One year on, Abraham Accords promises better days ahead

August 11, 2021

By Anjana Sankar

When Fleur Hassan met Omar Al Bussaidy at Dubai’s plush Armani hotel at the first ever face-to-face UAE-Israel Global Investment Forum in June this year, the glean on their faces was brighter than the crystal chandeliers dangling above their heads. The warm rapport between the deputy mayor of Jerusalem and the young Emirati diplomat showed no trace of tension between the Arabs and Jews spawned by weeks-long escalation of violence across the Israeli-Palestinian border the previous month.

The conflict was a litmus test, many thought, for Abraham Accords — the ambitious, forward-looking peace deal that ended decades of diplomatic impasse between Israel and its Arab neighbours like the UAE and Bahrain. But the conference jointly organised by Khaleej Times and Jerusalem Post that brought together entrepreneurs and thought leaders from both sides was just another testament that Abraham Accords is much more than a peace deal between two countries. It is a harbinger of peace and optimism that draws from and builds on people-to-people relations.

As a journalist, I had the opportunity last year to experience first-hand this paradigm change in the Arab-Jewish mindset. Exactly a year ago, the UAE changed the course of the Middle Eastern history and became the first GCC country to announce normalisation of relations with Israel. A month later, on September 15, in a grand ceremony at the White House lawn, UAE and Bahrain signed the Abraham Accords recognising that “the best way to address challenges is through cooperation and dialogue and that developing friendly relations among states advances the interest of lasting peace in the Middle East and around the world”. Sudan and Morocco later followed and established diplomatic relations with Israel.

On November 26, 2020, I boarded the first passenger flight that took off from Dubai to Tel Aviv to script the first draft of history. Me and my photographer were equally elated and anxious about an assignment that many warned was ‘too sensitive’.

But what awaited us was a warm welcome that journalists on foreign soil do not usually expect. We were lucky to be at the receiving end of the Israeli euphoria and optimism about the new peace deal. In the power corridors as well as on the streets of Tel Aviv, people were thrilled that a UAE journalist was visiting them.

The old Jewish couple who invited me for lunch, the young college students who took pictures with me, the taxi driver who promised to call when he comes to Dubai — I was touched by the warmth and humanity on display. Clearly, it was not the political and diplomatic yields of the Abraham Accords that had caught their imagination.

What I sensed was a nation’s collective yearning to be accepted. “We don’t have many friends. We are surrounded by enemies. Can you imagine living like that?” a young techie told me why he and his friends are excited about the new-found friendship with the UAE.

Since my visit, the foundation of that bond has only grown stronger. Both countries have opened embassies and appointed envoys to strengthen the relations. Hundreds and thousands of Israelis have visited Dubai, which was only marred by Covid-related travel restrictions. I even have a Jewish colleague — something that was beyond imagination till a year ago. A flurry of business and investment deals and cooperation agreements were signed between research institutions, universities, sports clubs, trade and cultural forums agreements in the UAE and Israel.

The intense bridge-building exercises initiated by the two countries have started yielding even economic benefits. One year into the Abraham Accords, Israel and the UAE have done around $570 million in business, according to data from the Central Bureau of Statistics.

As the one-year honeymooning is getting over, both Israel and the UAE have proved that the Abraham Accords can thrive and flourish despite conflicts, political disagreements and leadership changes. Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu will have sowed the seeds of a historic peace agreement. But as long as the olive branches are in the hands of people like Fleur and Omar, the Abraham Accords can only flourish further in the coming years. Because Fleurs and Omar have kicked the notorious Arab-Jewish rivalry into the dungeons of history. They have opened their homes and hearts to new and meaningful friendships and interactions. It was obvious that two people who lived in cross proximity and shared a common history have now decided to build a collective future that could change the Middle East forever.


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