How the U.S. Can Foster Continued Improvement in Israel-Arab Relations

October 8, 2020 | Bob Silverman
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According to the “old model” of understanding the Middle East, writes Bob Silverman, normalization with the Arab states “was a one-sided benefit to Israel, only to be conceded once Israel meets the needs of the Palestinian Authority.” By contrast, the recent agreements with the United Arab Emirates and with Bahrain suggest a new model that “assumes normalization benefits both Israelis and Arabs, and that Arab engagement with Israel will help achieve a Palestinian-Israeli peace agreement.” Silverman argues that there is much more Washington can do to promote this new model:

Ali Salem, an Egyptian playwright and newspaper columnist, . . . decided to visit Israel in 1993, after the Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization. His subsequent book A Drive to Israel, perhaps the only humorous account of Arab-Israeli contacts, was an Arabic bestseller. But it got him banned by the Egyptian professional unions. No one would publish his writing or stage his plays. . . . He lost his livelihood and professional reputation for normalizing with Israel. And he became an object lesson for other Arabs who might be curious about their Israeli neighbors.

[To] shine a light on anti-normalization practices of Arab governments . . . Congress [should] pass a new bipartisan bill introduced by Senators Cory Booker and Rob Portman. This law would require the State Department to add to [its] annual human-rights report instances of Arab government retribution towards citizens who engage in people-to-people relations with Israelis. Such retribution is unfortunately the law and practice throughout the Arab world. We can support courageous individuals like the Egyptian playwright Ali Salem, but first we need to know about them. This law requires the State Department to make such people-to-people contacts a priority.

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