By Arab News
By Ronald S. Lauder*
There is finally some good news in a year that has been buffeted by the coronavirus crisis. The agreement between the UAE and Israel, announced by the White House on Thursday, is more than just an agreement to normalize relations between Israel and an Arab country. I believe it is the beginning of regionwide peace.
It is a catalyst for more countries in the Middle East to actually envision a better future for their children, and it confirms to the entire world that there are still righteous women and men who have worked tirelessly for this moment.
It also shows us that there are still leaders who have the courage to make difficult and bold steps in the name of peace.
I am speaking specifically about Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump, three leaders I respect enormously. While this announcement came as a great surprise to many, I know that it did not come about by accident. Many people have worked long hours to make this happen.
Let me explain why I believe this moment is so important. The agreement will open up new opportunities for cooperation on many levels. The most obvious benefit is greater security for the region. Perhaps not immediately apparent, but just as important, are the joint communiques that will come in the fields of business, science, education and the arts. These will lead to exchanges of knowledge and ideas, and there will be an opportunity to learn from one another about our traditions and history, all of which will lead to building a better future together.
During my visits to universities, cultural sites and souqs in the UAE, Bahrain and other nations, I have seen a people quite open and eager to engage the world. The conversations I had with them over cardamom coffee and dates allowed me to learn more about their wishes, hopes and dreams. I was deeply impressed with the openness of these people, as well as their tolerance toward other religions.
In a wonderful reminder of this, the agreement is called the Abraham Accord, because of the obvious connection the two religions share with the Prophet Abraham.
It is the central part of our foundation, and has been the hope of our two great people, Jews and Muslims, to come together and live in peace. But the Abraham Accord will, hopefully, also encourage other countries in the region to follow the example of the UAE and normalize relations with the Jewish state. We must always remember that Abraham’s footprints are in Makkah, not too far from the Kaaba.
After Egypt and Jordan, we now have a third Arab nation joining the grand alliance of peace. I was on the White House lawn when the Camp David Peace Accord was signed and I distinctly remember thinking — believing — that more would follow. It might have taken longer than some people would have wished, but we now see it happening and for this I am so grateful.
We should all pause for a few moments and remind ourselves that those who still push for hatred against others in the name of our faiths will never be remembered as great men.
But those who have helped people come together — Sadat and Begin, King Hussein, Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres — truly walk in the steps of the righteous.
This agreement will give people the opportunity to remember our shared heritage. Together, the descendants of Abraham can make not just their countries but the entire world a better place. I am hopeful that Avraham from Tel Aviv and Ibrahim from Abu Dhabi one day will be able to study together at universities in either of their countries. I look forward to sitting with both of them and sharing a plate of traditional food while discussing their shared dreams and hopes.
I would like to take this opportunity to send the following message to all the bridge builders in this world: As head of the World Jewish Congress, I often like to remind my Jewish and Muslim friends in Israel, the US, Europe and the Middle East that we are cousins. There might be some among us who like to forget or hide this fact, but a fact is a fact nonetheless.
Peace between us is possible. We see this again today. Friendship between us is possible. Brotherhood and sisterhood between us is possible. But it takes courage to take that first, difficult step. I thank God that there are people in this world, courageous people, who will take that step for all of us.
So, I say mabrouk and mazel tov to the leaders of the UAE and Israel and to the Trump administration in the US. Mabrouk and mazel tov to all of the people who never gave up hope and who build the bridges for a better world for our children.
• Ronald S. Lauder is president of the World Jewish Congress.