After more than a year has passed since Israel signed its normalization treaties with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, Robert Nicholson considers how their success—as well as the subsequent agreements with Sudan, Morocco, and Kosovo—can guide future diplomatic efforts. Among his key takeaways:
Take interests seriously. Last year’s breakthrough came not because of interreligious dialogue or cross-cultural understanding. It came because of secret military and intelligence cooperation between Arabs and Israelis against the looming threat of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The goodwill came later, and that shouldn’t be surprising. Peace never starts with goodwill—it produces goodwill. It starts with mutual concerns about national security, because nations can’t think about peace when they feel threatened.
Don’t avoid religion. Even “secular” people in the Islamic world tend to be more religious than their Western counterparts, unapologetic in their particularism, and ready to defend faith and fatherland on pain of death. Yet the Ivy League-trained peacemaker presents himself to the region as a disinterested observer, a neutral friend of Muslims and Jews who brings no beliefs or agenda of his own. In a region where everyone belongs to some tradition, this posture looks suspicious. The expectation isn’t to hide one’s faith, but to profess it openly while affirming the role that religion plays in political life.
Take what you can get. Critics complain that the Abraham Accords fail to secure full peace with the Palestinians or address the human rights violations of the parties. But in a region devastated by war, every handshake brings the temperature down one more degree, rolling back the climate of hatred and making room for a deal with the Palestinians. Of course, we should be vigilant when dealing with flawed regimes to ensure that we’re never used to sanction evil, but . . . total moral satisfaction is impossible in relations between states, and yet it is states that make war and thus to states that we must look for peace.