Anglo-Israel Association hosts Abraham Accord discussion with Three Ambassadors

Ambassadors of UAE, Israel and Bahrain

This afternoon there was a historic and very upbeat Zoom meeting. The London Ambassadors of UAE, Israel and Bahrain came together under the auspices of the Anglo-Israel Association to speak about the Abraham Accords. It was also the first major appearance of the new Israeli Ambassador Tzipi Hotovely. You can see the whole meeting here. It was introduced by Lord Bew who chairs the Association. Lord Finkelstein moderated the meeting.

Lord Finkelstein was the Moderator

Here are the main points I jotted down.

The Bahraini Ambassador, HE Sheikh Fawaz al Khalifa, said that Bahrain is very open to all cultures and religions. The strengthening of relations with Israel started some time ago. Bahrain hosted the Peace for Prosperity Conference in 2019. The synagogue in Bahrain is over 100 years old. There are more Middle East countries which might join Bahrain, the UAE and Sudan in signing Accords with Israel. They are waiting for the Biden Administration. Asked by Lord Finkelstein whether the Accords would help or hinder the Palestinians, he responded that while they are the Number One Middle East issue for Bahrain, Bahrain itself is the Number One strategic issue and the Accord offers major commercial and scientific progress. Asked about BDS, Sheikh Fawaz said that the Arab boycott office in Bahrain was closed 15 years ago. Asked about the possibility of student exchanges he said that he had spoken at a Jewish school in Leeds (where 30% of the children are Muslim) and facilitated a link with a Christian school in Bahrain.  Asked about opposing antisemitism in the UK he mentioned the King Hamad Centre in Bahrain. Through this centre Bahrain was the first Middle East country to sign an Memorandum of Undertanding on antisemitism with the US.

The Israel Ambassador, HE Mrs Tzipi Hotovely, neither confirmed nor denied that PM Netanyahu met Mohammed Bin Salman of Saudi Arabia on Sunday. She said she was born in 1978, the year of the peace agreement with Egypt; this song “I was born to peace” was playing then (the beautiful words are by Uzi Hitman, translation here). Almost everyone had welcomed the Abraham Accords. Only Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas opposed them. They want to take the region backwards. Asked about the timing of the Accords, Ambassador Hotovely said that her government keeps a close watch on opinion about Israel in the Arab world and there has been a dramatic shift towards a desire for cooperation. Social media allows people in Arab countries to see the scientific and economic advances of Israel and especially young people want to connect, they want a future of prosperity. Asked about the Palestinian question, she said there has been a ‘paradigm shift’. There are big interests in the Middle East apart from the Palestinians. If one paradigm is proved not to work, people cannot wait forever. There is no question that the Biden Administration will be supportive of the Accords route. Regarding an agreement with the Palestinians, it cannot be imposed but at present the leadership of the Palestinians is divided between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. Asked what the UK can do, she said that the UK’s value-added is its long relations with the Gulf States. She mentioned an upcoming Conference in Cambridge where the three Ambassadors will meet.

The UAE Ambassador, HE Mansoor Abulhoul, was the first speaker. He emphasised that the Accord was more than just a document; it heralded complete cooperation across the board. Tomorrow would see that start of twice daily flights between the two countries. Biotech companies are already working together on Covid19. The two countries are the most dynamic economies in the region. Young people want peace. Decades of non-co-operation brought no benefits for the cause of peace. The Accord has benefitted the Palestinians by taking ‘annexation’ off the table. There was no change in the UAE’s stand as regards the Palestinians. The Accord allows the UAE to lobby from a stronger position. Asked by Lord Finkelstein about the timing, Ambassador Abulhoul said (like the Bahraini Ambassador) that the Accord with Israel did not come out of the blue. Israel had been invited to Expo2020 and to the UAE’s Golden Jubilee 2021. The Accord had not been driven solely by the commonality of opposition to Iran. But there was a need to confront narratives of hate. Iran’s bellicose behaviour had helped the Accord process. Asked about student exchanges he spoke of Israel’s world class education. Asked about antisemitism in the UK he said that there is no excuse for it, if Arabs can embrace Accord in the Middle East. The UAE had shattered the glass ceiling by inviting the Pope.

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