The Abraham Accords have been “critical” for unleashing the full potential of the Middle East, as demonstrated by the UAE-Israeli relationship one year after the agreements were signed, a senior US official told The National.
“The Abraham Accords and other normalisation agreements have been really critical in opening up the potential of the region and demonstrating the commonalities, shared values and goals of Israel and Arab partners,” said Chris Hodges, deputy assistant secretary for assistance, co-ordination and public diplomacy at the State Department’s Bureau for Near Eastern Affairs.
Last year, the UAE signed a deal that formally established ties with Israel, which was seen as one of the most significant breakthroughs in the Middle East peace process.
Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed to suspend his plan to annex parts of the West Bank as part of the agreement.
Mr Hodges said the relationship between the UAE and Israel demonstrated to other regional states what they “can gain” by building ties.
“The Emirati-Israeli relationship demonstrates all the benefits of that relationship,” he said. The countries are “seeing the dividends” of their newly established ties, he said.
Helping Emiratis and Israelis understand each other
Mr Hodge, who served as the head of the Palestinian Affairs Unit at the US Embassy in Israel, said more work needed to be done.
“There remains a good deal of momentum to do more and to try to more concertedly articulate what the Abraham Accords means for these relationships, so we want to be supportive as much as we can,” he said.
Mr Hodges, who is on a visit to the UAE, said Washington was hoping to witness similar agreements in the future that would enhance multilateral investment, tourism, education and initiatives to fight climate change.
“We hope that the Abraham Accords can be a driver into achieving these things, whether it be new investment, partnerships, educational partnerships, things that allow the Palestinian people to benefit from this momentum in the region,” he said.
Shortly after the announcement that the UAE and Israel were seeking to formally establish ties in August last year, Bahrain joined the effort.
The Abraham Accords were formally signed between Israel, the UAE and Bahrain in Washington on September 15, 2020, opening the door for diplomatic, trade, travel and business ties between them.
The UAE and Israel opened embassies in each other's countries in the past year, formalising their commitment to peace in the region.
“It’s important to think about what it means to open up an embassy for a relationship, it’s not just the governments coming together, it’s the civil society, the tourism, investments,” Mr Hodges said.
He said the Accords had helped Emiratis and Israelis to better understand each other.
“This is what an embassy does, it focuses on commonality. I think it’s exciting and I look forward to more such relationships in the region because these countries have so much to offer each other,” he said.
The US official described relations between Abu Dhabi and Washington as “wide-ranging, strong and maturing".
“It is certainly valuable for both sides across a number of different areas and spheres,” he said.
Last year, the UAE and US began a new strategic dialogue.
They agreed to focus on UAE-US ties in eight key areas: politics, defence, law enforcement and border security, intelligence and counterterrorism, human rights, economics, culture and academic co-operation and space.
“I was really struck by the magnitude of the achievement at Expo and what the UAE has been able to do, for me it underscores the many ways that we are co-operating outside the traditional spheres,” he said.
The US pavilion at Expo “demonstrates the deep cultural ties that we enjoy”, he said.
Mr Hodges said Washington's commitment in the region was to “continue to support Israel as a partner and that’s why the normalising agreements are exciting opportunities to grow partnerships in the region".
“We want to build a series of stable partners that we can both help and be helped by, as we continue our engagements in the Middle East,” he said.