Wednesday, September 16, 2020
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It's Wednesday, September 16th, 2020. I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Historic Agreement Reached Between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain: What’s the History Behind This Breakthrough in the Middle East?
It was a very powerful picture yesterday at the White House, the president of the United States, the prime minister of Israel and the foreign ministers of Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. That picture would be newsworthy and historic in any context, but in this context especially so. Because this was a formal ceremony in which the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, two very powerful historic Arab powers clearly identified with Islam were recognizing Israel, and moving towards formal recognition. This was not a peace treaty because the UAE and Bahrain are not formally at war with Israel. That would be required for a peace treaty. It is a diplomatic recognition treaty.
President Donald Trump presiding over the ceremony yesterday said that it was indeed an historic event, "We're here this afternoon to change the course of history. After decades of division and conflict, we mark the dawn of a new Middle East." He went on to say, "Thanks to the courage of the leaders present, we take a major stride toward a future in which people of all faiths and backgrounds can live together in peace and prosperity." It was clearly an enormous diplomatic victory for the nations involved in the recognition, Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. It was also a huge victory for President Trump and the Trump administration's approach to foreign policy, and to the solution of what has historically been considered the problem of the Middle East. The Middle East has been in one sense in foreign policy and global affairs, a problem for nations both within and outside the region. This is a matter now of the history of millennia, not just centuries or decades but millennia.
But in the modern world, the Middle East has often been a powder keg that has always threatened to go off and disastrously so. The recognition of the state of Israel by these two Arab nations, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain is just incredibly historic. The entire Arab world was resolutely opposed to the establishment of the state of Israel, particularly as a Jewish state, by the authority of the United Nations back in 1948. That was itself an incredibly historic development. The return of the Jewish people to a homeland and the establishment of Israel as a Jewish state right there in the heart of the Middle East. It was of course won only by war, the Israeli War of Independence, and there is a convoluted history to how Israel won that independence. But of course, it's an incredibly brave story of this little nation that not only won its independence, but turned what basically was a desolate desert into indeed a land flowing with milk and honey.
In 1948, it was President Harry Truman who on behalf of the United States became the first to recognize the statehood of Israel. Again, cementing the very deep and historic relationships between the United States and Israel. But the United States also has very long-standing historic relationships with much of the Arab world. In recent years, that would certainly include very warm if complicated relations with Gulf states such as the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. Looming in the background of all of this is the political reality of Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is the biggest power in the region. To put the matter as simply as possible, the UAE and Bahrain could not and would not have moved forward in this formal recognition of Israel without at least the tacit authorization and support of Saudi Arabia.
But at the same time, Saudi Arabia has not extended the same kind of formal recognition to Israel. That would be an even more significant development. But what happened yesterday and was formalized yesterday is spectacular in terms of history. Ann Gearan reporting for the Washington Post began her news report this way, "President Trump presided over a White House signing ceremony Tuesday, in which Israel established formal ties with two Arab States, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, in what Trump calls the flowering of his Middle East peace plan." Later in the article Gearan wrote, "The agreement is historic on its own. The last Arab state to make peace with Israel was Jordan in 1994. Egypt was the first in 1979. The agreement is also, she writes, significant for relegating the Palestinians to the sidelines. Palestinian leaders have rejected the Trump peace efforts for three years, and have called the two Arab nations traitors to their cause."
Now, clearly we're looking at a very big story here. The Palestinian response to the signing ceremony yesterday is itself an indication of the scale of the story. In order to understand this, we've got to look at a bit of history. To mention civilization such as Egypt and Babylonia, Mesopotamia, to look at the Levant Northern Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, the Gulf states, the Persian Gulf. Well, we're looking at massively important and incredibly historical civilizations trajectories through the centuries. The history of humanity has been written in large part by the history of these regions. But in more recent centuries, it has been a succession of empires. This would include Western empires, but also the Muslim Ottoman Empire that ruled throughout most of this territory. In the fall of those empires, most importantly, in the fall of the Ottoman Empire in 1922, struggles for national identity quickly emerged. Then on an overlay just place the tumultuous events of the 20th century, and in particular two world wars.
The Ottoman Empire came into existence in the 14th century. In the 15th century, the Islamic Ottomans gained control and conquered Constantinople, the imperial capital city of what existed then of the continuing Roman Empire, the Eastern Roman Empire or the Byzantine Empire. The Byzantine Empire fell and the Ottoman Empire arose, and it conquered throughout much of the territory, almost all the way around the Mediterranean to a considerable extent, and stamped on it not only an Islamic, but an Ottoman identity. Under Sultans such as Selim I, 1512 to 1520, and Suleiman the Magnificent between 1520 and 1566, the Ottoman Empire dominated the entire region. The main identity was an Ottoman identity. But the Ottoman Empire fell in 1922. It was basically fatally wounded through the fact that the Ottoman Empire had sided with Imperial Germany and its allies during World War I. The utter defeat of Imperial Germany and the Kaiser in World War I meant the eventual collapse of the Ottoman Empire as its ally.
But the Ottoman Empire had been described as a sick man for a very long time. But after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, well, you had the two European Imperial powers, France and England, both at rather the end of their imperial overreach, that sought to divide up the area between British and French mandates. By the way, this helps to explain the headlines you see even recently, with French President Emmanuel Macron now repeatedly in Beirut, Lebanon after the horrifying and deadly blast there. Why the French President? It's because Lebanon was part of the French mandate back in the breaking up of these empires. Much of what we would now consider around the Persian Gulf, and in particular the Gulf states and Palestine as it was called then was a part of the British mandate. But all that began to break up shortly after the end of the Second World War. In that aftermath, national, tribal, ethnic identities all began to arise, and it came down to a struggle over territory and what will be recognized as nations and what geography those nations would possess.
Some of them were fairly easy, such as Egypt. Some of them were extremely difficult. Just consider how complex the map gets as you get closer to the Persian Gulf. Through a very convoluted political process that involves some bungling on the part of the French and the British and other imperial forces, which involved also the intervention of the United Nations at certain points, the fact is a map got drawn. But that map now has to be overlayed not only by the ethnic and national and language and tribal identities, but also by the discovery of oil. That changed just about everything. All of a sudden what had been this massive Arabian Peninsula of mere sand became the Saudi empire of oil. The oil has functioned in two huge ways. Number one, it made the nations or the states that possessed that oil extraordinarily powerful and rich far beyond their size. But furthermore, it made the Western world that is so dependent upon fossil fuels, dependent upon relations with those very states.
But then you also have to consider that the oil begins to run out the further north you go on the map. By the time you get to the Transjordan and in particular to the nation we would now call Jordan, the Hashemite dynasty there. What you have are basically many of the same people, but a very different set of natural assets. Jordan is not a major power when it comes to oil, and its economy shows it. But the emergence of Israel, remember by action of the United Nations and its mandate in 1948 was the big game changer. The establishment of Israel as a Jewish state was an affront to all of the Arab nations that had pledged virtually from the beginning to annihilate Israel, and to erase it from the map, indeed to erase it from the face of the earth. The survival of Israel since then is due to the courage and tenacity, the national honor of Israel and the power of its allies, including the United States of America.
The American nation, and specifically the American president over a course of decades has been extremely important in this history. Harry Truman, 1948 as president recognizing Israel. Fast forward to President Lyndon Johnson when Israel went to war, the six day war in 1967, and then for years President Richard Nixon, including the Arab-Israeli war that came in his tenure, and the clear decision of the American president to support Israel. Fast forward to the 1970s the historic photograph of Jimmy Carter with Menachem Begin, the prime minister of Israel and Anwar Sadat, the president of Egypt. It was Egypt then that recognized Israel. Became the first Arab nation to do so, that was 1979. But it wasn't until 1994, 15 years later that King Hussein of Jordan followed the example of Sadat and Egypt, and Jordan recognized Israel. Jordan is its neighbor there to the East. You have other major peace initiatives taken by almost every previous American president to President Trump.
President Trump has made this a major issue since his election. In 2016 the historic pictures continue. That brings us to the historic picture yesterday at the White House. But something else needs to be brought by us into the picture, and that is that if you're trying to explain how this kind of accord comes about, you really can't explain it honestly, primarily in emotional or other subjective terms. It comes right down to the fact that there has to be some historic development that helps to explain this, and there is. That historic development is the common threat of Iran. And not just Iran. As a militant nation of Shiite Islam, that's the great distinction. The great Islamic civil war that goes back to the second generation basically of Islam, is between the majority Sunnis and the minority Shia. They basically hate each other, and have been at war denying any kind of genuine, authentic Islamic identity to the other. That's been a conflict going on now for well over a millennium.
But across that expanse of water, you have Shiite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, and of course you have the opportunity and the context for a massive military disaster. Add to that, that Iran has been intentionally a nefarious and destabilizing force throughout the entire region, and that it has been openly seeking to obtain nuclear weapons. You have even recent headlines with, "Iran openly suspected, if not publicly identified, of firing missiles into Saudi Arabian petroleum facilities." It goes on and on. The formal event that went on yesterday is actually the capstone of developments in which something basically changed, and that is that the great enemy no longer was recognized to be Israel by the Gulf states, but rather to be Iran. They're united by a common enemy, and furthermore, for years now, the Islamic world, especially there in the Gulf states has been dependent on military intelligence and cooperation with Israel.
The Enemy Next Door: Why Do Most Middle Eastern Nations Not Want a Return to the U.S. Foreign Policy of the Obama Administration?
Walter Russell Mead writing yesterday at the Wall Street Journal gets it exactly right, "The strongest force in international politics is driving the change: fear. The Arab world as a whole is confronting its greatest crisis since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Iraq and Syria, once pillars of Arab nationalism and strength, can barely hold themselves together. Yemen and Libya are sunk in bitter civil wars. Egypt, whose economy is staggering as the pandemic slashes its income from tourism and trade, can barely manage its own security, much less export stability to the rest of the Arab world. Lebanon, for so long a financial and cultural capital of the Arab world, suffers from a failing state and Hezbollah’s heavy hand." Mead goes on to note, "Even the wealthy Gulf oil states fear for their economic future." Yes they do. By the way, one of the developments is increasing energy self-sufficiency on the part of the United States. Put bluntly, we don't need their oil to the same extent anymore.
They fear Iran, they fear Turkey, the other Islamic power with imperial ambitions at their expense, and they also fear Joe Biden. Israel and the Gulf states and their allies were united in mutual horror at the action of the administration of President Barack Obama in reaching a deal so to speak with Iran that was supposed to prevent it gaining access to nuclear material that could be turned into nuclear weapons. The Gulf states and Israel didn't buy the agreement for a moment. Those states and Israel have a very real fear that if elected president of the United States, Joe Biden would go right back to the Obama administration policy. The reason they think that's because Biden has said that.
You are sure to see all kind of political commentators say, "Look, here's an interesting development, the prime minister of Israel and the foreign ministers of the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain gave President Donald Trump an enormous political gift by agreeing to this new Abraham Accord, and a signing ceremony and the photo opportunity right in the middle of a presidential election." Well, they would be exactly right. That is because Israel and the UAE and Bahrain and Saudi Arabia and other allies in the region very much do not want a return to the Middle Eastern policies of the Obama administration.
That's exactly what they fear in an administration headed by Joe Biden. In political terms it was very interesting to see the coverage by the New York Times, Michael Crowley was the reporter. The headline, "Trump hosts Israel, UAE, and Bahrain at White House signing ceremony." But the subhead was this, "Critics of the agreement between the three countries have said President Trump's claims that they will produce wider peace in the Middle East are overblown." Very interesting that with this kind of diplomatic breakthrough in historic event, the New York Times would try to pour cold water on it even in the subhead. But let's consider what they say here. They say the critics are saying that the agreement is overblown in its significance. Well, most people around the world are going to look at that photograph and ask, "How could that be overblown?" One final dimension of this story deserves some attention. This is an effort that has been defined primarily by personal diplomacy. President Trump has been very involved, his son-in-law, Jared Kushner has been very involved. They have basically used the techniques of personal diplomacy.
The historic event yesterday is a demonstration of the power of that kind of personal diplomacy. But if you're looking at long-term relations between nations, even as crucial as personal diplomacy, so often is, and American presidents almost always see diplomacy primarily in personal terms. We can understand that given the power of the presidency. But the point is, it takes sustained diplomatic efforts to bring about lasting change that produces the kinds of results and developments for which people around the world are praying right now. But Christians thinking about all of this should also give attention to that issue the Washington Post described in its report on yesterday's development. It talked about the fact that this demonstrates a sidelining of the Palestinians. Many Americans actually don't know much of who and what we're talking about when we talk about the plight of the Palestinians.
The Palestinians are indeed beleaguered. They have been so for a very long time. In order to understand this, we have to go back to the breakup of the empires and the emergence of nationalities and ethnic identities. The fact is, that the Palestinians were basically those residing in what the British had called Palestine, who did not have a state of their own. But the plight of the Palestinians also points to many of the ironies of history. But you have to consider the failure of its own leaders successively, generation by generation to serve their own people. Many of the Palestinians there with the end of the British mandate and with the establishment of the state of Israel lost their property, and there are very long grievances. We're looking here at incommensurate claims. That is to say you have two different parties, two different groups in many cases, two different individuals claiming ownership over the very same land.
But the United Nations acted to establish the state of Israel as a Jewish state, and ever since then the Palestinian people have been in an even more precarious position. But that position is made all the more precarious and impoverished, not just by the establishment of Israel in 1948, not just by the Palestinian claim and determination that Israel must cease to exist, but by the fact that the other major Arab nations basically want nothing to do with them. This was made especially clear in the conflict between the Palestinian Liberation Organization and Jordan that came to a head in 1970. The Arab nations through the decades have largely given the Palestinian cause some financial support and some limited political support, but they're not about to put themselves at risk on behalf of the Palestinians, nor do they want the Palestinians moving to their nations. Christians must recognize a couple of things here.
For one thing, the Palestinians are and have been genuinely in a horrifying plight. Some of it is due to history, but most of it in recent decades is due to the failed leadership of the Palestinians through the Palestinian Liberation Organization that openly embraced terrorism at one point and then denied it. But nonetheless, you have in the Palestinian territories right now what calls itself a Palestinian state, but isn't a Palestinian state in any legitimate sense. You have a Palestinian authority headed by Mahmoud Abbas who was elected to a four year term in 2005, and hasn't left office. As one American diplomat quipped, "Mahmoud Abbas is now in the 17th year of his elected four year term." That tells you just about everything you need to know. The Palestinians are absolutely furious about this action by the UAE and Bahrain, and by the fact they know that there are likely to be other Gulf states and Arab nations who are going to continue in the same pattern. The door's been opened, and it's been open pretty wide.
The Palestinian Plight: An 11-Year-Old Boy Who Became a Viral Sensation in Gaza Faces Backlash After Calling for Peace Between Israel and Palestine
But the Palestinian territories also give shelter to the terrorist group Hamas, pledged to the annihilation of Israel. It can be a very difficult place even to speak of peace, especially peace with Israel. Consider an article that ran in recent days in the New York Times, the headline is this, "For a Rapper, a Viral Hit and Criticism." Well, we're talking about a rapper who is 11 years old. The subhead in the article, "Gaza schoolboy's call for peace with Israel runs afoul of Hamas policy." The reporters tell us, "When the 11-year-old schoolboy from Gaza posted a video of himself rapping the lyrics of one of his favorite artists, he never expected it would make him famous or get him in trouble. It did both." The report continues, "The video of Abdel Rahman al-Shantti rapping in front of his Gaza City school in confident English and flawless hip-hop attitude won him more than a million views and praise from famous rappers around the world."
The trouble came when he was asked about his message. Speaking to a Russian news agency, the 11-year-old boy said, "I would like to spread love between us and Israel." He said, "There's no reason for fighting and wars. We need to let this relationship become better and better." Now consider the fact that this 11-year-old boy was here advocating for peace, and in his young life, he has known nothing but the impoverishment and trouble, violence and continuing threats to peace. But Hamas, the Islamic organization that dominates so much of the Palestinian territory responded by telling the boy's father that he had better shut the boy up. The Times tells us, "Many Palestinians lashed out on social media at the budding rapper and his father, whom they accused of failing to properly teach his son about the Palestinian cause." Out of concern for his boy's safety, the father asked the Russian media agency to take down the interview.
He said in defending his son that he wasn't really talking about peace with Israel, but more generally about peace with the world, and then quite defensively and with concern you can hear in a father's voice. He said, "The boy is 11 years old and he misspoke. He was very tired. It can happen." The Times then tells us, "Calls for coexistence with Israel are taboo in many circles in Gaza, and are seen as an act of normalization — treating Israel as a normal state with which one could have normal relations." The paper continues, "Some acts of normalization, including activities or communication with Israelis, may be considered crimes in Gaza though no authority has suggested Abdel Rahman’s comments crossed that line." In other media reports by the way, the 11-year-old said that he learned English by listening to American music. He also said he likes the NBA and skateboarding. Put all this into a big picture, there are all kinds of ways an 11-year-old boy can get himself into trouble, but he shouldn't be in trouble for calling for peace.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
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For more information and resources go to my website @albertmohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com.
I'll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.