By Dr. Ilan Fuchs
Faculty Member, Legal Studies
It has been only a few months but it feels much longer than that. One of the crown jewels of the Trump administration was the “Abraham Accord,” the peace treaties between Israel and the United Arab Emirates joined by Bahrain and later on joined by Sudan. A similar accord was signed with Morocco, exemplified by the Pax Trumpana peace based on joint interests be they political and/or economic. So what does that peace look like after just a few months? What has changed? What hasn’t?
Diplomatic Relations with New Embassies in the Region
The first and most significant change, of course, is the fact that there are several new embassies in the region. As of February, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has an ambassador in Israel. The UAE embassy is located in Tel Aviv, and the ambassador is a young and promising diplomat, Mohamad El Kahaja.
When presenting his credentials to Reuven Rivlin, the President of Israel, Al Khajah said, “The two nations have a shared mission: to establish peace and security throughout the region.” Israel opened an embassy at a temporary location in the UAE in late January after nominating Eitan Na’eh as its ambassador. He was in Abu Dhabi to open the embassy.
The Bahraini embassy in Tel Aviv will be opening soon. On March 30, Bahrain nominated Khaled Yousif al-Jalahama as its first ambassador to Israel. Jalahama currently is the Director of Operations at Bahrain’s Foreign Ministry and previously was deputy chief of mission at Bahrain’s Embassy in Washington from 2009 to 2013.
Israel already had an office in Manama, the capital of Bahrain, before the accords were signed. Israel operated a covert diplomatic presence in Bahrain for the past 11 years, posing as an international corporation. Its offices have now been converted into an official embassy.
Morocco became the third Arab state in 2020 to normalize ties with Israel under U.S.-brokered deals, joining the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. “Morocco is home to North Africa’s largest Jewish community, which has been there since ancient times and grew with the arrival of Jews expelled from Spain by Catholic kings from 1492,” The Times of Israel noted.
“Initially, Morocco and Israel will maintain liaison offices in one another’s countries, but plan to establish full embassies in the future,” the Times said. Israel’s chargé d’affaires (a lower rank of representation than an ambassador) arrived in the Moroccan capital of Rabat 20 years after Israel closed its liaison office in the North African country.
Dr. David Govrin, who served as Israel’s ambassador to Egypt from 2016 to 2020, will build up Israel’s diplomatic mission in the country, according to The Times. The Moroccan office in Tel Aviv opened soon afterward, led by the Moroccan representative, Abderrahim Beyyoud. He expressed his happiness at having the opportunity to expand bilateral relations in light of the deep connection many Jews in Israel have to Morocco.
Tourism Flourishes Now between Israel and the UAE
Israelis began flooding into the UAE as soon as it was possible to get a visa. The UAE has many luxurious hotels and has been more lenient with COVID-19 restriction, leading many Israelis wanting a vacation to pay a visit. Israel is hoping to attract 100,000 tourists from the UAE each year.
Bahrain is also seeing interest from Israeli tourists. Once COVID-19 restriction are removed, there are plans for two weekly flights between Tel Aviv and Manama. The short flying time means low-cost fares, which makes these destinations very attractive for travelers looking for a short vacation at a reasonable price. Moroccan tourists could visit Israel before but with some restrictions. Now travel will be much easier, and the direct flights promise a steady stream of Israeli tourists with Bahrain only a three-hour flight from Tel Aviv.
Closer Economic Ties and Greater Interest in Investment Opportunities
Beyond tourism there are many other economic opportunities. There has been a growing interest on both sides in exploring investments. Israelis have begun selling agricultural produce to the UAE and Bahrain. The Economist projected up to $6.5 billion in annual bilateral trade, equivalent to 5% of Israel’s current trade total and 1% of the UAE’s within a few years, and billions in investments.
According to the Wall Street Journal talks about joint business ventures are literally everywhere. Emirati billionaire Khalaf Al Habtoor, who owns one of the UAE’s largest conglomerates, said he has launched talks with Israir Airlines Ltd., a domestic Israeli carrier, to open direct commercial flights. Avi Eyal, the managing partner of Israel-based venture capital firm Entree Capital, told the Journal that he “has received dozens of LinkedIn messages and phone calls from Israelis and Emiratis interested in entering the other market. He is working with Emirati partners to establish a kind of chamber of commerce or professional organization to formalize bilateral business ties.”
So where does this leave us? Was former president Donald Trump correct? Does free commerce promise peace? This was the theory of President Woodrow Wilson in his 14 Points Plan to end all wars after World War I. We all know how that ended, but to some degree joint interests do work. At the end of the day the danger both sides see in Iran, the possible mutual economic benefits they would derive, the belief that the Palestinians are not serious about reviving the peace process– all that makes for a significant common denominator enough to bring about better diplomatic relations.
What will happen if the Palestinians initiate another intifada? Hard to say. That could be a game changer, but at the same time the past 20 years have not shown the Palestinians any closer to statehood. Even if more countries were to join this trend toward diplomatic relations with Israel, first and foremost Saudi Arabia, that will not necessarily bring us closer to the end of the Arab-Israeli conflict. But just maybe, it will move us an inch or two closer.