Opening of UAE embassy in Tel Aviv
Opening of UAE embassy in Tel Aviv Miriam Alster/Flash90

The evolution of relations between the UAE and Israel since the signing of the peace agreement in September 2020 shows that there is a common will to establish a genuine and lasting peace not only between the two countries, but also to promote a culture of peace and coexistence throughout the Middle East.

The UAE and Israel recently signed a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (Cepa) to promote free trade. It provides for the elimination of trade tariffs on about 96% of goods. It is the first agreement of its kind between Israel and an Arab country.

We are witnessing a new geopolitical and economic reality, reflected in figures and statistics of cooperation, in a significant qualitative development that testifies to the sincere will to adapt policies to reality and translate them into gains for the people.

The agreement allows companies from both countries direct access to markets and the elimination or reduction of tariffs, leading to an increase in investment flows, improvement of food security indicators and promotion of competitiveness in the market and prices. The agreement aligns with the Emirates’ efforts to promote trade with a number of countries.

This is the second bilateral agreement signed by the UAE after signing a similar agreement with India in February. Negotiations are underway with other countries to sign similar agreements. Israel has already signed free trade agreements with the US, Canada, Mexico, the EU, Turkey and Latin American countries.

This comes against the backdrop of the desire of both sides to deepen the bonds of trade partnership and economic cooperation with the countries of the world in order to increase the competitiveness of their economies and benefit the people of both countries. Trade statistics between the UAE and Israel continue to be promising with very positive indicators.

Although trade volume was $900 million last year according to official figures and is expected to grow to $2 billion by 2022 and $5 billion within five years, these estimates may be below potential. But it needs a locomotive or institutional arrangements to open and pave the way to its realization. There are some very promising sectors in UAE-Israel cooperation.

The relationship between the UAE and Israel, although new, has proven to be stable and sustainable, and different in politics and economics.

The established relations in their economic and commercial part continue to develop (since the signing of the Abraham Agreement between the UAE and Israel, about 65 agreements and memoranda of understanding are in force, about 1000 Israeli companies have offices and branches in the UAE) without being affected by the regional situation, especially regarding the relations between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs.

The UAE cannot completely disengage due to its political and strategic commitments. But they see it from a realistic perspective, distancing themselves from the influence of horse trading and slogans, and trying to solve the problems through dialogue and conventional diplomatic mechanisms.

On the way to this trade partnership, the UAE is the same that strongly condemned the “storming of the Al Aqsa Mosque courtyard by some radical settlers” (which was a response to fake news and did not occur, ed.) and called on “the Israeli authorities to de-escalate and end the tension and congestion.”

The UAE recognizes that true peace can only come about through respecting the interests of societies and building bridges of understanding and interest in which everyone expresses their desire for a better future away from war and intolerance.

I am convinced that the Israeli side is well aware of the UAE’s position and that it goes beyond the dichotomous “with or against” and acts in accordance with the institutional arrangements that keep the train moving despite the differences. After the signing of the Abraham Agreement, peace between the UAE and Israel should become a model of true cooperation and coexistence.

This does not only apply to the fact that trade and goods cooperation between the two countries has become the largest between Israel and an Arab country in recent times. However, both countries have enormous economic and trade opportunities.

The UAE is the second largest Arab economy with a total economy of $422 billion.

Israel’s GDP is $402 billion.

This convergence is not just in numbers. It is a convergence of potentials and opportunities, especially in areas such as technology, artificial intelligence, energy, tourism and others.

The UAE-Israel FTA deepens the transformation that is taking place in the Middle East towards peace, coexistence and stability. A path to a future free of violence and conflict, enabling new generations to realize that there is an effective alternative to remaining in a bubble of violence and bloodshed.

It also emphasizes that “action” is needed to anchor the roots of peace in our region so that societies can experience the benefits of this great qualitative transition from an atmosphere of conflict to one of peace. “At some point, the goal will be to move from governments to businesses and then to people,” Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid rightly said during a visit to the UAE.

We believe that a culture of coexistence does not happen by chance. It does not grow from the pollen that the wind brings, especially in an environment where there are opposing cultures or where there has been conflict between different groups, whether for historical, ideological, political or identity reasons.

I have already said that the experience of historic peace agreements in the Arab-Israeli conflict has not become a reality for people in these many years. This is mainly because they have remained elitist agreements living in the attic. They have not landed on the streets, in the alleys and neighborhoods of the countries, nor have they risen between the communities on both sides.

They did not have the atmosphere and conditions to grow and take root so that coexistence between the parties to the conflict became an acceptable reality, and the wars became part of the past and a memory of history, as has been the case with all the conflicts of the last centuries and decades in other regions of the world.

What the UAE and Israel are doing is an important fundamental step to free the future from the legacy of the past and to embark on a new path that starts from building a model based on the exchange of benefits and interests to ensure a culture of peace and coexistence on a sustainable basis,

Dr. Salem AlKetbiis a UAE political analyst