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September 14, 2021 11:45 am
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Building the Next Steps of the Abraham Accords

avatar by Efraim Chalamish

Opinion

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US President Donald Trump and United Arab Emirates (UAE) Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed display their copies of signed agreements as they participate in the signing ceremony of the Abraham Accords, normalizing relations between Israel and some of its Middle East neighbors, in a strategic realignment of Middle Eastern countries against Iran, on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, US, September 15, 2020. Photo: REUTERS/Tom Brenner/

The Abraham Accords, signed last September, have changed the Middle East forever. From hundreds of thousands of Israeli visitors to the UAE, to headlines about major potential cross-border transactions, to other Gulf countries that would like to join the new Middle East — new winds are blowing and are here to stay.

Yet, this moment of reflection is also a unique opportunity to look more carefully at how local, regional, and global markets reacted to the accords, and what needs to be done to remove the barriers that make progress more tangible on the ground.

The cancellation of the potential investment by a UAE royal in Jerusalem’s leading soccer team due to his questionable finances and other similar cases, have highlighted the trust deficit and the limited intelligence available to the respective entities. Better background checks, more structured and longer processes, and humble expectations will be needed to prevent similar fiascos.

The presence of international players can help to solve this issue by adding legitimacy and security to the interactions. It has been reported that Japanese companies are interested in transactions that would create an energy corridor from Israel to the Gulf, and similar strategic moves are needed.  The Abraham Fund, an international financial commitment to support cross-border infrastructure and energy security projects, should be saved despite recent calls to suspend it.

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Gulf-based investors are often looking for the strategic value in every project. While financial returns are important, there is also a need for a strategic alignment. The Delek-Mubadala deal — in which Abu Dhabi-based Mubadala Petroleum purchased a $1 billion stake in the Tamar natural gas field — is a case in point. And more strategically-aligned projects like this are needed.

Cultural differences have also been identified. While Israelis have been looking for “quick wins,” such as venture investing with a short time-frame, Emirati and Bahraini individuals and companies often have different time horizons, expecting relationships to develop and mature over time until they can generate the expected results. This gap has created significant frustrations on both sides, and should be considered as part of the learning curve of the Abraham Accords. While cultures cannot change overnight, governments on both sides should not create false expectations and should better prepare the parties for a more constructive dialogue.

In addition, we should not forget the framework of the Abraham Accords and the original text of the declaration. The accords are named after Abraham, the common patriarch of the three monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The spiritual aspect was an important component of the journey to the accords. Leaders from all relevant religions have met over the years as part of the track-II diplomacy efforts to bring the countries together. They all emphasized what values and practices those religions have in common.

Unfortunately, the rush to advance commercial transactions left the spiritual component behind. While certain projects and deals are short-lived, the religious aspect can give the long-term legitimacy, and much-needed resilience, to the accords. Despite the ongoing political sensitivities in the region, religious leaders and programs should be accelerated in the country-to-country interactions.

The need to re-emphasize the religious component should be part of broader efforts to add bottom-up stories focusing on individuals in these countries. A recent report by the Atlantic Council and INSS think tanks and policy groups highlights the areas where civic engagement can be improved and developed. Religious dialogue, sports activities, and academic research programs are some of the key elements.

Though we are all eager to see the next chapter of the Abraham Accords and Jewish-Muslim relations in the Middle East advance, only a nuanced and transparent approach can lead to the desired progress and regional growth.

Dr. Efraim Chalamish is a publishing Expert at The MirYam Institute. He has been involved in international legal practice in New York, Paris, and Israel, along with research in, and analysis of, cutting edge areas in public and private international economic law.

The MirYam Institute is the leading international forum for Israel focused discussion, dialogue, and debate, focused on campus presentations, engagement with international legislators, and gold-standard trips to the State of Israel. Follow their work at www.MirYamInstitute.org.

The opinions presented by Algemeiner bloggers are solely theirs and do not represent those of The Algemeiner, its publishers or editors. If you would like to share your views with a blog post on The Algemeiner, please be in touch through our Contact page.

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