Peace but not Integration*

By Dan Schueftan
Wednesday, September 2nd, 2020 @ 10:51AM

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Unlike the peace with Egypt and Jordan and its unrealistic hopes, the UAE deal provides a new template for a relationship that is based on shared interests.

The breakthrough in relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and the way in which they stand in contrast with the Arab boycott on normalization have once again led to a debate in Israel over our place in the region.

The romanticization of Bedouin and Middle Eastern culture among the early Jewish settlers predates the State of Israel, with some of our pioneers adopting it as part of their ethos for the new commonwealth.

Fringe ideological groups wanted Israel during the early statehood years to “integrate in the Semite sphere,” and the Israeli public was led to believe that it was the tyrants of the region who were preventing their people from embracing the Jews who have returned to their homeland. The peace euphoria in the 1990s was the peak of this trend, with people talking about their hopes of “grabbing hummus in Damascus”.

After the peace with Jordan and Egypt failed to deliver on the goods, and even more so after the Oslo Accords’ illusions came crashing down, Israelis had a rude awakening. These were later combined with the Arab Spring’s cautionary tale, producing the realization that the Arab world has failed to step up to the plate when it comes to dealing with modern challenges. Thus, the Arab leaders are but a reflection of their failed societies.

Despite their many differences, the more than 20 Arab states have had a common denominator shared almost across the board: a dysfunctional political culture that lacks pluralistic and constructive fundamentals. It is a culture in which the only alternative to a dictator is anarchy and civil war, jihadi rule or some other form of tyranny.

Israelis have sobered up and realized that integration in this region is no longer a desirable choice. Nobody in Israel wants to replicate Syria’s civil rights laws or adopt the Saudi treatment of women, just as no one considers Libya a model for stability and Egypt and as a beacon for economic success, or Lebanon as a template for ethnic harmony.

There is no plausible reason to have Israel integrate in the Nile Valley or the Euphrates when it has successfully been competing with Silicon Valley.

But when it comes to the UAE, things are different. Here we are not talking about integration but mutual interests, both economically and strategically, shared by societies that want to integrate into the modern world while upholding their values. That is a healthy form of relationship.

Israel needs to avoid violent confrontations with its neighbors and it also needs strategic coalitions against radical enemies, along with economic cooperation.

Ensuring the stability of regimes that have peace with Israel is important, and normalization is good for both sides, but there is no reason why we should go out of our way to reap the fruit of peace where there are none to be found.

Israel does not need the Arab world to give it legitimacy. It has thrived without it for decades. Normalization means an intersection of interests; it should not mean forced integration that no party really wants or nonsensical talk about the “fraternity of peoples.” Enough with the romanticization and sentimentality.

This commentary, under a different title, was published by Israel Hayom, on September 1, 2020.


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