Today's announcement of Bahrain's decision to formalize its relations with Israel, while welcome in and of itself, is used by Benjamin Netanyahu's government to distract from the very real challenges that Israel is facing.
Official normal relations between Israel and Arab states is a positive development, and Bahrain joining the United Arab Emirates in doing so is welcome. But Israel's national security concerns are not about its relations with Gulf states, which were never in a state of war with Israel. Israel's chief national security challenge is its continuing occupation of its Palestinian neighbors. Israel's 53-year-old occupation denies Palestinians their most basic civil and human rights, and has created an apartheid-like situation in the occupied West Bank.
Formally normalizing relations with Arab states that lie far beyond Israel's horizon is fine. But not if it distracts Israelis, Americans, and other stakeholders in Israeli-Palestinian peace from the disgraceful reality in Israel's backyard, its ongoing occupation, disregard for Palestinian rights, and continuing settlement expansion. In fact, we worry that this is a motivation behind this otherwise positive trend.
"Normalization with the Arab world is welcome, but not as a tool to normalize the occupation and the conflict with the Palestinians," said Hadar Susskind, Americans for Peace Now's President and CEO. "We hope and wish that all stakeholders would find a way to use Israel's establishing closer relations with Arab states as a way toward a conflict-ending resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."