As Orthodox Jews, we practice our age-old traditions no matter how current events shape world outlooks. Since the onset of COVID-19, many have taken a moment for inner reflection and heed the words of orators to better themselves in the smallest of ways. As you read this, ruminate this notion regarding our role in the world, and then compare it to physical boundaries. Stepping outside the realm of spirituality into geographical borders, imagine the three-dimensional capacity of a very tiny country: Eretz Yisrael. Seven times smaller than the state of Florida, 19 times smaller than the state of California, and 33 times smaller than the state of Texas, Israel is just a dot on the globe – a tiny speck, a fragment. Yet no country continues to dominate international headlines more than that of the Jewish state. Every major news outlet blares Israel’s triumphs and tribulations; nothing goes unnoticed. Last week, something historic, something hopefully monumental and great, happened.
On Thursday, August 13, President Trump announced America’s help and support for the full normalization of ties between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a monumental breakthrough in Middle East relations and part of his administration’s efforts to garner support against Iran.
This step acknowledges the international community and Arab world pressures as it halts efforts by Israel to annex West Bank territory originally outlined in the Trump peace plan for Israelis and Palestinians.
“As a result of this diplomatic breakthrough and at the request of President Trump and with the support of the United Arab Emirates, Israel will suspend declaring sovereignty over areas outlined in the President’s Vision for Peace and focus its efforts now on expanding ties with other countries in the Muslim world,” the joint statement by Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, claimed.
The UAE is one of the world’s most powerful and wealthy conglomerations of disparate elements due to its vast oil and gas reserves. This Islamic state, where much of its court system operates according to the extreme fanatical Sharia law, outlaws public displays of affection, like kissing. It is the same backwards country where Israeli goods bearing an emblem, logo, or trademark from the Jewish state are banned. This means that a mere orange or apple with a stamp from Israel would be considered contraband. Most would find its tyrannical, autocratic, theocratic rule dangerous; yet this same country declared peace under the auspices of President Trump, paving the path for other countries like Saudi Arabia and Lebanon to follow suit.
“Only two countries thus far, Egypt and Jordan, have clasped Israel’s extended hand. We applaud the UAE for taking this courageous step and pray that other countries will be emboldened by its leadership and foresight,” read an Agudath Israel of America statement on the peace accord.
Just a few short days ago, it was unfathomable for a country like the UAE to acknowledge the existence of Israel, let alone open its doors to diplomatic relations. The opening of embassies and tourism, a delusional and fictional thought before Trump assumed office, is now a reality.
“The Arab world must come to realize that the more countries that come to the peace table, the greater the benefits that will accrue to Israel and its peace partners, the Middle East, and the entire world,” continued the Agudah release.
Our Jewish studies dictate a time when the nations once embroiled in warfare will be at peace. The country of Israel, a land whose people were displaced, exiled, and persecuted, is amid an historic reversal. Israel has developed itself as a superpower, something that defies logic and reason. In a Thursday evening talk to members of the Brooklyn Jewish Experience, cosponsored by the Chazaq Organization and TorahAnytime, Rabbi Yitzchok Fingerer noted in reference to the momentous announcement: “No one, no mortal, no human being could design, contrive, orchestrate, or manipulate such a miracle.”
“The historic, diplomatic breakthrough will advance peace in the Middle East region and is a testament to the bold diplomacy and vision of the three leaders,” the joint statement by the leaders of the US, Israel, and the UAE read. “All three countries face many common challenges and will mutually benefit from today’s historic achievement.”
Earlier Monday morning, August 17, Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin extended an official written invitation to Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed to visit Jerusalem. “Trust will promote understanding between all of us, will march our region forward and will bring economic welfare and provide prosperity and stability to residents of the Middle East,” read the bid of friendship.
The UAE and Israel also agreed to cooperate and set a roadmap towards establishing a formalized bilateral relationship. There are talks of an alliance on security matters with specific regard to the existential threat posed by the Islamic Republic of Iran. According to the statement, the normalization of relations was quick to point to a partnership for a COVID-19 vaccine: The UAE and Israel “will immediately expand and accelerate treatment of and the development of a vaccine for the coronavirus.”
For Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the declaration and ability to unite with unforeseen allies will undoubtedly provide a much-needed political boost, as he faces widespread domestic gripes over ongoing corruption scandals and his administration’s handling of COVID-19. It was not so long ago when the prime minister met Sudan’s leader in Uganda or when he made an unexpected visit to Oman, the first trip a sitting Israeli prime minister took to the Persian Gulf region since 1994.
“A cult of cold peace is better than a bloody war. This is significant, this is important, this is historic,” expressed Rabbi Fingerer. With less than three months to go before Election Day, President Trump’s unilateral achievement is yet another notch on the game board of his administration’s foreign policy efforts with Israel. It began with the decisive decision to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, then to recognize Jerusalem as the capital, and finally the acceptance of the Golan Heights as Israeli territory.
By Shabsie Saphirstein