John Rakolta Jr., Former US Ambassador to the UAE, explains that the Abraham Accords didn’t happen all of a sudden, they were the culmination of a gradual process.
As someone who as ambassador witnessed the accords being undertaken, he had a close up view of what occurred.
“You’re exactly right. It wasn’t sudden. It was a slow roll started many years ago and there are several factors in the region that caused both Israel and the UAE to look at their relationship in an entirely different lens,” Rakolta tells Israel National News from CPAC and Tel Aviv Salon's International Conservative Conference in Tel Aviv, produced with Shibolet and Sela Meir publications.
“Let's start with the fact that peace and prosperity is what every human being on the face of the earth wants. We want better jobs, hope for our children, better education and better medical care, and the list goes on and on. The problem is that when you try to get those things through war and violence and conflict, you caused great destruction. We can take a look at what's happening at Ukraine today and you ask yourself how long can that continue, how many decades will it take for Ukraine to get back on its feet? Peace and prosperity in the 21st century is the only way to go and both Israel and the UAE that's what they want for their citizens.”
“From the UAE’s perspective, they had regional threats, they had a changing dynamic in terms of their economy – oil while important today may not be so 50 years from now. So they're looking for partners and when they take a look in the region, who would make great partners, there's no better partner than Israel," he adds.
When asked how peace occurred despite the historic disputes between Jews and the Arabs, Rakolta points out that there was never any controversy between Israel and the UAE.
“They never fought a war, they never spilt any blood, they're not arguing about land borders. I think the UAE at one point in time said to themselves, ‘When we look around the region for a partner, what do we need? Somebody who can defend themselves, somebody that can help us defend ourselves, somebody we can build a regional economy over, and our values are the same. We both came from Abraham, our religions are from Abraham.’ So I don't think it was that difficult a lift for the UAE. The rest of the Arab world is a different story.”
When asked if the so-called Palestinian conflict was part of the Abraham Accords discussions, Rakolta recalls:
“Everybody realized that after 25 years of trying, two cold peaces with Egypt and Jordan, and the Palestinians have had many opportunities to come to the table and make peace, it just wasn’t in the cards and we need to move on. I think everybody would like to see a Palestinian peace with Israel but it no longer is the driving force and this is the big change from the Trump administration to others, that they saw this and they said that peace between Israel and the Arab states no longer goes through [the Palestinian Authority], it can happen without [them]. Now I want to make it clear that doesn’t mean that we aren’t fighting and wanting to see a Palestinian-Israeli peace but it’s not the central focus any longer.”
While other Arab countries are different than the UAE, but Rakolta is optimistic that the challenges to getting them to sign on to the Abraham Accords are not insurmountable.
“I think number one we have to show that the Abraham Accords not only were effective but brought more peace and prosperity to the partners who signed it,” he says. “You have Bahrain, you have Morocco, and you have Sudan, and each one of them is a different dynamic so if we can show progress in each one of those countries that will make the others stand up and take a real look.”
He mentions the phenomenal number of tourists between Israel and the UAE.
“Hundreds of thousands of Israelis have already been to the UAE. There’s already been cross investment, cell phones now work, you can open up banks accounts. You have embassies in each country, you’d on’t need to apply for visas. All of these things help to build a strong and vibrant economy and when two countries have the same values, share a common language, which is English, there’s no telling how far this can go.”
Rakolta describes the UAE as a “very tolerant nation, very benevolent.”
“The UAE wants to make friends instead of enemies,” he says. “They will go out of their way to meet you more than halfway. I will point out that they're tough, smart businessmen, you're not going to get a free ride. But I have no doubt that Israel can compete effectively and can build a solid commerce and international relationship with them and that should be the model of how Israel goes forward with the other Arab states.”