The Arab-Israeli courtship

Hints are growing of Israel and the Gulf kingdoms finding common ground, if only to oppose Iran and Islamic State. These initial ties should be the basis for a lasting peace.

Palestinian girls in the Gaza Strip play at their family's house, that witnesses said was damaged by Israeli shelling during a 50-day war last summer. Qatar, a Gulf Arab state, had begun a project to rebuild 1,000 homes in Gaza as part of a $1 billion aid pledge.

The head of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, Dore Gold, let slip last month that the Sunni Arab states in the region are “Israel’s allies.” This bit of news came after he also revealed in June that Israel and Saudi Arabia have held secret talks in recent months. While similar nuggets of hope have not been heard on the Arab side, these comments should not be ignored.

Informal ties between Israel and the Gulf kingdoms are not new. Both sides often share intelligence on mutual security interests. But new dynamics in the Middle East suggest the possibility of a breakthrough in Arab-Israeli ties. It could not come too soon.

For now, any peace feelers are based on what Israel and Saudi Arabia jointly oppose, not what they might gain in benefits from friendly relations. And that list only gets longer.

For starters, they do not like the Iran nuclear deal based on their concern that it might embolden Iran and its militant proxies in the Middle East, from Hezbollah in Lebanon to rebels in Yemen. But they also worry about a collapse of Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria and the rise of Islamic State and other jihadi groups. And preventing Hamas in Gaza from starting another war with Israel is also in their interest.

In addition, negotiations to set up a Palestinian state now appear dormant after a recent American attempt to revive them. And both Israel and Saudi Arabia worry the United States seeks to diminish its presence in the region if the Iran deal succeeds. In the resulting power vacuum, Israel and Saudi Arabia might need each other.

What would it take to start this ball rolling? For one, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can be more supportive of the Arab Peace Initiative, a package of proposals offered in 2002 soon after the 9/11 attacks. That plan offered Arab recognition of Israel if it gave up all land taken in the 1967 war and agreed to a “just solution” for Palestinians. Israel was mute about the offer at the time even through Saudi Arabia and its partners in the Gulf had stuck their necks out.

Israel already enjoys good relations with Arab neighbors Egypt and Jordan as well as Morocco. And with development of its offshore natural gas resources, it can become an energy partner in the region.

Even though the Arab Spring of 2011 has largely failed, it may have left behind some appreciation for Israel’s democracy on the Arab street. A recent survey by the Institute for Policy and Strategy found only 18 percent of Saudis see Israel as the greatest threat. More than half saw Iran as the main nemesis followed by Islamic State. The most startling find: 24 percent of Saudis would support an alliance with Israel in a struggle with Iran.

Peace has to start somewhere even if it begins with the old notion that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Just look at how Mr. Dore’s thinking has changed. Just 12 years ago he wrote a book titled “Hatred’s Kingdom: How Saudi Arabia Supports the New Global Terrorism.” Now he refers to that desert kingdom as an ally.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to The Arab-Israeli courtship
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today