Saudi Arabia and Bahrain use soft diplomacy to placate Trump

September 7, 2020 by David Singer
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Saudi Arabia and Bahrain’s decisions to allow their airspace to be used by commercial Israeli planes flying the Israel-United Arab Emirates (UAE) route are the first of what could be termed continuing acts of soft diplomacy by Arab and other Islamic states to help end the 100 years old Jewish-Arab conflict.

Soft diplomacy avoids Arab loss of face in having to jettison the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative in favour of President Trump’s 2020 deal of the century – allowing peace to evolve without peace treaties being signed now.

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has welcomed Saudi Arabia and Bahrain’s historic air space concessions which are highly significant stepping stones on the path to Arab-Jewish reconciliation.

Saudi Arabia’s General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) broke the ice on 2 September when approving the request from the UAE General Civil Aviation Authority to allow flights coming to and departing from the UAE to all countries to pass through the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s airspace.

Saudi Arabia’s announcement meant that commercial flights by Israeli airlines to the UAE and return would be allowed over Saudi air space for the first time in history – reducing flying time between Israel and the UAE from seven hours to about three and a half hours.

However, Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan warned that:

“The Kingdom’s firm and established positions towards the Palestinian cause and the Palestinian people will not change by allowing the passage of the Kingdom’s airspace for flights coming to and departing from the United Arab Emirates to all countries, and the Kingdom appreciates all efforts aimed at achieving a just and lasting peace in accordance with the Arab Peace Initiative.”

Bahrain quickly followed suit on 3 September with an official source at the Ministry of Transportation and Telecommunications announcing that Bahrain had approved the request from the UAE General Aviation Authority to allow all flights coming to and departing from the UAE to all countries to cross Bahrain’s airspace.

Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa reportedly told US Secretary for State Mike Pompeo in August that – contrary to the Trump Peace Plan – Bahrain remained committed to the Arab Peace Initiative – which calls for Israel’s complete withdrawal from all the territories captured in 1967 – including the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem – in exchange for peace and the full normalization of relations.

Trump needs the Arab states to continue making more concessions to persuade Israel continuing its major concession: postponing the immediate application of Israeli sovereignty in 30% of Judea and Samaria (West Bank) designated in Trump’s peace plan.

Concessions by Arab States could include:

  • Attending the signing of the Israel-UAE Peace Treaty at the White House – which seems certain to occur before the US Presidential election on 3 November.
  • Participating in a follow-up Conference similar to the historic one held in the White House on 13 March 2018 – attended by Israel, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar and the UAE – that discussed solutions to the worsening humanitarian and economic conditions in Gaza. That Conference became the catalyst leading to the Israel-UAE peace deal and greatly improved political and personal relationships between Jews and Arabs today. Representatives from the United Nations, European Union, Office of the Quartet, Canada, Cyprus, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom also attended the Gaza Conference.
  • Following the UAE lead in ending Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions against Israel.

Arab States building mutual trust with Israel by incrementally advancing the peace process will keep Trump’s Peace Plan alive whilst placating Trump’s desire to see its implementation concluded.

David Singer is a Sydney lawyer and a foundation member of the International Analysts Network

Author’s note: The cartoon — commissioned exclusively for this article — is by Yaakov Kirschen aka “Dry Bones”- one of Israel’s foremost political and social commentators — whose cartoons have graced the columns of Israeli and international media publications for decades. His cartoons can be viewed at Drybonesblog

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