Reaping the peace dividends
The visit of Israel Prime Minister has culminated the remarkable progress both the UAE and Israel have made since the signing of the Abraham Accords last year
The visit of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the UAE, eagerly-awaited since September 15, 2020, will go down in history as a moment of realisation and hope for a region readying to reap the peace dividends on a wave of political and economic prospects set off by the historic Abraham Accords.
More than the obvious symbolic importance as the first state visit by an Israeli leader to the UAE, Netanyahu's trip assumes greater relevance following the recent change of administration in the US, which has brokered the peace.
The meeting between the leaders of the UAE and Israel, originally scheduled to take place in November, then in December and of late in January, has also evoked interest across the global political and diplomatic spectrums, especially in the aftermath of some dramatic developments in the form of the new US administration's review of some Trump-era agreements with the Gulf nations. Although touted by the US as "a routine procedure when a new president takes office," the review of those deals vis-ŕ-vis the sale of arms and F-35 fighter jets and aluminum tariff by the Biden administration will certainly have much deeper strategic implications for the whole region.
The remarkable progress the two nations have achieved across sectors over the past few months since the Abraham Accord was signed, the challenges, and the roadmap towards the shared growth vision of the two countries are natural topics of discussions between the leaders.
As Israel has also established diplomatic ties with Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco, the outcome of the Abu Dhabi summit, which will have ramifications across the region, is also anxiously awaited by the Arab world.
Notwithstanding what looks like temporary speed bumps, political pundits are overly optimistic that the breakthrough peace process has irrevocably set into motion sweeping transformations across the political, cultural and economic landscape of the region, radiating hopes of peace, security and prosperity in the region.
Indeed, the game-changing process set off by the peace drive has already been tangible in the cross-border trade, tourism, and investment and business ecosystems of both nations. While investments between the UAE and Israel have the potential to reach $10 billion with the private sectors on both sides getting hyper-active, the two-way trade is estimated to reach $6.5 billion within a matter of years.
As part of efforts to promote regional economic development and cooperation, governments of the UAE, Israel and the US had led the way by setting up a joint $3 billion investment fund headquartered in Jerusalem.
The launch of direct air-connectivity between the two nations has accelerated cooperation in tourism, security, telecommunications, technology, health, education, financial services and agriculture.
Investors from the UAE coming into the Israeli tech market are among the most sophisticated in the world, likewise hi-tech Israeli investors going to the Emirates. It will result in building a Middle East tech hub. "It has been a long-standing dream and it is happening now," an analyst said.
Already, the two-way trade has crossed Dh1 billion while about 130,000 Israeli tourists had visited the UAE in the five months between September 2020 and January 2021, according to Eitan Na'eh, head of mission at the Israeli Embassy in Abu Dhabi.
To give a further critical fillip to the burgeoning commercial ties, Israel plans to create a "corridor of peace" with the UAE to build on developing links, Naeh has said, adding the peace process between the two nations will encourage many others to follow suit to settle their differences.
He said a trade corridor linking eastern Arabia and Israel could open up greater possibilities to boost trade and tourism. Israel is interested in a land route that can take goods from the UAE to Israel in three days. "Business communities in Israel and the UAE are now looking into ways to increase trade. Each country brings its relative advantage. We have trade agreements with the West [US and European Union]. You are an opening to the East. So, it is a huge market," Naeh told the state news agency Wam. On bilateral cooperation in infrastructure, investments and technology, the senior diplomat said the two countries could learn from each other. Israel has identified about 29 potential areas for co-operation with the UAE and agreements have already been signed in eight of them, he said.
"More Israeli companies will open their front offices here in the UAE or set up factories," he said.
Cooperation in dealing with life in arid climates could also be on the cards, with Israel keen to share some expertise. "No one country knows everything. Israel is in the semi-arid climate, so we do have very advanced desert research centres down in the south. There are things that we already know and there are things that we can study, then research and develop together."
Diplomatic circles believe that the bilateral relations will flourish going forward as both the UAE and Israel share several common traits and a common vision of a technology-driven future.
Both nations also have almost identical economic and demographic stature. While the UAE has a population of 10 million, Israel is a nation of 9.2 million people. The size of the UAE economy, as per the World Bank data for 2019 - the "realistic year" before Covid-19 inflicted 2020 - is $421.114 billion while that of Israel is a close $394.65 billion. Even in per capita gross domestic product, both nations share a similar close pattern - the UAE has a GDP per capita of $43,103 and Israel $43,592.
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