Two weeks ago, at the end of a fairly standard meeting in City Hall with a group of east Jerusalem businessmen, Mahmoud, a local entrepreneur, pulled me aside. He told me that as the result of his attendance at one of the webinars organized by the UAE-Israel Business Council, an organization I co-founded over one year ago, he now has a promising new business with an Emirati investor which utilizes Israeli technology and Moroccan raw materials.
At that very moment I truly understood the power of people-to-people peace. This is the new model of peace and co-existence we are building every day. Up until now, Israel was a lone player in the region and we were not part of any regional cultural, sporting or business alliances. Our network faced west rather than to our own neighborhood, where we share much in common.
This past year has changed everything. In June 2020, my co-founder Dorian Barak and I saw that a shift was taking place, but we did not know just how quickly it would boom. The minute the Abraham Accords normalization agreement was announced, we created an online platform for people to connect, the first of its kind for the accords. Within weeks thousands of Israelis and Emiratis had joined in order to interact with each other, to talk, to do business and to become friends. I cannot overestimate the enthusiasm on all sides of those early days. At the time, I was quoted as saying that it felt like we were dating. The initial curiosity about each other, our religions, cultures, and even how we raise our kids, helped us realize how similar we actually are.
Despite this past year being a pandemic year with lockdowns and essentially a closed airport, nearly a billion dollars in trade between Israel and the UAE will have taken place by the end of the calendar year. Nearly a quarter of a million Israeli tourists visited the UAE this past year and, by my estimation, that number will continue to grow in year two.
The prognosis is bright but not without its challenges. One concern is that the new US administration is not as invested in the Abraham Accords as the previous one. There were even rumors that the term “Abraham Accords”
should be changed to simply “normalization.” The new Israeli administration is potentially about to cancel an oil agreement between Israel and the UAE, citing environmental reasons. Instead of saying how the arrangement could work and still remain environmentally conscious, the environment minister is bent on throwing out the baby with the bath water.
The latest round of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in May was the biggest test of the budding new relationship.
I am a firm believer that the conflict happened as
a result of the Abraham Accords, as a sort of revenge of the Muslim Brotherhood to remind us that they are still around and to try and create divisions and bad blood between Israelis and Arabs, and between Jews and Muslims. The press in the Gulf demonized Israel as is tradition, but something else was happening. During this time period, I received dozens of phone calls from my new friends in the UAE and Bahrain asking how my family and I were doing, how we were holding up, and asking us for our side of the story. They instinctively knew that there was another side, that we are decent people so there had to be, and mainly they wanted to know how we felt and what we thought. We got through the first major test of this new relationship and a short week after the end of hostilities we were back in Dubai seeing our friends and continuing to build this warm and sustainable peace.
These challenges are real. There is still much work to do. However, I am convinced that the Abraham Accords will continue to march on and build further momentum. The Abraham Accords are building a sustainable peace in our region. We must each do our part to help propel this forward.