By Ayoob Kara.
For quite some time, I felt that it was within the realm of the possible to make peace with the Arab countries. I met a minister from the United Arab Emirates in New Delhi twelve years ago. We were together in a big conference with hundreds of people, where I delivered a speech as a representative of Israel. After I finished my speech, he came and shook my hands. He did not have any problem with that.
This reception gave me the feeling that peace is possible with the Gulf states. The other meeting was in Berlin. I met there Khaled Elsabach from the royal family in Kuwait. I had the same feeling – that we did not have any problem with the Saudi Arabian coalition. After that, I met in New York with one of the members of the royal family in Qatar. All of the people that I met said the same thing: that I must get closer to the Saudi Arabian coalition.
In 2010, my good friend Dr. Magad Nakad from Israel, who lives in Cyprus, asked me if I could influence the Israel government to allow me to bring Bahraini Princess Fatima Ben Khalifa to Israel for medical treatment. She was extremely sick. Her life was very much in danger. Magad said that she had only a few days to live, and he wanted to bring her to Israel to have surgery. He told me that she wants only to go to Israel. She had an invitation to go to Washington to have the surgery, but she only wanted to do it only in the Holy Land, where she believed that she had the best chance to be healthy again with a successful surgery.
I approached Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu regarding her. At first, he did not accept the idea, fearing what could happen if she dies. But after one day of my pushing him, he agreed, although he stressed that everything must be discreet. I invited the princess to come to Israel. I did all the logistics for that and everything around the surgery. She came on a private plane to the Ben-Gurion Airport. When I met the plane, I found a woman who was so sick that she could not move in the bed and her husband Ahmad Ben Khalifa, who was the Minister of Economy in Bahrain, was beside her. We brought her immediately to Rambam Hospital in Haifa and took her directly to surgery.
I stayed with Ahmad all the night, more than 20 hours. We did not sleep. At last, the doctor came out and he said that the princess is stable and thought that everything at last would be okay. The princess stayed in Rambam one month, becoming a little better every day. After one month, we brought her to Nature City near Haifa to recuperate and she stayed there for another month. As she became stronger and healthier, she and her husband began to make small trips throughout the area. After two months in Israel, they sat with me and said they were ready to go home. Ahmad said, “You gave me and the royal family in Bahrain a big prize, the life of my wife, and I commend you for it. What do you need for Israel?”
I told him that I want him to support the Jewish community in Bahrain and to help Israel to make peace. He said, “We will see”, and went back to Bahrain. After that, I heard that everything got better in the Jewish community in Bahrain. One Jewish woman became a minister in the government of Bahrain and one of the important people in the Jewish community became an economic advisor to the president. They began a new relationship between us and the Jews all over the world. Rabbis from all over the world were beginning to visit the synagogues in Bahrain and the Jewish community there. Delegations from Bahrain began to come to Israel as well. I met with these delegations in the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, alongside other delegations in the Knesset. These contacts ultimately led to Bahrain hosting talks surrounding Trump’s Deal of the Century, the Abraham Accords, the Sons of Abraham Alliance, and the peace treaty getting signed between Bahrain and the State of Israel.
I say loudly that we have made a connection with the Sunni states. They need us, and we need them. Their enemy is our enemy, and everything is ready for peace, but back then, we did not have the “rabbi” to do the marriage, for former US President Barack Obama did not want Israel to make peace without the Palestinians being part of the deal. The Obama years were eight years that were bad for Israel. The Americans did not want my policy, the new policy with the Gulf states. I was angry and disappointed.
I did everything to try and change the American position. I met with different congressmen and senators in the US and in Israel. The Republicans said it was the right direction, but the Democrats agreed with Obama, all of them. So, I looked for an alternative to American mediation. In 2015, I tried to make France the “rabbi” in this situation and to hold a conference between Israel and the Sunni states. I conducted meetings in Paris, offering to make France become dominant bilaterally and to mediate the conference between Israel and the Sunnis. I met all of the leaders there, including President Emmanuel Macron, but no one wanted to accept the new direction between Israel and the Gulf states.
In the West, they claimed that the Sunni states were more extreme than Iran and supported terrorism. No one wanted to be the partner to help Israel make peace with the Gulf states. I met in Israel and outside of Israel, in London, Berlin, Austria and everywhere, and no one wanted to support my policy that would foster Israel’s cooperation with the Sunni states. So, I waited for the election results in the US in 2016. My dream could be a reality if Clinton lost.
I met with different leaders in the US. I spoke at the IAC conference and I said loudly, please support Donald Trump because we have a new plan for the Middle East that could be successful.
I met President Trump in New York in his campaign headquarters before the election. After the election, I traveled to Washington, where I met with key advisors of Trump. They did not have any plan for the Middle East at this time. I gave Jason Greenblatt, David Friedman, and the others that I met my plan for the Middle East, and explained the underlying policy and direction. We discussed everything, including the reaction of the Palestinians and what would be the road to success. They agreed that this was the only direction to change the Middle East for the better.
After that, President Trump came to visit the Middle East to discuss a conference between Israel and the Sunni states. He visited the Gulf states and Saudi Arabia, and he came to visit Israel. When I met him, I told him that you have a big chance to change the Middle East. I told him that we have the chance to stop the terror, to stop the violence, and to make peace between Israel and a lot of Middle Eastern states. Trump liked the idea and promised to support this plan. I spoke to his wife, Melania, and she said the same things. Ivanka and Greenblatt also supported us. My vision was their plan, and they sold the plan to the Gulf states. No one was talking about anything else. It is critical to note that it is not true that the Emirates only made peace in exchange for military equipment. We only spoke about economic peace. They agreed, because we both have the same enemies.
In 2018, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu traveled to Oman to meet Kaboos bin Said Al Said, the Sultan of Oman. Around the same period of time, I was also the first minister to travel to Dubai. At the time, Shabak Israel’s internal security service, viewed my visit to Dubai to be very dangerous due to the Mossad’s operation that resulted in the elimination of Hamas’ military win, Izz ad-Din al Qassem Brigades, co-founder Mahmoud Al Mabhouh. Shabak said to me that they don’t want me to travel, because they thought it would be extremely dangerous, that I might be attacked because they wanted revenge. However, Netanyahu trusted my judgement, so I went anyway.
My visit was a major surprise for the international community. I met very high-level people in Dubai and spoke at a communications conference, which was attended by a wide variety of world leaders. The Dubai government provided hundreds of security agents to escort me from the airport to the hotel and from the hotel to the conference. There were thousands of people outside and they knew that I was going to deliver a speech. The Foreign Minister prepared for me a speech in English. However, I saw all the Arab leaders sat in the front with their traditional clothes. They wanted to leave the conference when they called me. But then, when I went up to the microphone, I left behind my speech in English and I said in Arabic, “bismillah ela al Rahman al Rahim” (“In the name of God, most Gracious, most Compassionate”).
The Arab leadership at the conference were in shock. I spoke about peace, and the future and cooperation between Israel and the Arab states. Then, they accepted me for I had an Arab accent. After my speech, the heads of the Russian, American, French, and British delegations came to Israel’s table, kissed me and shook my hands. Before my speech, the Americans told me that the Arab leaders did not want to meet me. But after my speech, all of the Arab leaders wanted to meet me.
One of the princes in the United Arab Emirates asked how I got an Arab accent in Arabic. I told them that my mother tongue is Arabic. I am like you. I am not Jewish, but I feel more Jewish than any Jew. I am like you, but I was an officer in the Isael Defense Forces (IDF) and two of my brothers and two of my uncles were killed for their support of Israel. However, we now really need peace. The prince liked my speech and invited me to dinner. After that, I returned to Israel and suggested to Netanyahu to arrange a special conference to find a new solution for peace in the Middle East. Thus, I laid the groundwork for Israel’s peace agreements with Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Morocco, Bhutan, and Sudan.
None of these countries would have agreed to make peace with Israel without the explicit support of Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia represents a large coalition of states. Saudi Arabia represents the heart and soul of the Muslim world. It is a religious and holy state in the Muslim world. Thus, what is going on represents a general trend towards making peace with the Jewish state among the Sunni Arab countries. We cooperated for an entire year before the peace agreements. I am encouraging Israeli companies to invest in Bahrain and the Emirates, and to jointly cooperate with them to fight against the coronavirus. The coronavirus makes the right conditions for making peace. I even have a special relationship with an official from Saudi Arabia, who seeks to find solutions to fight against the coronavirus in Saudi Arabia and the other Persian Gulf countries.
I believe that the Sunni states in the Persian Gulf hold the key to peace in the Middle East, as they alone have demonstrated how to create stable, peaceful states in the heart of the Arab world. I hope to apply their model of governance in the Palestinian arena.
My plan once I am back in the Knesset is to apply the Emirates system to Judea and Samaria, thus taking power away from Abu Mazen and giving it back to the tribes. We seek to have seven emirates in Judea and Samaria. If we give Hebron over to the Jabari tribe, they will control the area, just like the tribes in Abu Dhabi do. If we give Nablus to the Al Masri tribe, they will control the area. The same thing will be for all of the other city-states/emirates. We don’t have to wait for anyone. If we want to defeat the extremism, then this is the solution.
Now more than ever, it is urgent to apply the Emirate model to the Palestinian areas. Abu Mazen proved that he is not a partner for peace. He exploits Israel for his needs on the Palestinian street and around the world. However, the government of Bennett/Lapid does not have the wisdom for this. They considered the Abraham Accords to be a joke. Until they became a government, they did very little to find a solution for different problems that interfered with establishing economic peace. In Israel, only Netanyahu understood this was the right policy and cooperated with different issues discreetly that gave legitimacy for our relationship.
I hope that we will have more agreements with other countries beside Bahrain, UAE, Morocco, Sudan, and Bhutan. When Netanyahu left office, there were another four states waiting after Trump won to be part of Abraham Accords. They are Mauritania, Qatar, Oman, and Saudi Arabia. Something happened after Biden was elected. Both sides in Israel and in US wanted to focus more on the Palestinian issue. I think it’s a big mistake because there is no way to move forward with the Palestinians. I hope the Israeli government is clever enough to continue to focus on the Abraham Accords, which are just beginning to bear fruit.
Ayoob Kara was born in the Israeli Druze town of Daliat el-Carmel in 1955. He completed his army service in the Israeli Defense Forces with the rank of major and studied business administration and public policy. He served in the Knesset from 1999 until 2006, and as Deputy Minister of Development of the Negev and the Galilee, Minister at the Prime Minister’s Office for Special Functions, and as Israel’s Minister of Satellite Communications and Cyber.
In 2015, Kara recognized an opportunity for bridging diplomatic relations between Israel, the Middle East, the Gulf countries and other Islamic states in the region, and he promoted a regional economic conference between the countries. After the election of President Donald Trump, Kara met with him, which led to the economic conference in Bahrain, which concluded that there is a need for a non political body to initiate and promote the economic initiatives for the region.