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Treaty between Israel and UAE leaves others in the dust



How warm are relations between Israel, Egypt, and Jordan? A few articles on the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies’ (BESA’s) website analyse these treaties.

In the first one, dated 3 September, Professor Hillel Frisch makes the point that the peace treaties between Israel, Egypt, and Jordan are limited to narrow diplomatic and security relations. He describes them as a cold peace. He goes on to note that the previous Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, never made an official visit to Israel throughout his 30 years of rule.

Neither has King Abdullah of Jordan. In spite of being in power for more than a decade, Abdullah has never visited Israel, even though it’s only slightly more than 200 kilometres from Amman to Jerusalem. More recently, it was reported that the king refused to talk to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the phone.

On the cultural side, Frisch notes that Israel has been at peace with Egypt for more than 40 years, but no Egyptian soccer team has ever played against an Israeli team either in Israel or anywhere else. No delegations from an Egyptian university have ever visited an Israeli counterpart, or engaged in a joint programme.

Then, in a second BESA paper dated 6 September, Dr Edy Cohen notes that although there is close security co-operation between Israel and Egypt, the Egyptian media is virulently and bitterly anti-Israel. He gives a detailed account of how difficult it is for Egyptians to visit Israel as tourists (from the Egyptian side). The process includes first having to get permission from Egyptian intelligence, and being warned against making such a trip. For Egyptians wishing to live in Israel – there are about 6 000 doing so – the process is even more difficult. Clearly although there is a formal peace between the countries, relations aren’t warm.

Will the treaty with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) turn out to be any different? Although of course it’s too early to know for sure, there are many reasons to hope that this particular treaty will be different and relations between the two countries will be much warmer.

First, Israel and the UAE have never fought a war against each other, and they have no shared borders or any land disputes. There is therefore no history, unlike in the case of Egypt and Jordan.

Second, Egypt and Jordan are poor countries. If you look at nominal gross domestic product per capita, Egypt is at US$3 046 (R50 784), with Jordan only slightly higher at US$4 200 (R70 024). Israel and the UAE tower over them, with per capita GDPs of US$42 000 (R700 241) and US$37 750 (R625 215) respectively, with the UAE much higher on a purchasing power parity basis. Israel really has very little in common with Egypt and Jordan, and apart from water and gas, the trade opportunities aren’t that vast. The UAE, on the other hand, is a dynamic and wealthy economy, much more similar to Israel when it comes to growth industries, and this means there will be far more opportunities for both to benefit from expanding trade. Industries like technology, medicine, green energy, agriculture, and water immediately come to mind.

Third, the UAE is a much more worldly country, with an integrated and open economy. It’s a tax centre in the Middle East, a modern and thriving economy that’s an important part of the global system and international trade.

Its citizens travel widely, and it’s also a country which has always been used to entertaining and hosting foreigners. Emiratis constitute only roughly 20% of the total population, making the UAE home to one of the world’s highest percentage of immigrants.

Accepting Israelis is unlikely to be much of an issue for the local populace who are used to having foreigners and people that are different. Indeed, Israelis have always been present in the UAE, just not on an Israeli passport up to now.

Finally, what has been interesting already, is the high level of cultural acceptance in the UAE of Israeli and Jewish values and norms. On 8 September, AP [Associated Press] showed pictures of an Israeli model wearing an Israeli flag while doing a shoot in the Dubai desert of a new collection of lounge wear. Probably of even more importance, the Jerusalem Post reported on 9 September that the Abu Dhabi department of culture and tourism had advised all hotel establishments throughout the emirate to include kosher food and beverage options on room service and dining room menus for incoming tourists and visitors. This wasn’t something that ever happened in Egypt and Jordan.

Then, last Thursday, the Sheba Medical Center became the first hospital in Israel to sign an agreement with the UAE, announcing a deal with UAE’s APEX National Investment. Under the memorandum of understanding, Sheba and APEX will collaborate on a range of healthcare projects. The two agreed to co-operate on battling COVID-19, and on medical research and innovation. Sheba’s director general was quoted as saying this would change the dynamics of healthcare and innovation.

There is every reason to believe, and the early signs are certainly very encouraging, that this peace will be different to the others. It will be a warm peace, and lead to a thriving relationship between the people of the UAE and Israel, not one just between governments.

  • Harry Joffe is a Johannesburg tax and trust attorney.

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