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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 2 March 2021

Abraham Accord supports UAE's vision of region as 'beacon' of tolerance and coexistence

UN ambassador says educational and cultural exchanges with Israel will be a game changer

The move towards full normalisation of relations with Israel will support the UAE’s vision for the region as “a beacon” for tolerance and coexistence, Lana Nusseibeh, the UAE permanent representative to the UN in New York, told The National on Thursday.

It will also provide opportunity for the UAE's youth, Ms Nusseibeh said.

Israel’s annexation of Palestinian lands seemed “inevitable” before the peace accord was struck between the UAE and Israel a week ago.

The Abraham Accord was agreed to in a call between Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“I think this is a broad international consensus," Ms Nusseibeh said.

She said the annexation "was a very imminent reality that, through this historic diplomatic breakthrough, has been taken off the table".

The landmark accord has created "a wider opportunity for regional peace and security”, Ms Nusseibeh said

Halting the planned annexation of large parts of the occupied West Bank “opens up a window” for a resumption of peace negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis.

“The empty chair policy [of not being engaged with Israel] has not led to the fruition of peace that we were hoping for," Ms Nusseibeh said.

"And we thought it was time to inject some new thinking, creative thinking, around how to fully integrate Israel as laid out in the [2002] Arab Peace Initiative, as a stable and constructive partner in our region.

"And to do that, we need to see a Palestinian state materialise."

“We have our aspirations as a country that is looking towards the next 50 years and how we want to see our region evolve as a beacon for moderation, tolerance, co-existence, diversity, religious pluralism, and all of the educational and cultural exchanges that will come out of this agreement

Lana Nusseibeh

She said the UAE would demonstrate "how this approach is a win-win for the region, is a win-win for the youth in our region, who are looking for leadership that doesn't focus on the failures … of what we have not been able to achieve in the last 100 years, but looks instead towards the future to the next 50 years of what we hope to achieve, the kind of opportunities we hope to create for that youth in our region”.

“We have our aspirations as a country that is looking towards the next 50 years and how we want to see our region evolve as a beacon for moderation, tolerance, coexistence, diversity, religious pluralism, and all of the educational and cultural exchanges that will come out of this agreement.

"We think it could be a game changer for that vision to be materialised.”

Normalisation for the UAE and Israel will be defined in talks to build on decisions such as the “symbolic and technical” move to open phone lines between the two countries this week.

“In the field of co-operation, it's a blank canvas, and I think we need to start drawing on that canvas,” Ms Nusseibeh said.

“You will see meetings between aviation industry officials, you will see meetings on the consular level, about what normalisation looks like.

"You will see meetings between tourist authorities … exchanges around culture.”

At the UN, the UAE remains steadfast “in terms of the international consensus on the two-state solution, UN resolutions, our voting record and our support for the Palestinians; in terms of humanitarian agencies or support in terms of UNRWA”, she said.

Ms Nusseibeh said the UAE could still be firmly committed to the Arab consensus while beginning a process of normalisation with Israel, “which is a part and parcel of our region today”.

The accord has been welcomed by the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, and the UN special co-ordinator for the Middle East peace process, Nickolay Mladenov.

“The main takeaway [at the UN] from all of those conversations is that this was a much-needed breakthrough in a very challenging region," Ms Nusseibeh said.

"And the courage that breakthrough took and the decisions that Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed took to establish the process with the state of Israel, I think has been viewed rightly by many member states and by UN senior officials, and in a bipartisan way in the United States, as a historic diplomatic breakthrough and one that will hopefully create some new opportunities.

"Some outcomes could change in the dialogue in our region, for a better region."

The failure to bring about a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has helped to spur a rise in extremism in the region, she said.

Pushing for a Palestinian state is in the UAE’s interests because it “is part of the stable regional security architecture”.

A two-state solution "is not only a win and a benefit for the Palestinians and an essential driver, it is also a win for all the entire community in the region", Ms Nusseibeh said.

"And so that's why I think it was in our interest to take annexation off the table."

There are always critics to anything that is a geostrategic shift and this is certainly a geostrategic shift. So, we have our critics and we are engaging actively to demonstrate that this agreement is a win win-win for everyone involved

Lana Nusseibeh

Before the accord, the planned annexation of large parts of the West Bank was “a done deal”, she said.

It would have further damaged the prospects for a Palestinian state and the UAE’s decision to normalise ties with Israel in exchange for halting annexation was in the interests of the UAE and the wider Middle East.

Ms Nusseibeh said the accord removed “a stumbling block” to negotiations resuming on a two-state solution.

She acknowledged that there had been criticism of the what was a “sovereign decision” by the UAE.

“There are always critics to anything that is a geostrategic shift, and this is certainly a geostrategic shift," Ms Nusseibeh said.

"So, we have our critics and we are engaging actively to demonstrate that this agreement is a win-win-win for everyone involved.”

She said the Abraham Accord put diplomacy at the “forefront and centre of our toolkit as a nation in terms of how we approach these collective challenges in our region”.

So, while it happened “organically”, the UAE has charted a “different course”.

We are “committed to the Arab position", Ms Nusseibeh said.

"But we are also committed to higher ideals in the international community, to multilateral ideas of the United Nations …

"To put forward that peace and friendship amongst nations is a goal worth striving for in our region and around the world.”

Updated: August 21, 2020 11:37 PM

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