The arrival of Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation, in Tel Aviv yesterday marks two years since the Abraham Accords were signed in the US. The historic agreement established relations between the UAE and Bahrain and Israel – the first such agreement been Israel and an Arab state since Jordan’s peace deal.
The accords aim to advance change by opening new political channels and strengthening co-operation through increased trade and diplomacy. There has been progress in all of these fields. Respective national airlines have opened up new routes. In May, the UAE and Israel signed a trade deal that lifts most tariffs. Both countries hope it can be the basis to bring annual bilateral trade to more than $10 billion. A year earlier, the Emirates opened an embassy in Tel Aviv.
These are major steps. Some of biggest effects of the accords are felt on a social level, and society is a particularly illuminating lens through which to gauge progress over the past two years. This week, The National spoke to Emiratis reflecting on the anniversary. Entrepreneur Reem Al Musabbeh, a chemical engineer who has visited Israel, believes in the importance of new friendships. “What I believe is regardless of how many papers have been signed, it’s down to awareness of a person and their mindset,” she said. “It will take time to build people-to-people connections. But I believe there is hope for people to give this a try because in the end, this is for the future of the youth and betterment of the country.”
Ms Al Musabbeh’s comments reflect a wider goal of the Emirates. Initiatives such as the accords are not just about building bridges between Arab states and Israel, but also advancing the wider cause of religious tolerance, and a return to traditional ties between followers of different faiths in the region.
The UAE is a leader in this regard. Ninety per cent of its population is from abroad, bringing diverse faiths with them. A vast Hindu temple is under construction in Abu Dhabi and will be ready by 2024. In 2019, following a historic visit by Pope Francis, the Abrahamic Family House was launched, a complex that houses a mosque, cathedral and synagogue, symbolising unity.
Recently, The National reported on Dubai’s fast-growing Mini Miracles nursery, the first and only Jewish nursery in the Gulf. There are plans to establish a second in Abu Dhabi next year. The nursery’s growth symbolises a new era of regional integration. It is one thing having more Jewish adults in the region for travel and tourism. It is yet another vote of confidence in the UAE’s tolerance to start families here.
The accords also set in motion a geopolitical process that in large part hopes to bring peace in the region, and try to break a deadlock in Palestine and Israel. It is a noble, complex and testing goal.
Today is an important moment to take stock of all that has changed, and all that can happen. In only two years, there has been significant progress. Think of what more could be done if the next two years are focused on implementing the promise of the accords.