IS ISRAEL ON THE VERGE OF NORMALIZING TIES WITH THE PERSIAN GULF?
BY HERB KEINON JUNE 28, 2019 jerusalem post
Bahrain – The most illuminating moment for me during the two-day “Peace to
Prosperity” workshop here came, oddly enough, during a seven-minute phone interview
back to Israel with a haredi media platform called Hadashot Hascoopim.
Earlier in the day I had posted a short video that went viral of about 10 men at the synagogue in Manama – including White House chief mediator Jason Greenblatt – wearing their tallitot and tefillin and, hand in hand, dancing around the bimah after morning services singing “Am Yisrael Hai” (The People of Israel Lives).
interviewer began the segment by asking for a description of the “services that
took place this morning in Bahrain, in an ancient synagogue, with unbridled joy
and the singing of ‘Am Yisrael Hai,’ joined by the Chabad emissary and Jason
Greenblatt, the haredi Jew who is Trump’s Mideast envoy.”
And while the moment was indeed moving and unusual – it was the first morning minyan in memory held in the small synagogue – some perspective is needed.
First of all, the Bahraini synagogue is not “ancient.” It was built just over 100 years ago to serve the small Jewish community in the kingdom, mostly immigrants from Iraq. Secondly, the singing of “Am Yisrael Hai” there, though poignant, was not exactly done with unbridled joy. Happy, yes; unbridled joy? That’s an exaggeration. And, finally, it is questionable whether Greenblatt would agree with his being characterized as a haredi Jew.
What is telling here is how the interviewer opted to portray the event, to play it up. Earlier in the day, in an interview with Army Radio, the minyan and the dance were also highlighted, though the presenter was more accurate in his description.
Why is this significant? Because it shows how we want things to be.
Israelis, so long isolated and
shunned in the region, desperately and understandably want to be accepted here. As a result, sometimes the smallest
crumbs thrown in our direction are magnified to appear as if they are a
multilayered wedding cake.
THIS WEEK’S “Peace to Prosperity” workshop in Bahrain was significant, no doubt, though the true significance will be measured only down the road. It was important because it was the first rollout of Washington’s attempt to create a new paradigm for peacemaking.
No more would the United States give the rejectionist Palestinian Authority veto power over its efforts. The PA boycotted the conference, so the administration just shrugged and said, “So what? We will hold it anyway and invite some of the biggest financial guns in the Middle East to take part.”
No more would the paradigm of economic assistance to the Palestinians be along the model of charity: donors pouring billions of dollars onto a client with his hands out. The plan’s $50 billion project is based on investments, not handouts.
This reflects the mind-set of the businessmen turned diplomats – headed by Jared Kushner – driving the program. It also explains why the conference would go ahead without official PA participation. If you want to invest in the West Bank through the private sector, you don’t necessarily need the government.
“Paradigm” was one word that was heard over and over at the conference here. It was heard from speakers on the center stage during plenary sessions, and it was heard in the hallways where delegates from around the world mingled amid tables laden with colorful pastries and silver urns full of rich coffee.
It was a word used repeatedly by Kushner and by others in his entourage. Paradigm. Or, more accurately, changing paradigms, paradigm shifts.
One paradigm shift was to move the world community from supporting the Palestinians through charity, to investing in the West Bank and Gaza instead. And the second paradigm shift mentioned was in the Arab world’s changing attitudes toward Israel. In that context, the Bahrain government’s granting of visas to eight journalists from six Israeli media outlets was also seen as a significant part of what was taking place in Manama.
But here, too, some perspective is needed. Israeli journalists walking around Manama’s soil has happened before; this is not Neil Armstrong landing on the moon. It happened – in 1994 at a conference following the Oslo I Accord.
Secondly, Israelis are not an unknown quantity in Manama.
At the Ali Baba Cave Antiques & Carpets store in the souk, the merchant behind the counter said it is not infrequent for Israelis to shop for painted Persian brass vases and Turkish teacups in his shop.