President Donald Trump’s decision to comply with the decades-old intention of the United States to move the American embassy within Israel had some positive reaction from the Muslim world. While the process of moving the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem may take several years, it was taken as a sign that Trump seeks to circumvent an impasse that has defeated previous presidents and inspired opposition from Muslim countries. However, on Saturday, Abdulhameed Hakeem, head of the Middle East Center for Strategic and Legal Studies in Jedda, Saudi Arabia, told US-based Alhurra television that the move is a “positive shock” to the peace process in the Middle East.
Hakeem said, “We as Arabs must come to an understanding with the other party and know what its demands are, so that we can succeed in peace negotiation efforts, so that negotiations not be futile. We must recognize and realize that Jerusalem is a religious symbol to Jews and sacred to them, as Mecca and Medina is to Muslims.”
Trump’s announcement last week inspired protests throughout the Muslim world, as well as among leftists and Muslims in the U.S. and Europe.
Hakeem noted that Israel and Saudi Arabia face a common threat in Iran. He said that the “Arab mind must liberate itself from the legacy of [former Egyptian President] Gamal Abdul-Nasser and the legacy of both the Sunni and Shi’a sects, which has instilled for political interests the culture of Jew hatred and denial of their historic right in the region.”
According to the al-Araby al-Jadeed website, Hakeem’s comments inspired anger on the internet. On social media, A. Elmhay, wrote, “The Zionizing Arabs are a greater danger than the Zionists themselves.” Before Hakeem stirred up controversy, Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz revealed earlier in December of that Israel and Saudi Arabia have been engaged in covert diplomatic and military relations. Saudi website Elaph then broke a taboo by publishing interviews with Israeli Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot and Transportation Minister Israel Katz.
In another example of warming relations between Israel and Muslims nations, especially those with a Sunni majority, a delegation from Bahrain -- one of the Persian Gulf states closely related to Saudi Arabia -- were invited by the Simon Wiesenthal Center to visit Jerusalem. In addition, the center is organizing a trip to the tiny Gulf kingdom by a group of Israeli businessmen for next month.
Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat and the editor of Spero News.