By Oren Anolik, Ambassador of Israel to Cyprus
In these challenging times, it is natural to seek out beacons of hope and optimism. Today we can focus on a beacon that is lighting the path to a better future in the Middle East. Two years ago, on September 15th 2020, Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain signed the US-brokered peace and normalization agreements known as the “Abraham Accords”.
Between 2004 -2006, I had the privilege of taking part in the discreet, under the radar, efforts to bring Israel and the Gulf countries together. I visited the UAE and Bahrain and took part in high-level meetings. I had first-hand knowledge of the wise and sober approach of the leadership in these countries, but still, watching the official signing ceremony had a dreamlike quality.
For years, Israel worked behind-the-scenes to build clandestine diplomatic and economic relations with Arab moderate states in the region. It took wisdom from their side to ultimately recognize that Israel is an integral and permanent part of the Middle East with much to contribute to its stability and prosperity. It took vision to prioritize the future and see what connects the peoples of the region. It took courage to accept that peace is not the shameful compromise that radical voices claim it to be, but rather a victory for everything that is good in humanity.
Prime Minister Yair Lapid drove home the importance of this paradigm shift during his remarks alongside President Biden in Jerusalem, in July 2022, when he said that the Middle East has a new “alliance of moderate countries that believe in peace, that believe that our children deserve the opportunity to live a better life”.
The Accords are strengthening bonds between nations and peoples. Warm relations filtered down from state leaders to every layer of society, and are now thriving. Since the first direct flight between Tel Aviv and Dubai in November 2020, over 500,000 Israeli tourists and businesspeople have visited the UAE and Bahrain, connecting peoples and cultures like never before.
A shining example of the new alliance of moderates that the Accords have fostered in the Middle East was the establishment of the “Negev Forum”. The first-of-its-kind “Negev Summit” was held at Sde Boker in Israel, in June 2022, when then-Foreign Minister Yair Lapid hosted his counterparts form the USA, UAE, Bahrain, Morocco, and Egypt. This inaugural event led to the formation of the “Negev Forum”, which has already set to work building a new regional architecture based on progress, technology, religious tolerance, security, and intelligence cooperation.
The “Abraham Accords” open up options for a new cooperation in the region, which could involve Cyprus as well, since both Israel and Cyprus embrace a future of progress, prosperity, peace and security.
Moreover, Cyprus initiated and hosted the first meeting of the Foreign Ministers of Cyprus, Greece, Israel, with the participation of the UAE, in Pafos, in April 2021. The participants committed to broaden the scope of their cooperation to any and all stakeholders that share the same beliefs and objectives for regional stability to meet the challenge of radicalism and the promotion of peace.
This is an example of the transforming potential of the “Abraham Accords”, which will not affect just the countries that signed it and their citizens, but also the lives of citizens of other countries in the region and beyond. The tangible results will be in tourism, in economy, in science, in technology, in combating climate change, in protecting the environment and many more.
The “Pafos Forum” took advantage of the prospects opened and created a momentum that we ought to maintain and build on. The partnership between Israel, Greece, Cyprus and moderate Arab countries is a change of paradigm that opens up new opportunities and creates new synergies that seemed impossible until recently. It’s a partnership that brings together vision, leadership, technology, resources, interests and values.
Israel aspires to continue the fundamental development that started with the “Abraham Accords” and to expand the circle of peace and normalization. Indeed, Israel believes that it can bring about a change in the Arab-Israeli conflict and establish peaceful coexistence with its most immediate neighbors, the Palestinians, in the spirit of the Accords. After all, peace begets peace. Moreover, the normalization process serves to effectively consolidate moderate forces in the region in the face of shared threats, providing a counterbalance to the Iranian and other extremists groups’ menace.
The courageous steps taken by all parties involved signify a decision to build a future together that will benefit all our peoples. They have lit the path to a new optimistic reality in the Middle East, one that will advance the welfare of its population and bring peace, security, and prosperity to all.