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One-year anniversary of Abraham Accords: In i24 interview, Rosenberg shares behind-the-scenes conversations with Muslim leaders that led to historic peace agreement

“He leaned forward and said, ‘I'm going to be the one that makes peace next,’ Rosenberg says of MBZ.

Photo: screenshot

With a front-row seat to the unfolding of the normalization agreement between the United Arab Emirates and Israel years before it happened, Joel Rosenberg knew peace was coming.

He just didn't know when.

During an interview with senior U.S. correspondent Mike Wagenheim of i24News, the ALL ISRAEL NEWS editor-in-chief describes his fascinating 2018 conversation with UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed (MBZ) at his palace where Rosenberg had led a delegation of Evangelical Christians. He also shared his insights about a possible future agreement with Saudi Arabia. 

Rosenberg told MBZ that Evangelical Christians were waiting to see “who will be the next Arab leader to make peace, even if the Palestinian leadership isn’t ready.”

“And we were stunned...he (MBZ) leaned forward and said, ‘Joel, I’m ready. I’m going to be the one that makes peace next,’” said Rosenberg.

Earlier this month, Rosenberg announced the launch of his latest nonfiction book, “Enemies and Allies: An Unforgettable Journey inside the Fast-Moving & Immensely Turbulent Modern Middle East” which recalls this conversation and takes readers behind the scenes of the historic peace deal’s origins. 

Rosenberg had a similar intriguing conversation with Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia at his palace – twice. Since the founding of the Abraham Accords, many speculated whether Saudi Arabia would be next to sign a normalization with Israel. 

“Are the Saudis ready? I don’t think so,” Rosenberg said. “But are they weighing, is it in their national interest? Should they go down this road, and what do they want for it?” 

Rosenberg believes that aside from potential huge gains in technology, trade, investment and tourism, it could be in the Saudis’ best interests to normalize ties with Israel in order to create a Middle East NATO against the Iranian regime and its imminent threat to the region.

Watch the full i24News interview of The Rundown here.

Here is a full transcript of the interview:

Calev Ben-David: Now, this week sees the one-year anniversary of the official signing of the Abraham Accords, establishing diplomatic relations between Israel and the UAE and also, of course, Bahrain. That's how we’re able to bring you that report. One of the pioneers in developing those ties was author and Evangelical leader Joel Rosenberg, who has a new book out titled “Enemies and Allies: An Unforgettable Journey inside the Fast-Moving & Immensely Turbulent Modern Middle East.” He spoke with our senior U.S. correspondent Mike Wagenheim about the road to the Accords and where they can lead next.

Mike Wagenheim: Thanks so much for taking the time, Joel. You know, very few people could say they saw it coming, they saw the Abraham Accords coming. It's true for you. You saw it coming. What's the inside story?

Rosenberg: Yeah, Mike, I had a front-row seat, actually. So part of this was that I had the rare honor to lead six delegations of Evangelical Christians to meet with Arab leaders all throughout the region. Two of the most significant have a real connection here. The United Arab Emirates had never invited a group of Christian leaders – Evangelicals – to come and meet with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, but they invited me. And of course, we also met with the Saudi crown prince after that. But it was in Abu Dhabi, in the palace with MBZ, we spent two hours with him and because we met with King Abdullah in Jordan and [Egyptian] President {Abdel Fattah] el-Sissi – two peace partners of Israel – this was new for us to be with a leader of a country that did not yet have peace. This was October of 2018. That's the context. Now in that meeting, we were covering a lot of ground, but I said to him, “There's three things you need to know about Evangelicals when it comes to this issue of peace in the region. No. 1, we love Israel. We love the Jewish people. For us, that's theological. It comes from our understanding of the Bible. It's not political. It has political implications, but you can't shake us on this. So I don't know where you're coming from, exactly, but you just need to know that about us. We are rock solid – unconditional love for Israel.

No. 2, Jesus commands us to love our neighbors, so we don't hate the Palestinians. We don't hate Muslims. We don't hate Arabs. You need you to know this. I'm not saying every Evangelical has always been friendly and kind in the language we have all used, but this is not a zero-sum game for us and it's important that you know that.”

And the third thing I said is that “King David commanded us in the Psalms to pray for the peace of Jerusalem. So millions and millions of Christians are doing that. But to be honest, Your Royal Highness, we haven't seen an Arab leader step up and make peace with Israel in a generation, since 1994 when King Hussein made the last move with Israel from Jordan. So we're looking, who will be the next Arab leader to make peace, even if the Palestinian leadership isn't ready?”

That was our set-piece. I mean, to be honest, we just wanted to get that on the record with him and sort of see how he reacted. And we were stunned by what he said because he leaned forward and said, “Joel, I'm ready. I'm going to be the one that makes peace next.”

Wagenheim: Now you had some conversations with the Saudis in the past – and there was always that hope once the Abraham Accords were announced – about who would come next, and the Saudis and the Omanis were among those “top” contenders, but it hasn't materialized yet for a lot of reasons. What can you tell us about those early conversations with the Saudis that you had?

Rosenberg: I said the same three points to him, and I said, you know, this is a huge moment. And anyway, I made the case and imagine: I'm not a foreign minister. I'm not the prime minister. I've got no political power. I'm not a billionaire. It was just fascinating to sit there and have that conversation. And then he invited us back the next year, actually Sept. 10, 2019, and we had our second trip there for the week and we had the same conversation. Now, what his answer was to me was off the record as the way MBZ’s was at the time. But let's look at what has happened just briefly since we had those meetings. First of all, the Abraham Accords went through, right? Four Arab countries have normalized – each in their own way – with Israel since we had those two meetings with the Saudis. That's No 1.

No. 2, Israeli planes, Bahraini planes, Emirati planes are now flying over Saudi Arabia with their full permission, back and forth. This is a big deal. It's never happened. Now it's happened.

No. 3, the Saudis, you know, could have put the kibosh, we might say, or could have vetoed the Emirati and Bahraini decisions – Sudanese and Moroccans as well. Or broken relationships with them.

Remember, back in ‘79 when Anwar Sadat made peace with Egypt, the entire Arab League moved out of Cairo, including the Saudis. That did not happen. Instead, very positive and warm statements were made. So, are the Saudis ready? I don't think so. But are they weighing, is it in their national interest? Should they go down this road and what do they want for it? Again, I would not encourage MBS to do this for hasbara (public relations). It has to be because it’s in the Saudi national interest, and they've calculated it all because there are big risks. But I think there are huge gains. Most importantly, but there's…you know, there's technology, there's trade, there's investment, there's tourism. It's all good. But the most important reason right now to do it in the next six months or a year would be to create a Middle East NATO, as it were, as a bulwark against the Iranian regime, especially as the Biden administration seems to be in full retreat from the Middle East.

Wagenheim: The book is called "Enemies and Allies: An Unforgettable Journey inside the Fast-Moving & Immensely Turbulent Modern Middle East." The man who wrote it, Joel Rosenberg. Thanks so much for joining us. We really appreciate the time.

Rosenberg: Mike, it's an honor and Shana Tova (Jewish new year greeting).

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