On August 14, 2020, I woke up to a barrage of WhatsApp messages. Group conversations I’m in were buzzing. The UAE and Israel had just announced a peace deal. People wanted to know, was this genuine peace? Was it a joke?
In close succession, four peace deals were signed, and on different days I woke up to news that Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan had all recognised Israel. Kosovo went one step further, becoming the first Muslim majority nation to establish an embassy in Jerusalem. The set of agreements were collectively named the Abraham Accords in honour of the shared biblical ancestry of Jews and Muslims.
As the US election neared, speculation was rampant. Who will be next? Articles began to appear with titles like “Five countries that could be next to make peace with Israel.” “Oman was a shoo-in”, they claimed, and the foreign minister said he would just wait till after the US election. Mossad head Yossi Cohen claimed normalisation with Saudi Arabia would also come after the election.
I was certain we were on the cusp of peace. Even an agreement with the recalcitrant Arab Palestinians seemed within reach.
Then reality hit. Joe Biden won the election. Expansion of the Abraham Accords was dead in its tracks. Oman was now content with the status quo. Nobody speculates about the Saudis anymore.
The new US administration refuses to even use the term, ‘Abraham Accords’. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said of the Trump Administration, “we don’t think they did anything constructive, really, to bring an end to the longstanding conflict in the Middle East.”
One year on from those hopeful times, I woke up to the harrowing footage of Kabul’s fall, and contemplated how far we’d regressed. Once more, the region was plastered across the media. Once more, for the wrong reasons. A week later, and the news was 120 dead Afghans, 13 dead Americans and the shattered dreams of a nation.
Making this latest attack all the more jarring, was that the night before I’d watched as The Australian Jewish Association had hosted Abdulla Al Subousi, the UAE Ambassador to Australia on Zoom, in a celebration of the Abraham Accords, a lasting legacy of the Trump and Netanyahu administrations. The bloody contrast was glaring.
The Middle East today is a mess, from Lebanon to Gaza, Syria to Iran. Nobody speculates about which country will be next to make peace. They ask when will Lebanon collapse? How many Interpol wanted terrorists were appointed ministers in the new Iranian government? How long until the next war with Gaza?
My WhatsApp conversations are full of harrowing footage from Afghanistan, updates on how many were shot on the Gaza border and questioning whether the rockets came from Lebanon or Gaza.
A weak and humiliated America is bad news for Australia. As we saw, during previous bouts of international terrorism, Australia is no island from global Jihad, we’ve had our own string of Islamist attacks, most notably at Sydney’s’ Lindt Café. Fortunately Australian security agencies have so far been very successful in intervening before planned terror events are implemented.
Much has been written about the emboldening of America’s enemies, chiefly China, that will flow from Biden’s blunder, so rather than rehashing that, I will focus on concrete steps the US can take to regain credibility and head off a resurgence of Islamic terrorism.
In seven short months, President Biden has taken us down this dangerous road. What can he do to get back on track?
For starters, tear up the Iran nuclear deal. By refusing to play along with the radical Ayatollahs who have no plans to abandon their nuclear march, President Biden would send a strong signal to the Taliban, ISIS, and radicals everywhere that America has boundaries.
Secondly, the Biden administration needs to urgently reverse course regarding the Palestinians. Promoting false illusions about a Palestinian state emboldens radical Islamist demands and inflames the situation. Nowhere is this more pertinent than the proposal to reopen the shuttered US consulate for the Palestinians in Jerusalem when an inclusive US embassy already exists. The resumption of hundreds of millions in US aid to the Palestinians was quickly followed by 4000 rockets, and a war launched from Gaza. Much like Einstein’s oft-cited definition of insanity, a return to past failed policies will once again lead to a resumption of terrorism.
President Trump proved that hallowed conventions weren’t always right. As he overturned established policies, the pundits would wring their hands. “Move the embassy and there will be another Intifada,” the headlines read. Last year saw the smallest number of Israeli victims of terrorism since the creation of the state. Let that sink in.
It may be a short road back, but it requires considerable courage, the courage to admit one’s mistakes and that a political opponent may have been right. Recognising that Donald Trump’s policies contributed to peace and calm in the Middle East is not acceptance of his character flaws, or an endorsement of his most divisive domestic policies. President Biden has shown leadership in his willingness to continue Trump’s policies on China. This has not been a political liability for him, his Republican opponents have backed his policies in the spirit of bipartisanship. There’s no reason to think they wouldn’t do the same vis a vis the Middle East.
I don’t want to wake up to more scenes of carnage like I have recently from Gaza or Kabul. I certainly don’t want to wake up to news of war with Gaza, Lebanon, or Iran.
This is not inevitable. There is hope, we know the formula for peace, it just needs a little nudge to steer it back on the road.
Robert Gregory is a Research and Advocacy Officer for the Australian Jewish Association.
AJA has arranged a special Afghanistan briefing from Col Richard Kemp, former commander of British forces in Afghanistan on 12 September 8pm AEST and SpecOz readers would be welcome. So set a reminder and use this login https://zoom.us/j/3165713105.
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