by: Kate Norman, BFP Staff Writer
The historic signing of the Abraham Accords between Israel, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain on the White House lawn on September 15, 2020, ushered in a new era of peace between Israel and her Arab neighbors that in the year since has continued to grow and flourish. In the precarious neighborhood of the Middle East, the Jewish state previously had open peace agreements only with Egypt and Jordan, signed in 1979 and 1994, respectively. But those agreements have thus far only brought peace on a governmental and military level, with people-to-people ties remaining tepid.
Teamwork Makes the Dream Work
Not so with the Abraham Accords, as both Israel and her new Gulf-state friends have enthusiastically pursued friendship, cooperation and peace since the nations’ ties became official last year, brokered by then-US President Donald Trump. On that historic day, then-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—credited as the “architect” of the peace accords, then-President Trump, Emirati Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan and Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al-Zayani inked the new peace into history. In the official declaration, they vowed to “encourage efforts to promote interfaith and intercultural dialogue to advance a culture of peace among the three Abrahamic religions and all humanity.”
Since then, the newfound allies have kept their word. Every day seems to bring an announcement of Israel, the UAE and Bahrain signing a new memorandum of understanding to team up in agro-tech, banking, health care, technology, aviation, water and irrigation, energy, tourism and a host of other fields. For example, Tel Aviv University and the UAE are teaming up to solve an age-old dilemma in the Middle East: water scarcity. While the Jewish state has made strides in water conservation and irrigation, turning arid deserts into blooming farmland, the Emirati kingdom remains parched. Thus, the two are teaming up to form an Israeli–Emirati water research institute, harnessing Israel’s water savvy, particularly the Israeli invention Watergen—a device that can turn air into drinking water.
“The Abraham Accords has given countries in the Middle East the opportunity to improve and advance relations in various fields,” Watergen’s owner and president said in a statement. “Thanks to the agreements, we—an Israeli company—are able to cooperate with our Middle East neighbors to solve one of the region’s difficult problems—water scarcity. Throughout history, conflicts have been centered around controlling water sources. Today we are doing the opposite: building peace and a common future around a groundbreaking Israeli technology.”
And it hasn’t just been business and economic cooperation, either. The newfound friends have also encouraged people-to-people friendship and dialogue as well. Shortly after the signing of the Accords, Israel and the UAE established reciprocal direct flights—and over 130,000 Israelis have flocked to the Emirati kingdom since then, amid sporadic windows of travel opportunity during the pandemic. They have been welcomed with open arms, and the kingdom has even established a kosher food industry to ensure that their Jewish visitors are never without dining options. A Bahraini official said during a visit to Israel in August that direct flights were forthcoming after being postponed due to COVID, and all three nations have voiced enthusiasm to resume visits once the borders are fully reopened.
Sharaka and Intercultural Dialogue
Another beautiful symbol of the thriving peace is Sharaka (Arabic for “cooperation”), the Gulf–Israel Center for Social Entrepreneurship. Comprised of young entrepreneurs, activists and social media influencers from Israel, the UAE and Bahrain, Sharaka hosts delegations to visit Israel and the UAE to create opportunities for young people to experience each other’s homelands and cultures. As its website states, this organization’s mission in “realizing the tremendous potential of the Abraham Accords” is “deepening mutual understanding, building personal ties, and encouraging diverse forms of cooperation.” The group also hosts delegations of young Emiratis and Bahrainis to experience Israel: see the land; tour historical sites; meet with a variety of Israeli political, cultural and religious influencers; learn about the Holocaust at Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial; share in a Shabbat (Sabbath) dinner; experience Israel’s thriving start-up scene; and better understand the security challenges and geopolitical reality.
One Arab alumna of Sharaka wrote of her experience in Israel: “Having breakfast and dinner [with] different families from different backgrounds & religions, as food brings us together at one table, we learned a lot about Israel and different communities with amazing food experience and meeting amazing people! Also meeting with the Israeli students, we had an enjoyable time talking to them and sharing our experiences and exchanging our cultures that seemed so similar, and we gained a lot of friends after this.”
Not only are Jewish, Muslim and Christian young adults gaining invaluable experience on the ground in each other’s nations, they also host regular online Zoom meetings for cultural discussions and exchanges. As the group’s website says, their mission is “to build bonds between young Israeli and Gulf leaders, in order to strengthen peace, trust, and cooperation between our societies. We believe that this will lead to a brighter future for our nations and for all the peoples of the region.” And after visiting and learning about each other’s countries and cultures, they are able to return home and share what they have learned with others, creating a ripple effect of peace and understanding.
A Brighter Future
The Abraham Accords has yielded a new chapter of kinship between the sons of Abraham. This year has truly marked a new era of peace, of people-to-people friendship and cooperation, of learning and gaining new understanding of each other’s cultures, of joining arm-in-arm for the mutual betterment of both nations and the region as a whole.
Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid made a historic visit to the UAE in July to inaugurate the Israeli embassy in the capital of Abu Dhabi as well as a consulate in Dubai. After his visit, Lapid and his Emirati counterpart, Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan, wrote a joint statement that summed up the fruits of the Abraham Accords: “Peace isn’t an agreement you sign—it’s a way of life. The [embassy inauguration] ceremonies we held last week aren’t the end of the road. They are just the beginning.”
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