I have traveled regularly to Israel for over 20 years; in fact, I’ve been there now more than 40 times, for professional or personal reasons. This last time, after about ten days in the Jewish state, I took a direct flight to the United Arab Emirates, flying over Saudi Arabia, in a plane belonging to El Al, the national airline of Israel.
Who would have thought this possible just a few years ago? And yet.
After the peace agreements with Egypt (1978), with Jordan (1994), now Israel has peace treaties with Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Sudan and Morocco. These accords — called the Abraham Accords to emphasize the shared heritage of Jews, Christians and Muslims whose traditions consider Abraham their ancestor — are actually a series of treaties that normalize diplomatic relations between Israel and those countries.
The Arab world, noting a certain American withdrawal from the region and fearing a rise in power of Iran in search of nuclear weapons and a source of support for terrorist and destabilizing movements for the whole of the Middle East, decided that developing ties with Israel served its interests.
Israel, a major military power in the region, with a high-tech industry that is the envy of oil states seeking to diversify their economies, is a solution (at least partial) to the challenges they face.
Everywhere in Dubai, I heard Hebrew. Jews wearing yarmulkes walked openly in the streets of this megalopolis, safer than in Paris. My hotel included a kosher restaurant, and it is possible to attend Shabbat services without going through as much security as when I travel to Rome or Prague.
In some cities in Europe, I’m careful not to draw attention to my Star of David pendant. I did not have this same fear in the United Arab Emirates. Abu Dhabi built an Abrahamic Family House1, consisting of a church, a synagogue and a mosque in the same place, a powerful symbol of harmony. Long a taboo in the Arab world, the Holocaust will now be taught in schools across the Emirates.
Meanwhile, Morocco celebrates its Jewish heritage. Tens of thousands of Quebecers of Moroccan Jewish origin serve as an extraordinary bridge between the Kingdom, Canada and Israel.
According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, since the signing of the Abraham Accords, more than 150 memoranda have been concluded between Israel and its new partners. In 2021, trade between these entities exceeded C$2.6 billion following a 66% increase.
In March 2022, the foreign ministers of Egypt, Morocco, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and the United States visited Israel at the invitation of then Prime Minister Yair Lapid, a meeting named summit of the Negev2. Cooperation is deepening, including in the crucial area of combating climate change, to the benefit of all.
The Abraham Accords changed that. My Arab interlocutors have no desire to back down. But they still express some apprehension about the current Israeli government, which is made up in part of hard-right political formations, which I can easily understand.
The Abraham Accords, by allowing Israelis – and non-Israeli but openly Jewish Jews like me – to travel and trade in the region, by reaffirming the indigeneity of Jews in their historic homeland and by accepting the continuity of the State of Israel, have created a favorable conjuncture which, if the opportunity is seized, will open the door to peace between our Jewish and Palestinian neighbours.