By Nabil Habibi
The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain recently signed a peace deal with Israel. The deal is of great importance economically and politically. In more than one sense, this might be the first actual peace, “warm peace” (a peace which goes beyond the political level to an actual friendship and connections between two people groups), for Israel in the Middle East. Up until this moment, the reigning opinion on the matter was that Arab countries would not sign a deal with Israel before a Palestinian state was established. Trump proved that notion empty.
It remains to be seen whether or not this new deal will bring peace to the area. I am personally doubtful. The parties engaged in real conflict are not part of the deal. Iran, along with its regional affiliates, is locked in deep conflict with Saudi Arabia and its affiliates. Iran is not part of the deal. In fact, fear of Iran might have driven the peace deal forward. More importantly, Palestinians are not part of the deal, and they are the ones who are at war with Israel. Excuse my cynicism, but we are practically looking at a peace deal between two parties not at war that is fueled by economic impetus and a US president’s desire for an achievement before the impending elections.
What brought the whole matter home for me was the name of the deal: The Abraham Accord. According to US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, it is a “reference to Abraham the father of three great faiths: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.” Zionist Christians, Christians who believe that the current political state of Israel is an extension of the people of God of the Old Testament, believe these peace deals contribute towards the welfare of Israel. The peace deal was probably coated in religious terms, Abraham, to appease them.
I cringe at the name. I cringe at the name, mind you, and not the notion. We understand the complexity and the importance of different religions existing together in peace. Our 15-year civil war in Lebanon, waged mainly along religious lines, testifies to that fact. I would love for different religious communities to exist together in peace. But the irony of the Gulf countries and Israel preaching about co-existence smacks me in the face.
Religious freedom for Christians, outside tightly assigned blocks, is nonexistent in Arab Gulf countries. Oppression of Palestinians, both Christians and Muslims, by Israel is well-documented over the past decades. The UAE is engaged in a horrendous war in Yemen which has killed thousands. Israel was bombing Gaza while signing the peace deal in the US. Yes, this new deal means that the rich in the UAE can now vacation in Tel Aviv, and the rich of Israel can now visit Dubai. Yes, this new deal means that the rich government of the UAE can now buy more advanced weapons, and the advanced Israeli technology labs will find new customers/income sources. But this new deal does not mean the three countries have suddenly embraced progressive notions of religious freedom.
Some may be satisfied with the Abraham Accord. I too yearn for peace in this region. But I am starting to doubt that we can see it. Israel will continue to annex more land. US foreign policy, aided and abetted by Christian Zionism, will continue to fund the Israeli war machine. The UAE will continue to amass wealth and weapons. And the Palestinians will join the Armenians, Kurds, and others as people groups who faced oppression and never received justice.
In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus shocks his listeners by having the Samaritan help the injured Jew after Jewish religious figures had passed the half-dead man. There is a complicated history behind this simple story. Jews experienced a short period of national unity under the reign of King David and his son Solomon before it went downhill from there as the kingdom was split into North and South. Both kingdoms were eventually exiled to Babylon. A remnant of the Kingdom of Judea (south) returned around 500 BCE to rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple. They discovered, to their horror, that some of the Jews who had remained in the land had intermarried with the gentiles. Over the years this new group of Jews became part of the Samaritans. They worshipped in a different temple. There was deep enmity between Jews and Samaritans.
Along comes Jesus and claims that the neighbor of the Jew is the Samaritan, and vice versa. Both belong to a new Kingdom, that of God. Both are called to serve and love one another. Will we as the children of Abraham, much like the vision of Jesus for the Jews and Samaritans, ever live as neighbors?
I frankly do not know. I do know that the Palestinian people are the wounded Jew, left to die on the road. I do know that before them in Europe the Jews were the wounded left to die on the road, culminating in the terrible Holocaust but stemming from a long history of Christian oppression towards the Jews.
We do not need peace deals among warmongers. We need brave Israeli leaders to wash the wounds of the Palestinian people. Leaders who guide their nation to stop the oppression, confess the mistakes of the past, and make just amends towards the Palestinians. We need brave Palestinian leaders to lead their people towards acceptance of the other. Leaders who guide their people towards reconciliation with and forgiveness towards their oppressors. Only then will Abraham become a blessing to all nations.