Considerable fog envelops the agreement signed on Tuesday between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE): as yet unclear economic issues; security agreements; and the future of relations with the Palestinians following the agreement.
In an interview by telephone with "Globes" from Washington, where he is part of the UAE delegation to the signing event, UAE Minister of Economy Abdulla bin Touq al Marri provides a wealth of interesting comments on the agreement and on how cooperation between Israel and the UAE will look.
Asked about the security context of the agreement and the possibility that Israel will set aside its objection to the sale of F-35 stealth combat aircraft to his country, bin Touq says, "I cannot of course comment specifically on the question of arms sales, but nevertheless it must be appreciated that this is an important matter. The security of the region is a common interest of the UAE and Israel, and of course of the US. The alliance created here is intended to maintain security, protecting joint interests, with a joint vision of progress and stability. This is a genuine strategic alliance that will preserve the security of the region."
In other words, not only will Israel's security not be harmed, but the UAE sees the agreement as a diplomatic-strategic political alliance bringing together partners with common interests, the unstated reference being of course the common enemy, Iran.
Bin Touq hints at the possibility of North African Arab countries coming into the equation. "The triple cooperation goes beyond our region and could very substantially promote our projects in various places around the world. In Africa, in several countries in the north and the center of the continent, we are constructing large infrastructure and other projects together with the US, and we are open to Israeli companies joining these projects. Israeli technologies have much to offer in the areas in which we deal. And this not only expands business, but also connects to strategic, geopolitical matters."
The Palestinians will have to decide
The Palestinian question comes up next. Bin Touq talked about his country's strategy in the economy, trade, and raising the standard of living ,as a prerequisite of reengagement in international politics, and confirmed the report published by "Globes" last week of a proposal for large investment by the UAE and other countries in the Palestinian Authority in an attempt to bring the Palestinians back to negotiations.
"It is solely up to the Palestinians whether they join this move. This is an independent decision for their government. For our part, we stand ready to support them in any way we can - in their economic development, in the standard of their infrastructures, and in particular in developing trade relations that could help them a great deal. Trade and the economy are not political, they are based on supply and demand, on economic needs, and it's important that they should understand this. Throughout history, normal trade and economic relations have encouraged peace, and that has been our guiding principle in our recent moves. I hope that governments will follow after the businesspeople and the economy."
In other words, the Emirates are leaving an opening for Palestinian obduracy to melt as the Palestinians quality of life improves, and for Palestinian businesspeople to take advantage of the new situation and lead the process, in the hope that the government in Ramallah will join in later.
"It's a wonderful feeling"
The UAE economy minister talks about the agreement with Israel signed in Washington in terms of "history".
"The feeling in the government and among the people is wonderful," he says. "This is a genuine historic moment and it's uplifting. It's a very important agreement for the two countries, Israel and the Emirates, for the region, and for the whole world, in what it represents, bringing to the top of the order of priorities a common human goal - the welfare of people, and giving hope for their future and for the coming generations.
"I myself have met Israeli businesspeople in the past few weeks, and the rapport was immediate. They were among those who did business with us even before the announcement of the agreement, but after it the sense of closeness is greater. They showed me pictures of Tel Aviv and invited me to visit. And on our side you could see a flood of positive comments on social networks, and connections being formed between Emiratis and Israelis in a completely natural way. This gives an excellent atmosphere for the development of commercial and economic ties. The UAE is by nature a hospitable country, welcoming people from all over the world, and the reception we give Israelis is part of that. Government policy is also one of openness, on both the international human level and on the trade and economic level. We host international conferences and sports events. We are open to the world, and now we are also open to Israel and Israelis."
Bin Touq also points out the cultural affinity between Israel and the Emirates as a factor behind the immediate warm connection that has been created. "We are from similar cultures, people of the same region, and share characteristics such as curiosity about the world around us, a love of travel and seeing the world. We expect a wave of Israeli tourists, and you can expect many visitors from the Emirates. We are two peoples with a desire to learn, to invent, and to develop individual and public initiatives, and joining together is therefore obvious."
Agriculture, water, health - everything
"There are so many common and complementary areas that the question that arises is, why did this not happen earlier? The search for technological innovation that will improve human life, entrepreneurship, encouragement of progress, the race to find better solutions to problems which in many cases are similar, such as water, energy, and so on. The convergence of interests and goals and the international atmosphere have now matured, and thank God for that and for the leaders who were able to push forward this positive peace."
What sort of business can be done between the two countries?
"The short answer is innovative technologies. To give more detail, take agritech, for example. Israel is known as a global pioneer in this area, particularly in desert climate conditions such as we have. The whole world learns from Israeli technologies and they learn from the world, and now we can widen the circle to include us. The water industry is of course connected to that: irrigation, desalination, recycling, and the correct use of this precious natural resource.
"Another important field is health, and it's no coincidence that the first collaboration agreements were signed in this field, in connection with the fight against the coronavirus, but not just that. On our side there is tremendous development on that front, in applied research. The coronavirus has presented a challenge to humanity that requires joining of forces to fight it, as companies from our two countries are now doing. The same applies to solar energy, which is especially effective in our region. We believe that the agreement will lead to a very large number of trade agreements, sales and investments between the two countries, and between businesspeople and companies.
"We are preparing an assessment of the degree of growth in trade and economic ties that this agreement will bring about. At first glance, it will lead to a substantial rise in growth and will generate thousands, if not tens of thousands, of jobs in the two countries."
What will an Israeli businessperson coming to the Emirates find?
"Israeli businesspeople will discover that each emirate is different and specializes in different areas, and every Israeli who seeks to create ties will be able to find which one of them is suitable for developing them. And over and above that are the needs and emphases of the country as a whole. I again stress water and solar energy, but there are other fields - space research for example. In July this year, we launched the Hope Mission to Mars, a probe that will enter orbit around Mars next year and will carry out research of the planet. This is the first space launch by an Arab country, and we are sure that Israeli scientists have a great deal to contribute in cooperation with us in this area."
What distinguishes the UAE in a global context?
"The UAE is an economic bridge to countries in the region such as Saudi Arabia, but really to the entire world. This is our declared strategy, to be an economic-business - trade-financial bridge to the entire world, hence the great opportunity for Israel to make use of this bridge and link its businesspeople and companies and technology to every place in the world. The sky is the limit."
When will we be able to visit the UAE with an Israeli passport?
"The first thing of course is the signing of the historic peace agreement at the White House, giving the framework and the momentum to all the practical agreements that will be signed and that will come into effect in the coming weeks. There is a long list of agreements waiting to be closed and finally signed, and for our part the intention is certainly to make as rapid progress with them as possible. We are interested in implementing the practical aspects, economic and commercial, very soon, and so I estimate that it is a matter of a few weeks before the signing of the diplomatic agreements covering entry visas and direct flights."
With the Jewish New Year approaching, just before rejoining his delegation Bin Touq says, "I would like to end the interview with a greeting in Hebrew - 'shana tova vehag same'ah' (a good year and a happy holiday)."
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on September 17, 2020
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