On August 31, at 11:14 a.m. local time, a large El Al Boeing 737 aircraft departed from Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv to make the first direct commercial flight from Israel to the United Arab Emirates. The flight, which carried both U.S. and Israeli political figures, such as Jared Kushner, senior advisor to the President of the United States, and Meir Ben Shabbat, Israel’s advisor of national security, marked the easing of a half-century of tensions between Israel and the United Arab Emirates through a recent peace agreement.
The Abraham Accord, agreed to by leaders of the two countries less than three weeks before the historic flight departed and announced by U.S. President Donald Trump on August 13, has both of the Middle East countries agreeing to a “full normalization of relations.” As per the terms of the agreement, the UAE has ended its boycott of Israel, which has been in place since 1972. In exchange, Israel has agreed to abandon its plans from earlier this year to annex parts of the West Bank, home to both Israeli settlers and Palestinean Arabs.
This normalization agreement is anticipated to be economically beneficial for both countries as trade will now be open between the prosperous and oil-endowed UAE and the entrepreneurial and innovative state of Israel. The latter is anticipated to provide investment and expansion opportunities in the form of tech start-ups and pharmaceutical companies for the wealthy UAE, which in turn is expected to profit by channeling its vast economy and resources towards many of these efforts. Delegates from both countries, led by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, will be attending a White House signing ceremony on September 15, during which the finer points of the agreement—such as issues regarding technology, healthcare, environment and embassies—will also be discussed.
This accord has been marked as truly historic because of the long and complicated history between the two countries. Even before Israel and the UAE were established (in 1948 and 1971 respectively), the region of the UAE was involved in the Arab League’s 1945 boycott of the Jewish community of Palestine. The first president of the UAE, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, referred to Israel as “the enemy” from the very formation of the UAE. However, despite years of animosity, both countries have been willing to broker this accord, risking the anger of neighboring Palestinean groups who view agreeing to peace with Israel as betrayal in light of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinean conflict. There have been calls from such groups for the Arab League to denounce the deal. However, the League, which suspended Egypt from its ranks in 1979 for making a very similar agreement with Israel, has rejected all such calls, signifying a definite shift in the interests of the region.
According to Kushner, this elusive peace has been obtained by aiming to “unite people focusing on common interest as opposed to common grievances” to “advance the region and advance the world.” True to these words, as part of the joint statement released by the United States, UAE, and Israel, both Middle East countries have agreed to combine and expand their efforts towards the mutually beneficial pursuit of a vaccine for the coronavirus to “help save Muslim, Jewish, and Christian lives throughout the region.”
Thus far, the results of this agreement are considered hopeful by many who are looking toward a peaceful future in the Middle East. Less than 30 days after the agreement was first announced, yet another country in the region, Bahrain, followed in striking a similar peace deal with Israel. The two recent accords have served to double the number of Arab countries that have formally recognized Israel, with Egypt and Jordan being the only other two to make peace with the tiny state. The affluent UAE has a great deal of influence in the region and is considered a tastemaker in that part of the world, which could mean other nations will follow suit. Furthermore, both the UAE and Israel have expressed their interest in utilizing their newfound collaboration to find a proper and just solution to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. It is a hope retained by many that these newly cooperating countries will pave the road to the ever-so-coveted harmony in the Middle East.