25 September 2020

An elite panel of experts addressing an e-symposium on Monday (September 22) highlighted the historic opportunity for peace and security in the Middle East following the signing of agreements between the UAE, Israel, and Bahrain.

The e-symposium – Peace in the Middle East:  Forging a New Path to Security and Prosperity – was organized by TRENDS Research & Advisory and was attended by experts, researchers, and journalists worldwide. The event was organized in collaboration with the UAE’s Al-Ittihad and Israel’s Yedioth Ahronoth newspapers.

Coinciding with the International Day of Peace (September 21), TRENDS Research & Advisory also made two significant announcements during the event. The think-tank renamed its conference auditorium as the “Peace Hall” to mark the occasion. It also launched a program, TRENDS in World Languages, under which the Center’s name will be written in all the world languages.

Kick-starting the first session, Dr. Marc Gopin, the Director of the Center for World Religions, Diplomacy, and Conflict Resolution (CRDC), cited studies that observe people transforming from violence to peace, tapping into human effect and unifying compassion, under neuroscience that emphasizes reasoning.

Dr. Gopin said that the opportunity to transform with dialogue is to change thinking, especially in peace-building. “This doesn’t cancel out the problem, but it does imply that people can feel more comfortable as neighbors, thus giving them opportunities to tackle commonalities and differences,” he said.

Dr. Kristian Alexander, a Researcher at TRENDS Research & Advisory and an adviser at Gulf State Analytics, shared historical snapshots of peace and how it is understood. He said that there are notions of peace that have taken multiple understandings over time.

“At a very basic level, peace is conceptualized as a utopian goal, a universal norm, and a desirable position and is often juxtaposed to war,” he said, adding that peace perspectives depend on one’s analytical prism.

Ambassador William Rough, the Edward R. Murrow Visiting Professor at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, highlighted the role American diplomats have played in the Middle East peace process over the years.

“Since the beginning of the Arab-Israeli conflict, American diplomats have tried to help in mitigating its consequences. We were always urged by Washington to promote reconciliation, albeit with accusations of bias and partisanship,” he said. Ambassador Rough noted that the UAE leaders should get credit for the initiative.

“The UAE leadership initiative took a lot of courage and foresight and reflects its interest in reconciliation and peace. We, however, don’t have peace yet, and I hope that the future involvement of other Arab states might change this, as well as the inclusion of Palestinians,” Ambassador Rough said.

Yigal Carmon, the President and Founder of Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) – Israel, called the peace initiative of the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan as “more important than that of the late Egyptian President Anwar El-Sadat with his signing of the 1979 treaty between Egypt and Israel.”

“The inspiring efforts by the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince warrant a wider international recognition, and he should be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. However, the historic peace initiative has not yet received the appreciation it deserves at the international level,” Carmon said.

Prof. Yossi Mekelberg, Senior Consulting Research Fellow, MENA Program at Chatham House and Head of International Relations, Social Sciences and Law Program at the Regent’s University – UK, said those who have lived in conflict zones understand the historical significance of this peace initiative.

“It is important to disseminate new knowledge toward advancing the cause of regional peace and improving the human condition, which should be done simultaneously. This peace agreement is a historical event, and its significance extends beyond the region’s borders,” Prof. Mekelberg said. He also said that the normalization agreements are not a coincidence but reflect a commonality of interests.

Mr. Ghaith Al-Omari, a Senior fellow at the Washington Institute and Former Executive Director, American Task Force on Palestine – USA, stressed it is time to leverage these developments into serving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. “The UAE has displayed a fresh approach, with the same direction as demonstrated previously but introducing a new methodology, also resulting in a more gradual process,” he said.

“The Arab Peace Initiative should be modified and led by a group of like-minded states under the leadership of Saudi Arabia, and including the UAE, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, and some other Arab states,” said Mr. Al-Omari.

Corey Gil-Shuster, Director at International Program in Conflict Resolution and Mediation, Tel Aviv University – Israel, said the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is complicated and emotions play a big part but is least talked about in conflicts. According to him, emotions drive all other aspects of the conflict.

“Each side seems to live in their bubble. They know about each other through what they hear in the media and through their respective religion, not through knowing and interacting with the other side. To create a culture of tolerance is to listen and ask questions, especially with people you disagree with,” Gil-Shuster said.

Ahdeya Al-Sayed, President of the Bahrain Journalists Association, emphasized that the media’s role will be pivotal in promoting a culture of peace in the Middle East going forward. “The role of the media will be huge in the next phase, and it should ensure that the freedom of expression doesn’t turn into hate speeches,” she said.

Bahraini writer and political analyst, Abdulla Al-Junaid, lamented that the entire region could have been in a better place today if this conflict was resolved a long time ago. Al-Junaid also stressed the need for further commitment to the peace process to tackle all future challenges so that the region can have lasting peace and prosperity.

Dr. Phil Iyad Al-Dajani, Fellow Researcher at the Jena Center for Reconciliation Studies and International Coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa shared his organization’s role in conflict resolution and transformation issues in the Middle East, North Africa, and worldwide.

Omar Al-Busaidy, author and international affairs analyst, UAE, said the UAE-Israel peace agreement is an Israeli window into the UAE’s successful Arab model. “The UAE is not only measured by its progress and prosperity but also its growing soft power in the global community. The UAE is today reaping the benefits of adopting global values and tolerance,” he said.

The E-Symposium was live-streamed on the TRENDS YouTube channel https://www.youtube.com/user/TrendsRA and other social media platforms.