Yousef Al Otaiba: Biden team supportive of Abraham Accords and progress is irreversible

UAE's ambassador to the US speaks to 'The National' after one year of historic deal

Yousef Al Otaiba, the UAE ambassador to the US, on Tuesday welcomed progress made with Israel in the first year of the Abraham Accords and expressed confidence that it would continue to thrive under President Joe Biden.

On the anniversary of the historic deal that brought Israeli, Emirati and Bahraini officials together for a signing ceremony at the White House under then-president Donald Trump, Mr Al Otaiba praised the progress made.

UAE trade with Israel reached about $700 million over the past year. Abdulla bin Touq, the Emirate’s Minister of Economy, said on Monday that economic activity could reach more than $1 trillion over the next decade.

“This experiment that we worked on has succeeded and delivered more than we had expected it to deliver,” Mr Al Otaiba, who is also a Minister of State and had a key role in brokering the Abraham Accords, told The National.

He also told of the effects the accords have had on people.

Unlike Israel's peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan in the past four decades, those between the UAE and Israel have brought a boom in tourism and cultural exchange between the two nations.

“When you see the excitement, that enthusiasm, it means our experiment has succeeded on the people-to-people level,” Mr Al Otaiba said, and added that the progress was “irreversible".

White House officials have said they’re interested in building on the accords and having other countries normalise ties with Israel.

Axios reported on Tuesday that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will hold an online meeting with his counterparts from Israel, the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco to commemorate the anniversary of the accords.

Asked about the Biden team's response to the accords, Mr Al Otaiba said there had been bipartisan backing.

“The Biden administration … in every conversation I have had with them, has been very supportive,” he said.

“Now we have to find ways to see how to demonstrate that support.”

The Abraham Accords were rejected by the Palestinian Authority, which called them a “violation of just and lasting peace".

One year on, Mr Al Otaiba said the UAE still has good relations with the Palestinian people.

“I don’t think we ever had a problem with the Palestinians. We have always been supportive, and understanding of the situation they are in,” he said.

Without the Abraham Accords, “annexation would have happened and the two-state solution would be dead".

In return for normalising ties with Israel, former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed to suspend his plan to annex parts of the West Bank.

His successor, Naftali Bennett, told The New York Times last month that his government “will neither annex nor form a Palestinian state".

Mr Al Otaiba celebrated the anniversary of the accords at an event hosted by the Abraham Accords Peace Institute in Washington, established by Jared Kushner, Mr Trump's son-in-law.

The former White House adviser hailed the agreements as “a major turning point” for the region against the “devastation of radical extremism".

But he said: “If these agreements are not nurtured, we run the risk of going backwards.”

In a moment of disruption at the event, a pro-Palestinian activist heckled Mr Kushner, yelling: “There won’t be peace until Palestinians are free.”

She was promptly escorted out of the auditorium.

At the same event, Israel’s ambassador to the US, Gilad Erdan, said he hoped the Palestinians would draw lessons from the agreements and come to the negotiating table.

Mr Erdan spoke of co-operation and a shared vision on battling threats from Iran and rejecting the 2015 nuclear deal.

Bahrain’s ambassador to the US, Sheikh Abdulla bin Rashid Al Khalifa, said his country was committed to the progress enshrined in the accords.

“For us, when you have peace as a cornerstone of your domestic and foreign policy, you know that you are headed in the right direction, you know that you will be on the right track,” Sheikh Abdulla said.

Yael Lambert, US acting assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs, Egyptian ambassador to the US Motaz Zahran and former officials who helped to broker the accords in the Trump administration also attended.

Updated: September 15th 2021, 7:35 AM
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