President Trump deserves the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to establish peaceful relations between Israel and its Arab neighbors, which took a big step forward Friday with the announcement that Israel and Bahrain will establish diplomatic ties.
Friday’s announcement follows the agreement last month by the United Arab Emirates and Israel to normalize relations. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan are scheduled to join President Trump at the White House Tuesday to sign that agreement.
Officials from Bahrain will attend the Tuesday ceremony, President Trump’s senior adviser and son-law Jared Kushner told reporters Friday.
The only other two Arab nations with diplomatic relations with Israel are Egypt (in 1979) and Jordan (in 1994). The Jewish state of Israel has extended a hand of friendship to all of its neighbors since it gained independence from Britain in 1948, but it was attacked in wars and boycotted by Arab nations until Egypt and Jordan established relations.
It is in the self-interest of Israel’s other neighbors to end their confrontation with the Jewish state and finally accept that it is here to stay and can provide tremendous opportunities in trade and cooperation in a broad range of issues of regional importance.
And it is in the self-interest of Palestinians to begin negotiations with Israel on the peace plan between them and Israel proposed by President Trump in January. Israel agreed at the time to make the plan the basis for peace talks, but Palestinian leaders rejected the plan immediately and refused to even discuss it.
Thankfully, the UAE, Bahrain — and hopefully more nations in the future — have come to realize that it makes no sense to allow rejectionist Palestinian leadership to hold regional peace hostage to their unreasonable demands and refusal to acknowledge that both sides need to make concessions to achieve peace.
President Trump and Kushner deserve the credit for getting the ball rolling to at long last accelerate the movement toward peace between Israel and its neighbors.
But we know that previous documents like those signed by Egypt and Jordan, along with the Oslo Accords, did not bring true peace. Only people can make peace. To change hearts and replace distrust with hope you need true leaders who trust their own people enough to embrace tolerance and mutual respect and set a course of reconciliation for our children and grandchildren.
Kudos to peacemakers, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa of Bahrain, UAE ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu for joining with President Trump to bring regional peace a step closer.
We pray that Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations soon follow suit to establish diplomatic ties with Israel, and that the Palestinians also join in to help build better lives for their own people. Israel continues to extend the hand of friendship to all interested in a just peace.
The Talmud teaches that in the beginning of time, the Almighty was seeking a vessel to deposit all of the blessings He was bestowing on humankind. He concluded that the only receptacle for those blessings was peace.
At home and abroad our world is roiling in conflict and confrontation. That receptacle? Broken. We are desperately seeking leaders who repair and expand that vessel.
I know from firsthand experience that King Hamad of Bahrain is one such peacemaker. Under his leadership, his tiny island nation is having a global impact and hopefully will help pave the path to wider regional peace.
On a bright Sunday in February 2017 it was my honor to join with my boss at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Rabbi Marvin Hier, to receive an audience with King Hamad.
Over the years, Rabbi Hier and I had met with kings of Jordan, the queen of Spain, presidents, prime ministers and chancellors. But nothing prepared us for what we experienced in our meeting with King Hamad.
First, Rabbi Hier broke protocol by firmly grabbing the king’s hand and chanting in Hebrew the Jewish blessing for royalty. The king reportedly would later tell his government leaders: “That was the first time anyone came to me not to ask for something but to give me a blessing.”
During that historic meeting, which was beamed across the Gulf and into Iran, King Hamad —before we could even ask, and in the presence of his entire brain trust — blasted the Arab boycott against Israel. We quickly found out that he and Rabbi Hier had a fondness for Frank Sinatra. And sure enough, King Hamad was about to show us and the world that in pursuit of peace he would do it “my way.”
When I asked the king what he would think about a Wiesenthal Center invitation for his citizens to visit Israel, he responded in front of his entire Cabinet: “My citizens can travel anywhere.” And soon enough, they began visiting Israel.
Then the king went further. He wrote the Bahrain Declaration on Religious Tolerance. In the declaration, an Arab head of state declared for the first time that everyone should be free to pray as he or she sees fit, and even have the freedom not to pray at all.
That went beyond tearing down stereotypes. The declaration — first read by the king’s son, Sheikh Nasser, before 400 religious leaders in Los Angeles — was a taboo-buster.
Indeed, Bahrain protects and venerates all religions and is home to an active Hindu temple. Three years later, Rabbi Hier and I were honored to participate in the first Jewish prayer quorum in 70 years at Bahrain’s synagogue during the historic Bahrain Global Economic Conference that sought to help set the stage for Israeli-Palestinian peace.
To ensure closer interfaith ties, King Hamad has also launched the Bahrain Center for Peaceful Coexistence, led by respected Sheikh Khalid bin Khalifa.
More taboos were to be busted. The day after President Trump announced he was moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel to the Jewish state’s eternal capital of Jerusalem, 24 religious leaders from Bahrain arrived as scheduled in Jerusalem as the guests of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, despite predictions that they would cancel in protest.
Each religious leaders prayed at the mosque or church or his or her choice. One delegate traveled twice to Bethlehem to visit relatives. Some visited the amazing campus of Shalva, an organization that serves youngsters with multiple disabilities. They topped off their visit dancing with Chabad Hasidim before lighting the first Hanukkah candle in the shadow of the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City.
It has been said that diplomats sign treaties. There is no underestimating the historic implications for security and prosperity of the UAE-Israel treaty and the normalization of ties between Bahrain and Israel.
Once again, President Trump has shown that he is a man of action who can make real progress in the long quest for peace between Israel and the Arab world. We pray for yet more progress to reach the day described in the Book of Isaiah in the Bible when the Lord “shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”