When I joined the Foreign Ministry as a young diplomat some 30 years ago, the idea of making peace with the broader Arab world was a faraway dream, a yearning that seemed unattainable and near impossible. And yet, it was something that I could envision in my mind’s eye with perfect clarity: a peace grounded in warmhearted and sincere people-to-people interactions, topped off by an abundance of direct flights, business deals and endless collaborations.
It is for this reason that I am still profoundly moved when I think back to those moments when I inaugurated the Israeli embassies in the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain as the director-general of the Foreign Ministry, alongside Foreign Minister Yair Lapid.
The signing of the Abraham Accords two years ago was a historic, watershed moment for the Middle East, that ushered in a profoundly new chapter for the region. It provided a fresh sense of invigoration that contributed to the growing circle of peaceful nations in the Middle East. Now, as we mark its anniversary, we celebrate this revolutionary peace that the normalization agreements have forged, along with the remarkable accomplishments we have achieved in just two years.
For years, Israel worked behind the scenes to build diplomatic and economic relations with other moderate states in the region. It took courage and wisdom on their part to ultimately recognize that Israel is an integral and permanent part of the Middle East, with much to contribute to its prosperity. It took vision to prioritize the future and see what connects the peoples of the region.
Ultimately, it took courage to accept that peace itself is not the shameful compromise that hostile elements claim it to be, but rather a victory for the Middle East’s stability and prosperity.
The Negev Forum
A SHINING example of the new moderate alliance that the Abraham Accords have fostered in the Middle East was the establishment of the Negev Forum. The first-of-its-kind Negev Summit was held at Sde Boker in 2022, when Lapid, as Foreign Minister, hosted the US Secretary of State and the foreign ministers of Bahrain, Egypt, Morocco and the UAE. This inaugural event led to the establishment of the permanent Negev Forum, which has already set to work building a new regional architecture based on progress, technology, religious tolerance and security.
Prime Minister Yair Lapid drove home the importance of this paradigm shift during his recent remarks alongside President Joe Biden in Jerusalem, when he said that the Middle East has a new “alliance of moderate countries that believe in peace, that believe that our children deserve the opportunity to live a better life.”
These warm and peaceful relations have filtered down from national leaders to every aspect of society over the past two years, and are now thriving between our peoples and nations. Since the first direct flight between Tel Aviv and Dubai in November 2020, more than 500,000 Israeli tourists and businesspeople have visited the UAE and Bahrain, connecting peoples and cultures like never before.
Israel’s national pavilion at the 2020 Dubai Expo, held under the theme of “Journey for Tomorrow,” attracted nearly two million visitors over six months, all of whom enjoyed the many economic events, conferences and exhibitions on Israeli innovation that were showcased.
The accords have created a host of exciting opportunities for regional and multinational cooperation in the fields of energy, sustainability, tourism, security and much more. Thirty-four agreements have already been signed between Israel and the UAE, the most prominent of which include agreements for a free trade zone, the prevention of double taxation, investment protection, and visa exemptions.
With Bahrain, Israel has signed 22 agreements thus far, including in the fields of economic cooperation, tourism and water. A potential free-trade zone agreement with Bahrain is also being explored, as well as a range of other important agreements.
Trade between Israel and the UAE has already hit $1.2 billion between January and July of 2022 – as compared to $188 million in 2020. Trade with Bahrain reached $5 million during the same period. The immense economic benefits of the peace accords have become rapidly apparent over the past two years, and all sides have truly gained from the fruits of peace.
Continued regional development
ISRAEL ASPIRES to continue the regional development that began with the Abraham Accords and expand the circle of peace and normalization. Indeed, Israel believes that it can bring about a change in the conflict and establish peaceful coexistence with its most immediate neighbors, the Palestinians, in the spirit of the Accords. After all, peace begets peace.
Moreover, the normalization process effectively serves to consolidate moderate forces in the region in the face of shared threats, providing a counterbalance to the Iranian menace that threatens us all.
Peace allows us to forge a new reality in the Middle East that brings prosperity, security and stability to all. The permanent Negev Forum structure is a bold attempt to deal with joint challenges together, as well as to create new opportunities. We look forward to celebrating all the good that has come of the Abraham Accords with our friends and allies, and with all peace-loving nations and peoples.
The writer is director-general of the Foreign Ministry.