Last year’s normalization agreements with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco featured all the pomp and circumstance you might expect—handshakes, verbal affirmations of mutual support and photo ops reminiscent of past “groundbreaking signings” between Israel and its neighbors. Naysayers will dismiss the Abraham Accords as nothing more than flowery declarations of peace and cooperation.
But make no mistake: Momentum isn’t fading; it’s soaring. Even under a Biden administration that has at times shown reluctance to perpetuate a Trumpian agenda, unprecedented agreements continue to be forged in this new era of economic prosperity, security cooperation and cultural exchange that we cannot ignore.
Last year consisted of many firsts, including, to name a few, the first Israeli embassy in Abu Dhabi, the first embassy of the UAE in Tel Aviv, Israel’s first ambassador to Bahrain and Bahrain’s first ambassador to Israel.
The Abraham Accords were not a relic of the Trump presidency; they have paved the way for a Middle East not seen for generations. And now we’re seeing recent signatories of the accords become brokers themselves.
Earlier this month, Israel and Jordan signed a UAE-brokered water and energy deal, the most expansive of its kind since the two countries made peace in 1994. Even U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry, who said in 2016 that there could be “no advance and separate peace with the Arab world” before first addressing Palestinian peace, played a role in getting the Amman-Jerusalem deal over the finish line.
And in Rabat last week, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz formalized security ties and intelligence-sharing with his Moroccan counterpart, Abdellatif Loudiyi, while signing a memorandum of understanding that is expected to initiate significant arms sales worth hundreds of millions of dollars over the next few years.
Bilateral trade between Israel and the UAE alone has exceeded $700 million since the signing of the Abraham Accords, according to Israeli Consul-General in Dubai Ilan Sztulman Starosta. Tourism between Israel and the UAE is at record highs. And Israel’s Reichman University (formerly IDC Herzliya) even enrolled the country’s first-ever male Emirati student this summer, followed by another female Emirati studying midwifery in Hebrew at Haifa University.
150,000 new jobs are expected to be created for Israel’s new regional partners, according to the American NGO RAND Corporation, with an additional four million new jobs and a further “$1 trillion in new economic activity over a decade, if the accords grow to include 11 nations (including Israel) as some have speculated may be possible.”
If anything, the accords have given Israel permission to call its Arab neighbors cousins again. What has for decades been discreet is now out in the open.
Everything about how peace was forged this time around—from four landmark agreements being reached in the space of five months, to the business framework through which negotiations were held—was different, and the hope is that this model can one day be extended to Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations that have eluded history’s best statespersons and diplomats. Indeed, the best brokers for lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace may very well be not in Washington D.C., but in Manama, Rabat, Abu Dhabi or Khartoum.
The accords helped create a model of peace that is rarely seen in the Middle East—one based not just on closed-door diplomacy, but on culture, business and deep person-to-person friendships. The accords should not—and do not—purport to replace the Israeli-Palestinian issue, but they demonstrate the viability of alternative methods of peace-building.
Palestinians and Arab Israelis will benefit from these regional normalization agreements, and the city of Jerusalem can serve as a key bridge to the Gulf states since 40 percent of its population is Arab. The hope is that the accords herald a new era of Muslim tourism to Jerusalem, eventually becoming the research-and-development heart of the Middle East.
Peace agreements are inked by leaders, but they are forged by everyday people. Israel and its neighbors are now building a model for peace in the Middle East, one spearheaded by entrepreneurs and environmentalists who envision a better region for their children.
Fleur Hassan-Nahoum serves as deputy mayor of Jerusalem in charge of foreign relations, international economic development, and tourism. She is also the co-founder of the UAE-Israel Business Council and the Gulf Israel Women’s Forum.
Jonathan Harounoff is a British analyst and journalist based in New York. His articles have featured in “Haaretz,” “The Jerusalem Post” and “The Forward.”