Opinion |

UAE: We Seek a Warm Peace With Israel

Peace between the United Arab Emirates and Israel is a historic and hopeful opportunity. But it is not a substitute for peace between Israelis and Palestinians

Hend Al Otaiba
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The UAE, Israeli and U.S. flags are picture attached to an air-plane of Israel's El Al, upon it's arrival at the Abu Dhabi airport, August 31, 2020.
The UAE, Israeli and U.S. flags are picture attached to an air-plane of Israel's El Al, upon it's arrival at the Abu Dhabi airport, August 31, 2020.Credit: AFP
Hend Al Otaiba

It was a simple tweet sent on a Friday afternoon after a week of dizzying change. The just-announced UAE-Israel Peace Accord was a triumph of diplomacy and produced newfound regional hope, a commodity in short supply here. A historic opportunity had arrived, finally overshadowing decades of distrust and illusive peace. 

With a frenzied workweek ending, my tweet was a message for peace written in English, Hebrew, and Arabic. It read: Shabbat Shalom.

The response was swift. Muslims, Christians, Jews, and followers of non-Abrahamic religions; Emiratis and Israelis; public servants in the White House and private citizens collectively expressed their desire for coexistence rooted in dialogue, de-escalation, and engagement. The detractors, though few in numbers, were drowned out. This message of interfaith tolerance resonated. Powering this change were people thirsting for a better future. 

With deep involvement by the United States, peace between the United Arab Emirates and Israel was negotiated by skilled diplomats. It was guided by national leaders and at the signing ceremony on Tuesday, the U.S. president, Israeli prime minister, and UAE foreign minister will formalize this achievement in front of a worldwide audience. 

Yet substantive peace between nations is only possible if people within those countries desire meaningful change. It requires parents wishing that their grandchildren enjoy a more hopeful future than their grandparents experienced.  

The UAE position is unequivocal: We seek a warm peace with Israel, punctuated by meaningful interactions, frequent engagements, and mutually beneficial opportunities. Since the UAE’s founding in 1971, we have built a diverse, tolerant, and future-oriented society and we are eager to realize the fruits of peace.

Israeli students curious to learn about the UAE and the Gulf region deserve to study in our universities. Emirati students should sit in an Israeli classroom and learn with their Middle Eastern counterparts. Long-held biases and misinformed taboos must be broken down across societies and by all age groups. Our youth, who intrinsically understand the power of peace and the economic opportunities this opening provides, will lead the way. 

The UAE welcomes people of all faiths with open arms. Last year, after Pope Francis’ historic visit to the UAE and his meeting with the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, we announced the establishment of an Abrahamic Family House in Abu Dhabi. A mosque, church, and synagogue will coexist within this complex. Hotel restaurants in the capital city soon will offer kosher meals to our visitors.   

The new normal will have our athletes competing against each other without political distractions. Our entrepreneurs and technologists need to collaborate and design solutions for a better future, beginning with cures to the COVID-19 pandemic. An Emirates or Etihad airplane landing in Tel Aviv or an El Al aircraft taking off from Dubai or Abu Dhabi should be routine. When Expo 2021 kicks off in Dubai, the Israeli pavilion will be open to the community of nations.

A Hebrew-speaking Israeli visiting the Louvre Abu Dhabi and marveling at the prominent display of a side-by-side seventh-century Quran, a Gothic Bible, and a 15th-century Yemeni Torah will be a normal occurrence. An Arabic-speaking Emirati paying respects at Yad Vashem to Holocaust victims will demonstrate human compassion.

Women leaders are integral to this burgeoning peace. When the UAE was founded nearly 50 years ago, our Founding Father, Sheikh Zayed, and the Mother of the Nation, Sheikha Fatima Bint Mubarak, prioritized gender equality. Universal education was quickly championed and the results are evident today. Women in the UAE lead government ministries, embassies, and corporations. They are nuclear engineers and rocket scientists. Collaboration between Emirati and Israeli female leaders will transform the region. 

The Emirati, Israeli and U.S. flags at the Abu Dhabi airport at the arrival of the first-ever flight on a commercial plane from Israel to the UAE. August 31, 2020
The Emirati, Israeli and U.S. flags at the Abu Dhabi airport at the arrival of the first-ever flight on a commercial plane from Israel to the UAE. August 31, 2020Credit: KARIM SAHIB / AFP

Peace between our two countries is a significant opportunity, but it is not a substitute for peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

Our deep and longstanding commitment to the Palestinian people is unwavering and as the third Arab nation to establish diplomatic relations with Israel, we will advocate strongly for a two-state solution and Palestinian rights to dignity and self-determination. Israelis and Palestinians are next-door neighbors and require a just and lasting resolution to this decades-long conflict. It is overdue.

At the White House signing ceremony on Tuesday, with national flags waving and our anthems playing, a new Middle East will take shape. Our leaders will shake hands and receive applause for their courageous actions. Yet the responsibility for peace rests with the Emirati and Israeli people to pursue this inspired agenda. 

With Rosh Hashana set to begin, may this be a year of peace and progress, hope and tolerance. That wish is a tweet I will certainly send. 

Hend Al Otaiba is director of strategic communications at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, United Arab Emirates. Twitter: @hend_mana

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