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The Gulf can learn a lot from the Korean handshake

South Korean president, Moon Jae-in (L) and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (R) take a walk after planting a commemorative tree in the Peace House building at the southern side of the truce village of Panmunjom, South Korea on 27 April, 2018 [Anadolu Agency]
South Korean president, Moon Jae-in (L) and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (R) take a walk after planting a commemorative tree in the Peace House building at the southern side of the truce village of Panmunjom, South Korea on 27 April, 2018 [Anadolu Agency]

The world was surprised on Friday morning by a historical scene that was no less powerful than the destruction of the Berlin Wall more than a quarter of a century ago after the collapse of the Soviet Union. We witnessed North Korean President Kim Jong-un cross over into South Korea and shake hands with President Moon Jae-in. Jae-in then crossed the border between the two countries, making him the first to cross the border in nearly 65 years. The two leaders agreed to end the war that broke out in the early 1950s, which killed more than 2 million people in both countries, as well as dozens of nuclear and non-nuclear conflicts and tests witnessed in the Korean peninsula for over half a century.

The meeting between the two Korean leaders may also pave the way for the denuclearisation of the area, an issue that has represented a nightmare not only for them but also for the entire world over the past decades. The most influential words spoken during this historic event came from Kim Jong-un, who said in his speech during the meeting with his South Korean counterpart that “the Koreas are linked by blood as a family and compatriots who cannot live separately”.

This meeting was preceded by the announcement of the freezing of nuclear testing by his country on the Korean Peninsula, in an indication of the sincerity of his intentions to achieve peace in the area. A peace treaty is expected to be signed between the two neighbouring countries this year, and this could open the door to unity between them. This was difficult to imagine just a few days ago, especially given the hostile rhetoric exchanged between the two countries over the past decades.

There are many lessons that the Arabs, especially those from the Gulf states, can learn from this and the historical summit between the two Koreas. The first lesson to be learned is that conflicts, no matter how long they have gone on and whoever the victims are, must end. It is best for the rivalling and conflicting Arab states to believe that their co-existence is a necessity imposed by geography, history, language, blood and culture. They must also be convinced that co-existence must occur without any party trying to impose its domination and terms on the others.

READ: We are unlikely to see a solution for the Gulf crisis anytime soon

The second lesson is that dialogue is the only way to resolve any differences or disputes between the Arab countries. Without it, the conflict will not only continue to exist, but will become more and more complicated. No matter how long it takes, it is necessary for the rivalling parties to sit at the negotiating table.

The third lesson is that it is the people who pay the price of conflict and clashes, despite the fact that the people have no say in the politicians’ choices and decisions. It is important to take this into consideration before conflicts escalate. In the current Gulf crisis, the parties have manipulated historical and social relations between the Gulf states in a manner that threatens their cohesion and unity. Since the beginning of this crisis, I have heard many sad stories about family, tribal and social divisions that have transcended political differences and have become a threat to the social fabric of the Gulf, which formed and melded together centuries ago. I am almost certain that many Gulf nations and communities are eager for relations between the blockading countries and Qatar to go back to normal and for families and tribes affected to communicate once again. Therefore, the Qataris constantly welcome dialogue initiatives that can resolve the crisis, not due to the fact that any political conflict must be managed by negotiations and dialogue, but also because the crisis has negative consequences and effects on many families and tribes in all of the blockading countries.

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The fourth lesson is that improving relations must be preceded by a declaration of good intentions and will by all of the conflicting parties. Furthermore, there must be initial steps taken, beginning with ending the hateful, hostile, and inciting discourse between the countries, which do nothing but make the relations more tense and complicated and delay opportunities to reach quick solutions.

The fifth lesson to be learned is that making political concessions is not shameful as long as it will be beneficial for the people. Who would have imagined that North Korea would stop its nuclear and missile tests in the Korean Peninsula? Who would have thought that Kim Jong-un would make a historical visit to South Korea? The journey is still long for the Koreas, and achieving real peace may take a long time, but at least the process is underway and concrete steps were taken in this regard; steps that were not expected just a few days ago.

Will the Arab leaders learn from the experience of the leaders of the two Koreas, and turn a new page, not only amongst themselves, but also between them and their people and communities?

This article first appeared in Arabic in Al-Araby Al-Jadeed on 30 April

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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