Saturday 5 September 2020

Israel and Arab countries both gain from better ties (Sunday Guardian)

The GCC needs to reform its economic structure in order to link it with the knowledge economy and retrain young citizens of the GCC.

Since taking over as Senior Advisor to the President of the United States, Jared Kushner built up a relationship of friendship and trust with several royals within the GCC, prominent among them being the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Muhammad bin Salman. The next in line to the Saudi throne had made history by walking away from the Wahhabi ideology that had been linked to the Al Saud family for three centuries. Especially after the Iranian revolution in 1979 and the effort by Ayatollah Khomeini to make Iran the theological centre of gravity in the region in place of Saudi Arabia, hundreds of billions of dollars had been expended by Riyadh in supporting Wahhabi preachers. The money had gone into the building of new mosques and the takeover of existing mosques. Each such change was marked by adherence to the ideology propagated by Abdul Wahhab more than three hundred years ago, which was a stark and ruthless view of the world that saw any difference in practice between his doctrines and the more moderate strands of a great faith as apostasy. Very recently, the Crown Prince has begun the task of revising the theological books written during that period (many with the assistance of US scholars eager to boost Wahhabism as a way of ensuring sufficient recruits for the 1980s anti-Soviet conflict in Afghanistan). The new books will reflect the compassion and tolerance that is at the heart of the Muslim faith. Kushner made sure that the White House backed MBS and his anti-Wahhabi policies rather than go along with the worldwide campaign backed by the Wahhabi International to severely discredit and finally depose the Al Saud reformer. This has to be seen as a plus, as also the normalisation of relations between the UAE and Israel, a process in which he played a discreet but effective role. The rulers of the UAE have seen for themselves the effects of low oil prices. The GCC needs to reform its economic structure in order to link it with the knowledge economy and retrain young citizens of the GCC to develop skills relevant to the industries of the future, rather than remain tied to dependence on oil. Unless this be done, the streets of the cities in the sheikhdoms will seethe and boil over, as took place in 2011 in Egypt, Tunisia and in other countries.

Israel is a Great Power not in terms of territory but in the field of knowledge. Should the education system in the UAE better approximate the technical and pedagogical excellence that is visible in educational institutions throughout Israel, the country would become a model for the rest of the Arab world. Change begins from elementary school, and hence the need to modernize curricula and teaching staff and methods so as to equip graduates with the skills needed to compete globally. The welcome given by the young in Saudi Arabia to the reforms introduced by the Crown Prince indicate that they understand and accept the need for change. Allowing women to drive or involving them in the administration of the holy sites of Medina and Mecca nay not seem significant in some countries, but in Saudi Arabia, they represent amazing and necessary progress. In much the same way, the population of the UAE responded with calm to the announcement of normalisation of relations between the UAE and Israel. The feuds and attitudes of the past must not be permitted to further delay the transformative change that is needed for the Arab world to regain the position it once had. This was as a fulcrum of learning and innovation from which the rest of the world drew lessons. It is to be seen whether Jared Kushner can succeed in getting a few other members of the GCC to follow the example of the UAE and establish diplomatic relations with Israel. The induction of technology and knowhow from that country to others in the region would be an immense force multiplier for good. Meanwhile, the expected opposition has come from neo-Wahhabi countries such as Turkey and Pakistan, where the doctrine is putting down strong roots that are causing social cleavages and economic distress. As for Iran, Khamenei seems to have adopted the fantasy of Imam Khomeini, which is that unconditional support for what is defined as the “Palestinian cause” (which is to try and end the existence of Israel) is the key to winning over the billion-plus Muslims across the world. This was not the case in 1979 and is visibly not so now, and Supreme Leader Khamenei has made Teheran follow policies that have had the effect of impoverishing a country with a gifted and generally moderate population.

There has been much speculation about a reversal of US policy should Joe Biden prevail over Donald Trump on 3 November. The 45th President of the US followed a policy of indiscriminately and thoughtlessly reversing the policies of his predecessor Barack Obama. Such reflexive action by Trump may be the single biggest reason why Biden is favoured to become the 46th President of the US, and it is doubtful that the experienced and wily politician from Delaware would repeat the mistake of his predecessor and throw out all signature policies of Donald Trump, including the successful bid to ensure a better relationship between the Arab states and Israel. In this, as in some other matters, including Trump’s hard line on China (also favoured by Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren), a President Biden is likely to continue on the path of his predecessor. It must be said that only in the Trump Presidency did the White House understand what has been obvious to the Chinese for decades, which is that the US and China are engaged in a battle as consequential for the future of the world as that which took place between the USSR and the US. Now that this has been understood, Biden is likely to go along with US public interest and opinion and retain a hard line on the PRC. The chances are that Susan Rice will be part of his team, perhaps as Defense Secretary or Secretary of State, and she is clear-eyed on China, just as is Vice-Presidential nominee Kamala Harris.

On 3 August, a summit (organised by the American Jewish Committee and the Sunday Guardian Foundation besides the indefatigable Dr Bharat Barai) took place between officials and scholars of India, Israel and the US. The three have a common interest in ensuring that the Indo-Pacific remain free and open to all rather than become the monopoly of any single country. They also have an interest in working towards the overcoming of extremism and the progress of stability and moderation in South Asia as well as the Middle East. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has shown that relations between the Arab world and Israel are not a Zero Sum game, in which good relations with one side leads to bad relations with the other. Now the UAE and Israel have once again shown that better ties between Israel and the Arab world are a win for both sides.

No comments:

Post a Comment