Najat Al Saied, a columnist, author, and independent researcher, spoke to participants in a December 4 Middle East Forum webinar (video) about the normalization of relations between the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Israel and why it is likely to endure.
Al Saied emphasized that the UAE has established a "warm ... people-to-people peace" with Israel "rather than only government-to-government peace" of the kind that Egypt and Jordan established decades ago. She discussed the major ideational, economic, and strategic drivers that set the stage for this.
Whereas most Egyptians and Jordanians see peace with Israel as a necessary evil at best, Emiratis view the Abraham Accords with immense national pride, engendered by seeing their country as a "symbol and role model of peace and tolerance in the region." This is especially true of the new generation of Emiratis, 34% of whom are under the age of 25.
Emiratis have been conditioned to live harmoniously with different races and religions due to the large number of expats living in their country – around 7.8 million of its total population of 9.2 million, representing scores of nationalities and different religious faiths.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, with students in 2012.
The groundwork for this national ethos was laid through an education system that teaches tolerance of other cultures. Differing from other Arab countries where textbooks too often engender hatred and suspicion towards foreigners, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan took control of the education ministry from Islamists and pushed to make the curriculum a "roadmap for the young Emirati towards moderation."
According to Al Saied, that UAE has "the first curriculum in the region to separate moral education from religious education." The former consists of four units: character and morality, the individual and community, cultural studies, and civic studies. Islamic textbooks shy away from the supremacism typical of religious curricula elsewhere in the Middle East, notably treating "Judaism as belonging to the Arab region."
The firm support of most Emirates for the Abraham Accords also reflects the high level of trust they have in their leadership compared to citizens of most other Arab states. This is the result of shared kinship and blood ties, and of the demonstrable prosperity, development, and stability that have flourished under this leadership for decades. "Once the leaders agree upon certain decision, most of the people agree because they trust the opinion of the leadership."
Thus, most Emirates accept their leaders assurances that the Abraham Accords promoted a two-state solution for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict by warding off the threat of Israeli annexations.
The UAE and Israel have "clear strategic interests" in peace.
The UAE and Israel have "clear strategic interests in this agreement" because they have "enemies in common," most notably "the Iranian regime ... political Islam in general, and the Muslim Brotherhood in particular." In addition, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's efforts to "exploit Palestinian grievance" and "expand [Turkish] hegemony and influence in the region" have made him a common adversary. With the UAE unburdened by a history of "direct military conflict" with Israel, these threats have engendered the "perception of Israel as a strategic ally," particularly in light of Washington's reduced presence in the Middle East.
The UAE is driven by "ambitious development plans and global competitive aspirations embodied by the UAE Vision 2021 and UAE [Centennial] 2071" strategies. The technological expertise found in Israel's industries and companies make it an ideal regional partner for the UAE's model of development and modernization. The UAE bases its approach on the "practical nature" of "peace through economy" between the people themselves.
A multitude of private sector actors on both sides are fostering "shared opportunities, economic cooperation, and business partnerships between Emiratis and Israelis." A UAE-Israeli Policy Forum has been formed to bring academics, researchers and scholars together in joint programs, for example, and a new Gulf-Israel Women's Forum connects Israeli and Emirati businesswomen
Emiratis in Dubai pose with Israeli tourists in front of a giant menorah on display at Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building, for all eight nights of Hanukkah.
Expectations of rapidly growing bilateral trade and investment have reinforced warm personal attitudes toward Israel in the UAE, evident in Emirati newspaper headlines that celebrated the Jewish New Year and in the kosher catering now available in many hotels as well as on the UAE airlines. In contrast to films and dramas in Egypt that exacerbate hate against Israel, the Abu Dhabi Film Commission has joined with the Israel Film Fund to promote cultural understanding between the two peoples. An Abrahamic House scheduled to open in 2022 will include a church, synagogue, and mosque.
Al Saeid's optimism about the burgeoning friendship between Emiratis and Israelis is tempered only by the fact that "the leftist and liberal media" in the U.S. and other Western countries as well as in Israel is "undermining the peace treaty," which she attributes to political hostility to Trump and Netanyahu. Leftist media outlets that put political interests above peace "are giving a gift ... to radical Islamists," she cautioned, noting that in the Arab world, Al Jazeera and other Islamist-leaning media outlets have spearheaded opposition to UAE-Israel normalization.
Marilyn Stern is communications coordinator at the Middle East Forum.