Peace can be elusive in the best of times. It is higher calling for people in ‘normal’ times. Blessed are the peacemakers, it is said. Salam to some, shalom to others, it is a profound statement of calm or tranquility.
Peace is harder to keep than to wage war, those on the frontlines of the pursuit will tell us. But peace during the Covid-19 pandemic elevates the pursuit to another level. Strange are its ways in these ‘new normal’ times.
For seasoned diplomats, it can be an odyssey, a test of diplomatic skills and patience, a virtue in itself. History, however, has shown that these endeavours are perilous without the right people at the helm. Timing is critical too, for peace can often go cold with the passage of time or is limited to a thaw in bilateral ties.
For those who are out of sync with its precepts, peace can be an exaggeration of an ideal that has many avatars and protagonists. But naysayers have been silenced during a tumultuous year with the signing of the Abraham Accords between the UAE, Israel and the US in Washington on September 15. Who would have imagined such a swift evolution of peace in these uncertain times — a warm peace that has emerged from a tragic 2020 that has been dictated and directed by Covid-19?
This peace has the potential to endure and is set to traverse great distances if all parties to the deal learn to balance their expectations. The pact could redeem and redefine what is being called the ‘new normal’ in the Middle East and make the region look to the future with hope and optimism in the post-pandemic era.
Indeed, a ‘peaceful normal’ is possible, and the UAE has shown it can be done with the right partners. This country has ushered in a new dawn by widening its soft power and punching above its weight. The UAE has emerged as the most influential country this year with this out-of-the box agreement that has helped it normalise ties with Israel.
The Accords, that were announced on August 13 and signed on September 15, could be a precursor to a more resilient and robust peace, much unlike the Camp David Egypt-Israel pact of 1978, or the treaty between Israel and Jordan of 1994. Those pacts kept the peace on the borders — with good fences make good neighbours mandate.
On the contrary, the Accords are about a transformative peace that can mend hearts and perceptions of the other. It envisages a tolerant future for the people of the troubled Middle East who were beginning to lose trust in the virtue that had eluded them for centuries as colonial powers dictated the course of affairs and presided over their destinies.
From a neutral standpoint, these Accords are the smart and sensible thing during this tumultuous phase in history where our combined futures hang by a slender thread. It was an idea(l) whose time had come, in 2020. The Accords give diplomacy a chance in a polarised world. The peace flowing from the pact may appear incomplete at the moment but is a work in motion, and much progress has already been made through people-to-people contacts, trade, technology and cultural ties.
Flights have begun between countries; the UAE and Israeli delegations are making immense headway as they move quickly towards a state of normalcy and away from a state of cold war.
The Accords have the right ingredients and players to find a permanent solution to the Palestine crisis that has roiled the region for more than seven decades. Such was the fear of peace that it wasn’t taken to its conclusion in the past as leaders jettisoned deals and reneged on their agreements.
The United States was seen as the non-partisan outsider in previous attempts in the Middle East to bring the Palestinians and Israelis to the negotiating table. In hindsight, it was a piecemeal approach, with other players in the region left out of the negotiations. The honest broker tag of the United States has since taken a beating and it needed a partner to salvage what had been lost, a void which the UAE has filled with consummate ease.
Now, the UAE is basking in the afterglow after pulling off what was once thought as impossible. This country is the key driver for a wider peace that could encompass Arabs of various hues while bridging the trust deficit between the East and West, and also preventing a clash of civilisations that was predicted post 9/11.
The Accords are about unity of purpose in an age of social distancing. It has unmasked the good in a world that has gone into a shell while holding its breath for the worst of the pandemic to pass to get back on its feet again.
In fact, this agreement is about sparking a global movement for peace across religious, political, national and social lines. Countries like Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco have signed up. More are set to follow suit.
It has a larger agenda for the global population that is contained in this point of the declaration. “We seek tolerance and respect for every person in order to make this world where all can enjoy a life of dignity and hope, no matter their race, faith or ethnicity.” This peace will make Abraham, the patriarch of Islam, Judaism and Christianity, proud. It is a special peace amid an unprecedented era in the history of humankind.