On September 15th, 2020, UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani, then-Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and then-US president Donald Trump signed the Abraham Accords, changing the course of history in the Middle East. The peace deal signed at the South Lawn in the White House has resulted in a tectonic shift in the Muslim world’s relations with the Jewish state. Morocco and Sudan followed suit and signed similar agreements and established diplomatic relations with Israel. More than just a political breakthrough, the deal has heralded a new era of thriving friendships, economic cooperation, investment partnerships, tourism and people-to-people relations.
The Abraham Accords have never been an agreement confined to paper. A year on, the signatories and their people have been reaping the benefits that continue to grow and expand. With direct flights operating between the two countries, more than 130,000 Israelis visited the United Arab Emirates in the first four-and-a-half months after the accords were signed. There have been several high-profile ministerial visits from both sides since the accords were signed. The UAE-Israel Business Council set up to bring together entrepreneurs, business people, government officials and NGOs looking to advance economic and social opportunities between the two countries currently has more than 4,000 registered members. The Emirates now has its first students enrolled in Israeli universities. Israeli’s pavilion at Expo 2020 is also emblematic of the new, and ever-growing bond between the two countries and also Israel’s eagerness to forge new relations with the countries in the region. An open pavilion without walls beckoning the world with a clear message that Israel’s door and heart are open. The UAE had extended its invitation to Israel even before the accord were signed as the world fair hosted by Dubai aims to bring together the world nations under the theme ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future.’
Diplomatic relations in full swing
The Abraham Accords picked up momentum from day one and within a year with full-blown diplomatic exchanges taking the nascent relations to a new trajectory. In June 2021, Israel opened its embassy in Abu Dhabi. “We are here to stay; we call on all the countries of the region to recognize that and to come to talk to us,” Israel’s Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said. Within a month, the UAE became the first Gulf state to open an embassy in Tel Aviv. "Seeing the Emirati flag flying proudly in Tel Aviv might have seemed like a far-fetched dream about a year ago. In many ways nothing could be more natural and normal," Israeli President Isaac Herzog said. He called the opening of the embassy "an important milestone in our journey towards the future, peace prosperity and security" for the Middle East. As a ripple effect, other Gulf states also took steps to strengthen their diplomatic ties with Israel.
In March 2021, the Bahrain government appointed Khaled Yaousif Al Jaahma as the first ambassador to Israel. Morocco and Sudan also announced they will open embassies in Israel. The accords have even lent their weight to restore and revive Israel’s relations with Egypt and Jordan – the first two Arab countries that signed a peace deal with the Jewish state. Egypt and Israel signed the Camp David Accords in 1978, and Jordan signed the Wadi Araba Treaty with Israel in 1994. After decades, we saw high-level visits between the countries when Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met Egyptian President Abdul Fattah Al Sisi. Jordan is also engaging with Israel as negotiations are taking place on new agreements on water and trade relations.
The strong diplomatic relationship between the UAE and Israel has a spillover effect when it comes to jointly tackling issues of regional security and terrorism. Politically, the accords are believed to push the Palestinian cause by accelerating the peace process and temporarily stopping Israeli annexations on the West Bank. The UAE has, time and again, reaffirmed that it firmly stands behind the two-state solution as a permanent solution for the Israel-Palestinian issue. The Abraham Accords can advance the two-state solution by opening channels of communications between the Arab states and Israel.
Reaping economic benefits
The Abraham Accords were founded upon shared strategic, economic and trade interests among the signatories. And not surprisingly, one of the most far-reaching impacts is the endless economic possibilities the deal has opened for both the UAE and Israel – two economic powerhouses of the region. The coming together of the UAE — the region’s trade, tourism and transportation hub that boasts of world-class infrastructure, and Israel — the start-up nation with its cutting-edge technology and innovation — meant spill over benefits for economies of the region.
As UAE Minister of Economy Abdulla bin Touq Al Mari rightly said: “When opportunity is knocking, we won’t stop at the door.” In fact, both the countries have left their doors wide open for trade and economic partnerships as we saw in the past year. The non-oil bilateral trade between UAE and Israel has reached more than $675 million since the signing of the Abraham Accords last year. Both countries have signed a number of agreements of cooperation in areas like Artificial Intelligence (AI), cyber security, food, water security, energy among others. Six major deals have been signed between entities from both countries in areas of technology, tourism, health, energy, environment and many will be announced soon.
One of the biggest is Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala Petroleum’s $1 billion deal for a 22 per cent stake in the Tamar offshore gas field from Israel’s Delek Drilling. The representatives from Israeli air-to-water company Watergen, Tel Aviv University and the Emirati Baynunah company have signed an agreement to establish a joint water research institute in the UAE. The Haifa-based regenerative medicine company Pluristem Therapeutics has signed a non-binding MoU with the Abu Dhabi Stem Cells Center to advance cell therapies for diseases, including Covid-19. An estimated 40 Israeli companies have set up shop in the UAE. Israel and the United Arab Emirates has also signed a tax treaty to avoid double taxation to spur business development.
After signing over 60 MoUs, the minister said the UAE is looking to create over a trillion dollars of economic activity with Israel over the next decade. Rand Corporation, a public policy think-tank estimates that, if new relations evolve into deeper economic integration, approximately 150,000 new jobs will be created for the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco.
In an event to mark the first anniversary of the Abraham Accords, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he is seeing new economic opportunities, innovations, collaborations. “The United Arab Emirates has pursued significant investments in strategic sectors in Israel, including energy, medicine, technology, healthcare. Private firms across your countries are working together on everything from desalinization to stem cell therapies. These opportunities would be exciting at any time – but they are particularly important today, as we work to build back better from the devastating economic impact of the pandemic,” he said.
The growing economic ties and deepening friendship have proved to be a win-win for both countries especially after the economic slump spurred by the Covid-19 pandemic. In the first year of Abraham Accords itself, we are enjoying the fruits of peace. As long as the leadership of both the countries pursue a joint vision of peace and development, the historic agreement will no doubt transform the Middle East into a more peaceful, stable and prosperous region.
As stated by UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed and Israel’s Yair Lapid in a joint Oped in September 2021, the Abraham Accords have proved extraordinarily durable, even with the Covid-19 pandemic. “After a year of open ties and peace between the UAE and Israel, real change is happening. Our goal now is to do more — to deepen the peace and extend it to the entire region."