Consul General of Israel, about the Peace Agreement with the UAE
The Honorable Gilad Katz received us in his offices. From the moment we entered the office, he was warm and friendly. In our conversation, he spoke about life in Israel with a Pandemic as well as the significance of the Israel-UAE Peace Agreement.
Heidi PP: Hello, so good to see you. How long has it been?
Hon. Gilad Katz: It has been quite a while since the last event we attended together.
Heidi PP: How have you been?
Hon. Gilad Katz: Everything has been upside down because of the pandemic, but we will overcome. At the beginning of this month, my time here in Houston was extended for another year. I hope that at least half of that year will be after the pandemic, that is I hope that by January there will be a vaccine, and that we can begin to come to the end of this.
Heidi PP: Are there travel restrictions in place in Israel right now?
Hon. Gilad Katz: Yes many, only today we are in the second wave, so only Israelis or spouses of Israelis are allowed to enter Israel. Even when they are allowed to enter, they have to go through a two week quarantine. It’s not like here where you are simply asked to self quarantine; it is a much stricter process. They police your details about where you plan to quarantine and do random check ups. You will be fined $1000 if you are caught not following the protocol. Israel is so small, it is actually 33 times smaller than Texas. So we have to be very cautious about social distancing and quarantining. Even so, the situation in Israel today is far from being good. On a daily basis there are more than a thousand new cases and the numbers are growing. Everyday more people are passing away, we are at around 900 already. We had an enforced curfew in Israel about three months ago, and the number dropped. It’s like putting a lid on it. When you put the lid on, the numbers drop. When you take the lid off, the cases increase. The other issue is when you impose a curfew, the economy suffers badly. So that is another aspect of this pandemic. Now we are headed into the Jewish high holidays at the end of this month and the government is thinking about enforcing a curfew since the high holidays is a time when families will want to get together. The last time they had a curfew was Passover and it helped greatly. They will decide as we get closer to the high holiday. Regardless of your policy, the situation is bad. The population understands it; but when it gets to your own house into your household, then you want a solution. It is not an easy task as you can see. It’s easy to say we are closing the sky with no flights in or out of Israel, but it’s not possible. We are human beings, and we want to return to normal life.
Heidi PP: The human spirit needs personal contact. When we get back to normal, we are going to want even more.
Hon. Gilad Katz: You are right. I like to meet face to face and talk. All the electronic means of communication like Zoom and Facetime are not the same as in person conversations. However, we have to adjust.
Heidi PP: Life continues. That is part of the reason we have come here today. We would like to hear your thoughts about the recent agreement between Israel and the UAE. I know that it is a historic moment.
Hon. Gilad Katz: Well, I will start with a little history. Israel is a small country surrounded by Arab countries. In 1979, Egypt, just south of us, was perhaps our biggest enemy. In a series of wars, Israel lost thousands of soldiers and Egypt lost thousands as well. They became the first Arab nation to formalize a peace agreement with us. Jordan was the last Arab country to sign a peace agreement with us before the recent agreement with the Emirates. Israel’s Prime Minister met with King Hussein and they signed a formal agreement in 1994. Those who do not understand, say the Emirates are more than 2000 miles away from our border, and we haven’t had a war. What is the difference now? The peace agreement with the Emirates will have a huge impact on the entire Muslim Arab world. This peace agreement with the Emirates is going to be revolutionary. There are two main differences in this peace agreement. The Emirates does not border Israel like Jordan or Egypt. Also, Israel has not fought a war with the Emirates. Up to now Arab countries were concerned about the Palestinians and did not want to seem disloyal to other Muslim countries. The Emirates have decided enough is enough, we are going to do what is in our best interests. This can be a new day for Israel and the rest of the Middle East. In the past it has always been land for peace. Lebanon is the only country in the Middle East that is smaller than us. The other Arab countries, Iran, Iraq, Algeria, are far larger even than Egypt. The concept of land for peace does not work. A real peace is one in which both parties feel as if they have achieved their goal. If one country feels that by giving up land, they are endangering themselves, the agreement is not going to work. In this case, the peace with the Emirates is groundbreaking, and they want to do it as soon as possible.
Heidi PP: When do you think there will be a formal signing? In the near future, what do you feel is going to happen in the Arab world as a result of this agreement?
Hon. Gilad Katz: I expect a formal signing in September. I believe that by this time next year, there will be three or four more Arab countries asking for a peace agreement with us. That is my belief and my aspiration. As I said, up to now there was very little direct dialogue between an Arab country and us. Any communication or action from an Arab country went through the Palestinians. Now that has changed, the Emirates changed that. I am not kidding myself or allowing myself to think only of my aspirations. It will take time for the Palestinians to realize that the relationship between Israel and the Arab world has changed irrevocably.
The Palestinians have to decide where they want to see their children in 15 to 20 years. Do they want them to be launching missiles and living on the brink of war? Or do they want them to have an education and enjoy culture. They can’t be forced to come to an agreement, they have to decide. They can come together with the rest of the Arab world.
Heidi PP: I am sure the sooner the agreement is signed the better for all concerned. This has been a delightful meeting, and an educational one. We are happy that you will be with us for another year. It is always a pleasure working with you. I am with you when you say that by this time next year, hopefully, we will be able to meet without masks and without any worries about a virus. We will look back and say what a terrible year we had and move forward. Please keep us informed of any events or news we can share with our readers.
Editor in Chief iF Magazine
Hon. Gilad Katz
Consul General of Israel in Houston