Why Indian billionaire Menon’s view of UAE matters to Israel - analysis

Tel Aviv and Dubai are already centers of innovation, but the big question underpinning the Abraham Accords is how the next step will be reached in terms of new deals and partnerships and investment.

PNC Menon is the founder of Sobha Realty and sees potential in new peace between Israel and the UAE. (photo credit: COURTESY SOBHA REALTY)
PNC Menon is the founder of Sobha Realty and sees potential in new peace between Israel and the UAE.
Not far from the center of Dubai is a new development called Hartland, a sprawling series of residential complexes, including tall buildings and villas. The area is part of a Sobha Realty development and is an element in the vision of its founder, P.N.C. Menon, a billionaire with origins in India who earned his reputation in Oman and is now active in the UAE.
This is important because developers such as Menon and Sobha are part of the success story of the UAE and of Dubai in particular. They also illustrate what the Gulf countries can accomplish by projecting stability and security in the region and making the area ripe for investment.
In addition, the globalized cosmopolitan elements of Dubai, with people from almost 200 nationalities and where the government is pushing tolerance and religious diversity, is part of that success.
I sat down with Menon during a briefing with the media in early December. He has pushed for quality construction using innovative methods at Hartland.
Menon is from Kerala, India, and speaks with warmth and admiration about Israel and Jewish history, including the Jewish community of India. Looking back on 40 years of experience in real estate, including Sobha’s founding in 1994, he speaks with passion about the UAE today.
This has been a complex year due to the pandemic, but Menon is bullish about the growth that will occur in the future in the Emirates. That was evident this month with some 50,000 Israelis arriving in the country.
Real estate is only part of what attracts investors here. The nightlife, beaches and quality of the city of Dubai are also part of the story. Most of all, it is stability, safety and security in a world in which many cities no longer offer those needs.
In today’s world, countries are struggling to find the best methods of providing stability, and democracy is only one aspect of that, Menon says. He contrasts India and China – one a huge, complex democracy; the other a very different system.
Menon also references the close relations India and Israel have today.
“We need a new young generation,” he says, referring to the region’s and world’s challenges. “Safety is the most important thing today. We have people from everywhere and safety here.”
WHAT IS Menon’s dream scenario for the new Israel-UAE relationship and opportunities?
“I want a lot of Israelis to come and buy here,” he says. “Israelis are rich. Israelis have high GDP and are a powerful country.”
He describes the UAE as offering an easy, accessible life that is made possible by a government that has invested in making the country better.
Dubai’s new construction is built on the latest concepts of a “smart city,” using technology and innovation, including solar power and Hyperloop, a new, futuristic transportation model. That means homes have more apps and gadgets that operate more like a computer with access to the Internet than traditional light switches. You see this in homes at Sobha and at hotels in Dubai.
Menon and Sobha, as well as the UAE in general, are looking to Israel as part of the new era of peace. That means new partnerships, investment and tourism opportunities.
With the 10 flights a day that began in late November and early December, the potential was clear. Now it appears there will be a temporary slowdown in flights due to new COVID-19 measures. But vaccines offer hope for full activity to resume early next year.
Menon and those around him are optimistic. This optimism is not only about the region’s economy but also peace in the region. He doesn’t predict any new conflicts.
“I have been here for 44 years and saw no problems,” he says. “In this country, you have seen that openness and living in peace is good for the whole world, and this country feels it’s time for the UAE and Israel to get together.”
The developer and innovator has promised to give back much of his wealth to society.
“I had no money, so if you make money, you should give to society that doesn’t have it,” he says. “I am a Hindu, and karma is important. It is important that... those who make more than one million [dollars] should give some part of it to society.”
MENON’S SUCCESS story in the UAE is a model for what could come next as Israel and the Emirates build ties. Regional hubs such as Tel Aviv and Dubai can become corridors of innovation and branch out to other regional cities in India, Asia and beyond.
Tel Aviv and Dubai are already centers of innovation. But the big question underpinning the Abraham Accords, and the estimated 50,000 people who already went back and forth in a month, is how the next step will be reached in terms of new deals, partnerships and investment.
The security and stability that Menon mentions is one that the leadership in Abu Dhabi constantly says underpins the country’s approach to its neighbors and the region. In a region that has now seen 10 years of conflict since the Arab Spring, and has seen decades of other wars and extremism, this message is important.
From my experience in Dubai and seeing what Israel has achieved in recent decades, it is clear that this is the way forward and that there is potential. If people such as Menon have their way, it will be the future.