and they’ve made peace offers in the past that have included a Palestinian state, they’ve shown a lot of willingness to negotiate for peace and in good faith. I think if the Palestinians want to build pressure on Israel for peace, they need to show from their side that they’re willing to make those concessions, and what we’ve seen time and again is that the Israeli people are ready for peace, they’re ready to make big concessions for peace if they feel the other side is serious about peace, and we’ve seen it in the past and it could happen again.
Glen Bartholomew: What can you tell me about how this might be playing in Israel and the reaction there? Would everyone be pleased?
Ahron Shapiro: You know, most people are. There are people who are suspicious about this deal because of the way that it came about, the details are absent. It’s very unusual that an agreement would be signed without knowing what’s in it. And yet, in principle, they are behind it. The people who are most upset are the far left and the far right. The far left are upset because they feel that the Palestinians are being sidelined and they don’t like that. And the people on the far right feel that they’ve been betrayed on settlement issues and in their perspective, perhaps they have.
Glen Bartholomew: There’s a few people upset in Israel right now, isn’t there? Because meanwhile, the country is going back into hard lockdown because of the largest COVID-19 spike in the world, but many say they won’t obey the rules, blaming Prime Minister Netanyahu for mishandling the crisis because he was too busy dealing with his own political survival and corruption charges. What do you make of what’s happening there?
Ahron Shapiro: Well, there’s no question that Israel has had a very bad second wave and that a unity government that was promised to deliver a better outcome coming out of the first wave, and what was really considered an emergency coronavirus government has shown no unity. And you have the two big factions that had to agree to join – the Likud faction of Netanyahu and the Blue and White faction of Benny Gantz – they’ve been acting like two separate governments, as if the opposition is inside the government. And when you have that situation, and Netanyahu has no trust for Gantz and Gantz has no trust for Netanyahu, and they’re attacking each other all the time. Unfortunately, there’s been a lot of paralysis, and that’s really been at the detriment of the fight against coronavirus and everyone is very frustrated and disappointed by this. Now, Israel does have a coronavirus czar, a person who they put in charge of making policies, and yet, his powers are not well defined. His name is Gamzu. And when this second wave started up, they were talking about putting in a traffic light system where they would go from green, yellow to red, depending on what parts of the country were most affected by coronavirus, those areas would be under increasing measures. And the second wave just overtook, like a tsunami, overtook all that, and right now they’re going into full lockdown.
Glen Bartholomew: Let’s see if people obey the rules. Ahron, thanks very much. Ahron Shapiro with the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council joining us there.