Jerusalem: Israel has taken a further step in thawing its relations with its Arab neighbours by signing four trade deals with the United Arab Emirates.
The move follows the two countries’ peace agreement in September.
The first commercial passenger flight to Israel by a carrier from the United Arab Emirates landed near Tel Aviv on Monday.Credit:AP
The four trade deals signed in Tel Aviv on Tuesday will waive visa requirements and improve co-operation on science and technology. The US also announced along with Israel a $US3 billion ($4.2 billion) fund that looks to enhance trade in North Africa and the Middle East.
Israel hopes to unlock $US500 million in trade deals with the UAE and Bahrain after the three countries signed the Abraham Accords in Washington.
The agreement normalised their relationship and will lead to the establishment of embassies and direct flight routes, as well as enhanced trade.
It comes as Jerusalem's British-born deputy mayor launches a charm offensive in Dubai to enhance tourism.
Fleur Hassan-Nahoum held meetings last week with Emirati business leaders about co-operation on healthcare, technology and construction, as well as tour packages. "I see enormous potential in partnerships between Jerusalem, Dubai and Abu Dhabi, especially in terms of Muslim tourism," Hassan-Nahoum said.
"I'm also here to push the agenda of possible investments in East Jerusalem because of the common language – 40 per cent of my city is Arabic speaking.
"We're keen and the Emiratis are keen so I hope we're going to find some interesting partners and have some mutual agreements in place," added the deputy mayor. She also holds the city of Jerusalem's foreign relations portfolio.
The Jewish state is eager to seek out new markets in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, which forced the country to impose two bruising lockdowns, which at one point led to an unprecedented unemployment rate of 20 per cent. According to Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics, the pandemic shrank the economy by 28 per cent in the second quarter of 2020, the sharpest contraction in four decades. The country has a population of just 8.8 million and a GDP of around $US370 billion.
The accords could also unlock tech and tourism deals with Bahrain, while Saudi Arabia — which says it is not yet ready to normalise relations — has grown increasingly close to Israel on defence and security issues.
Hassan-Nahoum is also the co-founder of the UAE-Israel Business Council and recently attended its inaugural session of the Gulf-Israel Women's Forum to discuss new business opportunities.
The most visible change will arguably come about through tourism, with Israeli citizens able to visit Dubai and Abu Dhabi, while Emirati Muslims may be curious to see the holy sites of Jerusalem. Before the accords were signed, Egypt and Jordan were the only two Arab countries open to Israel's 1.9 milion Arab citizens.
Nader Khoury, the Palestinian owner of Shepherds Tours in Jerusalem, said he had already received a call from a Dubai-based agent inquiring about tour packages.
"I can tell you that we will see, very soon, more traffic between the Emirates and Israel from both sides," he said. "The only delay is the coronavirus pandemic."
However, one Palestinian owner of a major hotel in East Jerusalem said he had not yet received a single booking — or even an inquiry — from the UAE.
"I don't think we will see many Emiratis," said Tamer Abu Dayyeh, manager of the Jerusalem Ambassador Hotel. "Dubai is full of foreigners and they can come here anyway."
Palestinian leaders have condemned the UAE-Israel deal as a "stab in the back", as they have long insisted that Arab states only normalise relations with Israel after the creation of a Palestinian state.
A recent Israeli government study found that 90 per cent of Arabic social media discussion about the accords had been negative, such as the popular Twitter hashtag "normalizationistreason".
The Knesset, the Israeli parliament, approved the accords on October 15, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailing a new "warm peace" in the region.
Earlier that week, an Emirati plane crossed Israeli airspace en route to Abu Dhabi for the first time. "This is a historic moment. We hope it will inspire the whole region and mark the beginning of a new era, inshallah [God willing]," an Israeli air traffic controller declared as the Etihad Airways jet passed.
Yet in Jerusalem's Arab suburb of Beit Safafa, opinion seemed to be split down generational lines over likely benefits of the Jewish state's deals with Bahrain and the UAE.
Malek Duik, a 21-year-old baker, said he was already making plans to visit Dubai as soon as the coronavirus pandemic is over.
"I want to go at the end of this year if the coronavirus allows me to," he said. "I like cars and I'd like to rent one of those expensive cars there."
But Abed, a 44-year-old Arab-Israeli supermarket owner, said he had no desire to visit the wealthy Gulf states, even though some of his family live there.
"It's true we could go now [due to the deal] but it's expensive and there is no history to see in those countries. It's not like visiting Europe," he said.
The Telegraph, London
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