With Indian-Israeli ties flourishing, in July Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to become the first Indian prime minister ever to visit the Jewish state.
And this month Air India is planning to launch a direct flight between New Delhi and Tel Aviv. The Hindu Business Line, however, reports that there’s a hitch: five Muslim countries are refusing to let the planes fly over them on their way to Israel.
The five countries are Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.
The refusal of the first two is unremarkable—and perhaps the same can be said about Afghanistan, though it’s a country that U.S. forces have been trying for years to help defeat Islamic extremism.
The latter two, however — Saudi Arabia and the UAE — are more worthy of note. Both are often mentioned as members of the “moderate Sunni camp” and are said — along with Jordan and Egypt — to have allied with Israel against Iran and ceased viewing it as an enemy.
That description, though, is hard to square with being unable to let Israel-bound Indian planes overfly their airspace.
President Trump, for his part, will be arriving in Israel for a two-day visit on May 22 straight from a visit to Saudi Arabia. Reportedly Trump will be setting a timetable of nine months to a year for an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.
Although Trump has not been explicit about how such an agreement would be reached and what it would look like, many have claimed that the “moderate Sunni camp” could provide the supportive backdrop for the Palestinians finally to come to terms with Israel.
Undoubtedly, mostly-tacit Israeli strategic cooperation and economic ties with Sunni Arab states exist. But if those states are really ready to welcome Israel in what has been called a “regional peace,” they have strange ways of showing it.
A case in point is the anti-Israeli UNESCO vote on May 2, which portrayed Israel as the “occupying power” in all of Jerusalem, devoid of legal or historical ties to it. Almost all Arab and Muslim UNESCO members (only majority-Muslim Albania abstained) voted in favor.
The resolution was submitted by seven Arab states: Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, and Sudan. Morocco is considered moderate, and Egypt has not only been formally at peace with Israel since 1979 but also gets much-needed Israeli help in fighting ISIS terror.
And the May 2 UNESCO resolution was only slightly less extreme than the one last October 16 that denied all Jewish — and Christian — religious ties to any part of Jerusalem. The draft for that resolution was submitted by the Palestinians. Again, voting in favor were all Arab and Muslim countries present — including Morocco and Egypt.
In any purported Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Jerusalem is certain to be one of the most difficult issues—if not the most difficult. This urge to erase Israel from the city, then, would not seem to augur well.
Other examples abound. Jordan has been formally at peace with Israel since 1994, and — behind the scenes — its government indeed takes a moderate line of security and economic cooperation with Israel.
Yet in March, when a Jordanian who had murdered seven Israeli schoolgirls was released after 20 years in prison, it was done under cover of night “to forestall large celebrations and a hero’s welcome.” In April, the Jordanian Prime TV channel ran a three-part series depicting Jews as the essence of evil.
Indeed, a 2011 Pew survey found almost monolithic anti-Semitism in Egypt, Jordan, the Palestinian territories, Lebanon, Turkey, and Pakistan. The fact that, since then, Arab states that feel threatened by Iran and are in difficult economic straits have made pragmatic accommodations with powerful, technologically advanced Israel is a positive development — but it is way too early to inflate it into something it is not.
Pushing the Palestinians and their Arab brethren into a “process” with Israel that would be certain to fail, and very likely lead to recriminations, bitterness, and violence, would serve no positive purpose but could well derail even the slow, pragmatic progress that has been made so far.