There are certain moments in one’s life that we never forget. Some are personal moments and others are pivotal moments that change the broader course of history. The Abraham Accords are one of those moments, I’ll never forget where I was when I received a heads up about the United Arab Emirates and Israel establishing relations. The same feeling returned a few weeks later when I learned of Bahrain and Israel planning to make a similar announcement. The iconic scene on the White House lawn on September 15, 2020, will be one for the textbooks but is even more personal for our generation, who remembers what the Middle East looked like before that historic moment and has the privilege to shape what it will look like decades from now.
As I write this, I am 11,000 feet in the air flying over Saudi Arabia on my way from Dubai to Israel. For many years, I would take this trip but with one major difference – it always involved a stopover in Amman. Miracles come in all shapes and sizes, and it is up to us to appreciate the small ones just as much as the big ones. Flying direct from Israel to the UAE or Bahrain is one of those miracles. Future generations will not appreciate it the same way that we do because they will not have experienced this region before this change.
The Abraham Accords created an unparalleled domino effect. Months after the UAE and Bahrain signed, Morocco and Sudan followed, and on August 19, 2022, Israel and Turkey announced that they were restoring full diplomatic relations. The Accords were established to create a brighter future for this region – one based on peace and prosperity for all. It’s not just about creating alliances against common threats but about working collaboratively toward innovative solutions to the issues that all countries in the region face.
Just two short years later we are already reaping some of the incredible rewards. It’s not just about diplomacy but about business opportunities, sharing art and culture, people-to-people relations and the list goes on and on. The excitement is palpable and other neighboring countries are participating as well – some behind the scenes and others taking public steps. The architects of the Accords had the foresight to see this happening and in June 2019, they held the Peace to Prosperity Workshop in Bahrain. That was another moment that I’ll never forget as we sat there and heard from Jared Kushner, former special advisor to President Donald Trump, as he unveiled his $50 billion plan. The conference was historic in so many ways but what stuck out to me was who participated. Several GCC countries sent representatives and three years later, the majority of GCC countries have some type of relationship – whether it’s full diplomatic relations like the UAE and Bahrain or working relationships like Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
I’m often asked about Saudi Arabia and I believe that it’s always been a situation of “when,” not “if.” Over the last few months, there has been a resurgence of interest, conversation and progress around Saudi Arabia and Israel coming closer to establishing diplomatic relations. Many believed that there would be an announcement about it during President Biden’s recent visit to the two countries. The trip seems to have garnered mixed reviews but the reason for that is that many look at Middle East peace – and a relationship between Saudi Arabia and Israel – as an “all or nothing” deal, when in fact, it is not. The Middle East is a complex neighborhood and things do not happen overnight, they take time, and the key is to watch the signs to know when a relationship is starting to bud.
Right before President Biden landed in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia’s General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) announced it would open the Kingdom’s airspace for all carriers, including Israeli ones. It is a game changer for Israeli airlines which can now expand and open new routes to India and other destinations within Asia, creating more economic opportunities as travel is a key factor in international commerce. Israel’s Tourism Ministry said that it believes this move will eventually reduce the price of airline tickets by 20%.
This is an important step in the building blocks toward establishing a relationship with Israel and there are others taking place as well. Saudi Arabia today is very different from how it looked even just six or seven years ago. It has moved away from being an oil-based economy to one focused on innovation, technology, education, and helping to propel the region forward. As someone who has been to Saudi Arabia, I am constantly impressed by the development that is taking place and how busy its airports are. It has invested hundreds of billions of dollars in education, technology and green energy – all things that are high on Israel’s agenda as well. Imagine the opportunity if Saudi Arabia and Israel were to work together in just these three areas. Saudi’s NEOM Green Hydrogen Project is expected to be the world’s largest utility scale, commercially based hydrogen facility powered entirely by renewable energy. Imagine the impact on global climate projects if synergies are created with Israeli tech and experts in this area. The possibilities are endless.
For the first time in history, Israel now enjoys a genuine warm relationship with its Arab neighbors. The reason for this is simple, it’s the domino effect of the Abraham Accords. The excitement is infectious, the opportunities are immeasurable and, naturally, other countries will want to participate. The Middle East is changing, and we are lucky to have a front-row seat at the table. I can’t wait to see what next year brings as our region grows closer together than ever before.