Welcome to the UAE Mr Prime Minister
Welcome to the UAE, Prime Minister! On the day the historic Abraham Accords were signed, you said: "The peace we make today will be enormous." The vigorous exchanges seen since that ceremony on the White House lawn demonstrate that your words were prophetic. The people of Israel, the UAE and Bahrain are grateful to you, His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and former US President Donald Trump, for engineering these ground-breaking agreements and for making possible what seemed impossible only months ago.
The Abraham Accords undoubtedly marked a historic turning point for our neighbourhood by elevating Israel to regional status as friend and neighbour of the GCC countries. But at the same time, they have made normalisation a reality for millions of Israelis, Emiratis and Bahrainis, who today engage in commerce, cultural exchange, education, tourism, and countless other ways. Two days after the declaration of normalisation, we were invited to an online meeting of leading Emiratis and Israelis. We were elated and at the same time in disbelief that our decades-old divisions could so quickly give way to an open, warm and productive dialogue.
Today, such exchanges seem almost commonplace, with dozens of online and in-person forums bringing together the people of this region in shared celebration of music, culture, sport, and friendship. Who can forget the moving performance of Idan Raichel at Dubai's Opera with Andrea Bocelli and the Arabian Symphony Orchestra? The "Field of Peace Tournament" between the Israel Association of Baseball and the Dubai Little League? The Hanukah candle lighting under the Burj Khalifa? This December's opening of direct flights between our countries, which brought 120,000 Israelis to the UAE? As you yourself noted, "This is not only a peace between leaders, it's a peace between people."
One of the pillars of the Abraham Accords is the potential for mutual prosperity and a collective approach to the region's challenges. The results are already tangible. The Dubai authorities recently revealed that in these first five months of peace, Israel and Dubai have already reached a trade volume of Dh1 billion (over $272 million), at a pace that has exceeded even the most ambitious forecasts. The UAE-Israel Business Council, which we founded over the summer to foster such engagement, has contributed to this trend facilitating a rising tide of joint ventures, MOUs, business transactions and non-profit initiatives, including the agreement between Israel's Fluence and the UAE's Oasis Investment Company as well as the joint conservation initiatives of the International Fund for Houbara Conservation and the Israel Nature and Heritage Foundation. The Business Council's community of Israelis and Emiratis has grown to over 3,000 business people, professionals and entrepreneurs in a few short months. The bilateral agreement for visa-free travel will certainly accelerate this dynamic and will surely boost the tourism and hospitality sectors in both our countries, with 100,000 Emirati tourists expected to visit Israel annually, most of whom will flock to Jerusalem, which offers unparalleled cultural, religious, and historical treasures.
In this time of pandemic, the healthcare sector is naturally a crucial part of budding collaboration, as we are already witnessing with the announcement of an agreement between Israel's Sheba-Tel Hashomer Medical Center and the Al Tadawi Healthcare Group. We are also seeing rapid progress in bringing together our financial sectors, with Bank Hapoalim and Bank Leumi announcing agreements with Emirati institutions, and numerous investment funds establishing relationships with counterparts in Tel Aviv, Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Manama.
As the region emerges from the challenges of 2020 and our countries re-open, we expect the warmth and promise of the Abraham Accords to grow, with committed leaders on all sides ensuring that decades of distrust and division give way to co-existence and mutual prosperity. Mr Prime Minister, we congratulate you and the leaders of the UAE and Bahrain for your vision and leadership. We are certain you will be impressed and inspired throughout your trip, and we look forward to welcoming the UAE's esteemed leaders and our new friends to Jerusalem soon!
Fleur Hassan-Nahoum is Jerusalem's Deputy Mayor for foreign relations, economic development and tourism. She is also one of the founders of the UAE-Israel Business Council
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