The Forsch View: Why Israel’s presence at Expo 2020 could mean peace in the Middle East

By Thomas Forsch

ISRAEL’S pavilion at the Dubai Expo 2020 is no small feat in an environment where almost every neighbour has long-standing stringent boycott laws against the Jewish state.

Everything is gearing up in Dubai for the big, global event starting next October and lasting well into 2021.

The preparations for Expo 2020 are omnipresent everywhere in the city. Not a day passes without some spectacular news in the regional papers and TV channels, exciting local and foreign Dubai residents alike.

The chosen theme for the Expo sounds promising already: “Connecting Minds, Creating the Future”.

What if this six-month lasting extravaganza could really change the world and bring a bright future to the entire region?

In the geopolitical minefield that is the Middle East, small signs are often the harbingers of greater things to come.

Without big fanfare, quite remarkable moves happen almost en passant, providing a glimpse at the chess-like complexities of diplomatic manoeuvres in the region.

The latest, important development now came in November: Israeli passport holders will be allowed to visit the Expo as tourists. They may even be welcome as visitors after the event has ended.

Having lived for over twenty years in the region and having witnessed many broken promises of up-and-coming times of change for the better, I can see the first shoots of the elusive plant called Middle East peace.

This peace that no American Stable Genius Jr. can bring (like if he were the Second Coming of the Messiah), but which can only come from within the region.

And which will arrive at the time and in the way the leaders in the Middle East determine to be suitable for them and their peoples.

Yes, inviting the arch enemy to the most globally recognised event in a decade is a sign of détente.

Letting their Qatari cousins, who had fallen in disgrace for the last two years, take part is another sign of an easement in the region.

These steps, like the participation of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain in the Arabian Gulf Cup football tournament currently underway in Qatar, are important little milestones towards much-needed real crisis solutions in the region.

Even if it may contradict widespread Western stereotypes: Muslims, and Arabs in particular, care a lot more for peace, stability and development than they do for conflict.

They despise hostilities and avoid them wherever possible, notwithstanding that they can defend their cultural heritage and know of the fact that the Middle East was long abused as a marketplace for imperialistic interests in centuries past.

At present, the regional political forces send important positive signals. However, after decades of skirmishes and wars, additional support from a neutral side in the form of mediation help may be required on the road towards permanent security and prosperity for all.

For well known historical reasons, the EU (notably the UK and France) has a moral obligation to offer proactively such help if asked to assist.

European hegemonic dreams of the 19th and early 20th century are the key reasons for the present-day situation in the Middle East, and we Europeans should own up to that.

The US, as the long-term power broker in the region, can no longer play a neutral role. Not after moving their embassy to Jerusalem and recognising illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

For the umpteenth time, the EU has again a chance to do the right thing.

After Sweden, Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Cyprus, and Malta have all recognised the State of Palestine over the years, all other EU member states should follow suit.

And the EU should finally take the last step and officially implement the EU Parliament’s vote to welcome the Palestinian state into the international community of nations, a vote which the EU citizens’ representatives cast already some five years ago.

After all, not only does the EU recognise Israel as a state, but there is a strong association agreement in place between the two since the turn of the millenium.

A confident EU, recognising the State of Palestine while maintaining positive relationships with all players in the region, may use the six months of Dubai’s World Expo 2020 to bring all parties concerned to the point where finally lasting peace in the Middle East can become a reality rather than remain a continuous dream.

Let’s all hope that courage, diplomatic finesse and statesmanship will for once prevail over political calculus in our European officials.

Thomas Forsch is an international lawyer and political theorist.

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