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  • Writer's pictureAvi Abraham Benlolo

Avi Benlolo: Hope for peace in the Middle East — and beyond

Despite political and social turmoil, war and the decline of democracies worldwide, we must strive for a world of peaceful co-existence

Avi Benlolo, National Post

Publishing date:

Oct 27, 2020  •  Last Updated 5 hours ago  •  3 minute read

In world of instability and despair, the international community has a strategic interest in strengthening ties and increasing co-operation. And it seems as though everyone is talking peace these days, including Pope Francis, who gathered leaders of world religions in Rome last week for an International Prayer Meeting for Peace and to sign the Rome 2020 Appeal for Peace.

I have written extensively over the past several weeks about peace in the Middle East because in today's world, we could all use a little hope. Despite political and social turmoil, war and the decline of democracies worldwide, we must strive for a world of peaceful co-existence. That requires us to focus on the good, celebrate humanity’s wins and continue striving for the betterment of humanity.

Perhaps it was this sentiment, alongside historic developments in the Middle East, that inspired Pope Francis to gather faith leaders and encourage global co-operation. I've always held to the rosy and optimistic view that, despite the odds, humans can rise above their primal need for conflict. And even with all that's wrong with the world, there are some encouraging signs of hope.

Sudan’s seemingly hesitant acquiescence to peace with Israel at the end of last week is significant. After all, it is the country that hosted the infamous Arab League conference in Khartoum in 1967 that unabashedly declared: no peace with Israel; no recognition of Israel; no negotiation with Israel! But realpolitik finally became a factor for Sudan — a country that's desperate for cash, food and being removed from the United States' terror list.

They say that necessity is the mother of invention. In the Middle East, however, necessity is the mother of peace. And when peace happens in that region, it happens expediently. At the same time Israeli negotiators were in Khartoum last week hammering out a peace deal, an Etihad Airways plane landed in Tel Aviv carrying a United Arab Emirates delegation to sign a $3-billion deal for regional development. Meanwhile, an El Al plane touched down in Bahrain to finalize various trade agreements with that country.

But on the sidelines of these achievements is a partnership that is maturing. India and Israel’s blossoming friendship stands as a model of success for what the Abraham Accords will look like two years from now. Diplomatic entreaties between the two countries began on the sidelines of the United Nations in 2014, when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This was followed by Modi’s historic state visit to Israel in 2017 and Netanyahu’s visit to India the following year.

Israel’s business savvy ambassador to India told me that the relationship between the two countries has accelerated at warp speed recently. Ron Malka, who was the acting chairman of the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange among other highly coveted positions in Israel, is all about developing a strategic relationship with India on issues like food, water, science and agriculture. Both being democracies, the two countries have many shared values, along with strategic and military interests.

India overcome the psychological barrier with Israel over the Palestinian issue. Ambassador Malka said, “It has now ‘de-hyphenized’ the matter in order to normalize relations with Israel. We may not agree on everything … but we can work together on many projects and respectfully discuss issues that have strained us previously.” Today, for example, Malka proudly said that Israel operates some 29 agricultural centres that teach around 147,000 Indian farmers about the latest farming and water irrigation technologies.

That diplomacy has translated into results. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, with India’s help, Israel was immediately able to airlift thousands of young Israelis home from remote areas of the country. For its part, India also supplied Israel with much-needed raw materials to produce pharmaceuticals and is currently conducting joint research on rapid COVID-19 tests. Concurrently, Malka said that as a good will gesture, he personally flew to Israel and brought back lifesaving medical equipment for a local hospital.

We need to supplant the world in a culture of peace. “A culture of peace is inseparable from human rights, respect for diversity and fairer societies,” said United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres. Ev

en though human history is fraught by conflict and war, we must learn to overcome our own tendencies. That comes about through peacemaking, co-operation and an intense desire for mutual engagement.

The world needs this now more than ever.

National Post

Listen to IMPACT: With Avi Abraham Benlolo on Apple Podcasts.

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