Ramadan Soap Operas: “Cold Peace” vs. “Warming Peace”

Gawdat Bahgat, NESA Center

In 1979, Israel signed the first ever peace treaty with an Arab country – Egypt. Fifteen years later, in 1994, Jordan became the second Arab country to sign a peace treaty with the Jewish state. Since then, no formal treaties have been signed, but two major trends can be identified. First, both Egypt and Jordan have maintained what can be dubbed a “cold peace” with Israel. This means that despite official recognition and diplomatic ties, the volume of trade and cultural exchanges have been very low. Second, other Arab countries, including Sudan, Morocco and the Gulf Cooperation Council states (Bahrain, Kuwait Qatar, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the UAE) have re-assessed their policies toward Israel and explored cooperation in a variety of fields, including security, cyber and water desalination, among others.

Ramadan soap operas reflect these ongoing changes in Arab-Israeli relations. An Egyptian science fiction drama, called El-Nehaya, the End, predicts the destruction of Israel by 2120. On the other hand, two Saudi-sponsored TV series, Um Haroun, or Mother of Aaron, and Makhraj 7, or Exit 7, portray Jews in the Gulf prior to the creation of Israel in 1948 and ties with Israel positively. These TV series have provoked strong positive and negative reactions from both Arabs and Israelis. These reactions raise questions about the direction the Arab-Israeli conflict is likely to take in the coming years.

The “cold peace” has always reflected the ups and downs of violence between Israel and the Palestinians and other Arabs. Military confrontations with Hamas and Hezbollah and violence against Palestinians in the West Bank usually prompted Cairo and Amman to condemn what they called “the Israeli occupation”. On several occasions, the Egyptian and Jordanian ambassadors in Tel Aviv were recalled home to express the two countries’ opposition to Israeli policy.

The “warming peace” reflects the emerging new strategic perception in the Middle East. In the last few decades, some Gulf states have increasingly perceived Iran, not Israel, as their main enemy. Stated differently, Iran is increasingly seen as the common foe for both Israel and some Gulf states. The two sides worked together to prevent the signing of the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran, and since 2018, have been lobbying the Trump Administration to maintain and even strengthen its maximum pressure strategy against Iran.

Middle Eastern governments and peoples do not need to choose between cold peace and a warming one. Political stability and economic prosperity should take into account three propositions. First, a peaceful and fair settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a necessity. Second, Jews, Christians, Muslims, Israelis, Arabs, Turks and Iranians (and other ethnic and sectarian groups) have always been part of the Middle East. They have to accept each other and learn to live side-by-side. Third, governments do not need to form new axes and blocs against one another, rather, they need to recognize each state’s sovereignty, promote cooperation, and negotiate a new regional security architecture.

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