One of the top men who helped broker the Abraham Accords said that he feels safer as an Orthodox Jew in Dubai or Bahrain than he does in New York City.
“It is safer for me to walk around with a kippah [Jewish head covering] and identifiable as an Orthodox Jew in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Casablanca or Bahrain than in New York City or Los Angeles,” Aryeh Lightstone, former senior advisor to U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman told ALL ISRAEL NEWS. “That is horrific.”
While he said that not all of American cities have seen an equivalent rise in anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment, “there are cities where I have a legitimate concern about walking around and that’s chilling.”
In contrast, Lightstone said, in the countries with which the Abraham Accords were signed, “they don’t run away from religion. They embrace religion. There is not a fight between Islam, Christianity and Judaism.”
Lightstone spoke to ALL ISRAEL NEWS just weeks after his new book, “Let My People Know: The Incredible Story of Middle East Peace—and What Lies Ahead” was released on Amazon.
The book offers a behind-the-scenes account of the strategies that allowed the Abraham Accords to be struck, as well as Lightstone’s personal view of the region's idiosyncrasies that factored into the process.
In his conversation with ALL ISRAEL NEWS, Lightstone condemned U.S. President Joe Biden for allowing America to retreat from its role as the world’s superpower, a void he warned would be filled by Russia, Iran or China.
He said that by taking an oath to be the president of the United States, there is an obligation to ensure that America shows it is a superpower, “whether that’s in Taiwan, Iran or it’s with the Abraham Accords or on our southern border. You cannot sort of do foreign policy. You have to fully do it and it needs to be in America’s interest.”
According to Lightstone, decisions made by former U.S. President Donald Trump and his administration that might have appeared “pro-Israel” were actually pro-American – from the decision to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem to the Abraham Accords.
“In 1995, the U.S. Congress, by a broad bipartisan consensus, passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act which requires us to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move our embassy there,” Lightstone said. “Every president ran and said they would do it and every president subsequently did not do it. President Donald Trump changed that.”
Lightstone was in the room when these decisions were being made and said that, while the results were pro-Israel, the catalyst was America first.
“It took courage and conviction to make those decisions because the vast majority of the U.S. government was advising against those decisions,” he said. “It was thought to be impossible.
“One of the lessons that I learned was that as soon as you define your own ceiling, that’s your ceiling. You have to be willing to look outside the box.”
This was also the case with the Abraham Accords, which ultimately were brokered not by seasoned diplomats, but businessmen who believed they could get the job done.
Lightstone did not have a chief relationship with the president or the prime minister, but he was the advisor to Friedman. He sat around the table with the people who made it happen – Jared Kushner, Avi Berkowitz and Mike Pompeo, for example. He was the first person on the ground in the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco. And while he did not work on the leadership level, but the next level down, he said he was with the people “who got stuff done and my book is not about peace on a piece of paper, it’s about peace between people.”
He noted that even if the team had been experienced in diplomacy, they would not have necessarily believed that the Accords would be. But he said that he would rather have a businessperson than an academic solve his problems.
For an academic, according to Lightstone, “there’s an ideal world that I would we could all live in. Ideal worlds are so much fun because they are rainbows and unicorns and chocolate coins that you get to put under your pillow every night.
“Then you have the real world, which is terrorism, the price of energy, and how we connect with people even when the personalities are not perfectly aligned,” he continued. “Businessmen and women have to figure out how to make things happen even if all the pieces don’t connect. And that’s what we did.”
He added that Kushner and Friedman spent a long time listening to American allies in the Middle East region and learning before acting. One of the things they realized is that the region today is different than it was five, 10 or 15 years ago.
“By listening, they realized there were new data inputs and that they could do something with them,” he said. “That is what set us off in the trajectory that ultimately turned into the Abraham Accords.”
He said that he “hopes and prays” current officials will see peace, not as a Republican ideal but as something that America, in general, should grow and invest in. Lightstone said that he hopes that the people who go to the polls will vote for peace.
“I am absolutely positive that this is what God wants us to do,” he said.
When you look at the Middle East, there are two sorts of parallel theories: No. 1 – be stronger or be dead. No. 2 – be clear.
“When there is no clarity, there is confusion. When there’s confusion, there’s chaos and when there’s chaos there’s terror. So, you have to be clear.”
He added that “Israel does not only have a right to defend itself. Israel has an obligation to defend itself – a legal and a moral obligation – and we, the United States, as its ally, have to make sure that Israel knows that.”
Maayan Hoffman is a veteran American-Israeli journalist and strategic communications consultant. She is Deputy CEO - Strategy & Innovation for the Jerusalem Post, where she also served as news editor, head of strategy and senior health analyst.