It felt strangely relieving, the moment the UAE and Israel signed on the peace treaty Tuesday afternoon at the White House.
It took 49 years for the Arab Gulf country to finally decide to normalise ties with Israel, becoming the third Arab state after Egypt and Jordan to do so. It is definitely a triumph for the UAE and Israel, as these ties will open up enormous economic, defence, cultural, tourism, technological and even sporting opportunities. Israeli Intelligence Minister, Eli Cohen, predicted an annual bilateral trade of $4 billion “within three to five years,” in his statements to Reshet Bet radio station this month.
- From the editors: Mask is a must to beat COVID-19. Coronavirus even floored the UFC, so Star Trek Day goes online
- Photos: Pakistan backlash grows over Charlie Hebdo cartoons
- Cartoons: Yemen yearns for peace, while Iran foments wars in the Middle East
- Cartoons: How political uncertainty grips parts of Middle East
That is a lot of money that both countries need as the world economy is struggling due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There is no better time to uphold multilateralism than today, and this is what this US-brokered UAE-Israel peace accord is all about.
I remember in June reading a timely statement by UAE’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, which he gave at the Belt and Road Initiative videoconference, saying: “COVID-19 has strengthened rather than undermined the benefits of multilateralism. It highlighted the vital need for all countries to avoid pursuing particularistic and narrow interests.”
The world is facing a crisis worse than 2008’s financial crisis. The IMF predicted a 4.9 per cent shrink to the global economy this year, and the unemployment in the OECD’s 37 countries is expected to increase to 9.4 per cent year-on-year. UAE and Israel’s pragmatism amid this chaotic economic situation is an example of what the world, and the Middle East, in particular, needs right now. It needs virtual, direct benefits to the people. Not popularise, not nationalism, and not propaganda rhetoric.
The peace accord is also a significant achievement for the Trump administration, which also brokered the Bahrain-Israel normalisation deal. Apart from the president himself, it was his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner’s starring moment too. Amid all the coronavirus “mismanagement” criticism, blaming him and other key figures at the White House, including the president, this peace accord was indeed a sigh of relief, just two months before the presidential election.
I had met Kushner in Abu Dhabi on September 1 for a one-on-one exclusive interview, just a day after the arrival of the first-ever direct commercial flight from Tel Aviv. He was over the moon with this milestone step. He even told me that it would be “logical” to him that all the 22 Arab states normalise ties with Israel one day, because he is an “optimist” and because “there are a thousand reasons why it should happen, and a very few reasons why it should not happen.”
Alongside the will and courage of the leaders of the UAE and Israel to achieve what they have already achieved; you definitely need people like Kushner when you are trying to broker the first peace treaty for an Arab state with Israel in 26 years. Before interviewing him, I had read dozens and dozens of articles about the 39-year-old Harvard-graduate in the US media. There was a quite negative and cynical labels about almost everything pertains to him, be it his competence, skills or even personal traits. There is a prejudgment that evidently turned into a bias against him.
“Thank you for the opportunity Mr. senior adviser,” I told him just before my interview started on September 1. “Please call me Jared,” the 1.91cm tall Hollywood-styled man in his dark blue suit, with a Capri blue colour tie, answered in a gentle tone.
“I have been begging your people to give me 10 minutes with you, I hope you would approve that,” I told him, as he had a flight to catch to Bahrain and I was not getting anywhere towards getting what I wanted, so I decided to ask the boss himself. “Sure, that is fine,” he comfortably replied as the room went quiet.
As the interview was approaching the end, I was getting waves asking me to end it before my 10 minutes, so I had to repeat the trick. I looked at him in the eye and went for it again. “Can I ask you the last question?” I said. “Yes, we can do one more question,” Kushner told his team in a firm, yet humble tone. When the interview ended, I asked him if I could take a picture with him. “I would be honoured,” the US President’s son-in-law said.
I sat in the same room with him for 30 minutes and watched him closely as he spoke to other colleagues from the press, including myself, separately. I was also at the Bateen Executive Airport, the day before, when he landed with a top-level US-Israeli delegation and gave his statements at the media briefing. “I was the first to ask you yesterday at the briefing, hope you remember me,” I told him at the very beginning. “Oh yes, I do,” he nodded.
When it all ended, I remembered what the then UAE Ambassador to Russia, Omar Ghobash, said in 2016 about how some “very important individuals” in Russia he would often meet and spend time with are portrayed in the press, versus how they actually are. “They would be described as a ‘tough leader’ or who have some awful syndicate. They are very normal people with parents, children and friends. They are living normal lives,” he told the Arab Media Forum in Dubai. “I began to become aware of the way actually there are certain very powerful biases within the media.”
My impressions of Kushner that I had met were kind, humble, soft-spoken and certainly a pragmatic. Having met several heads of state, top-level officials and many celebrities from different industries throughout my humble career, I can say his composure and emotional intelligence are distinctive. His ability to understand, give and take, turn old foes into brand-new friends, and embark on missions to resolve, what many previous American leaders and top officials could not, are evident through many outcomes, lately in his role in Israel’s peace accords with the UAE and Bahrain.
It is a breath of fresh air in the Washington, Abu Dhabi, and Tel Aviv today as a chapter of the old Middle East has ended and a new one has started. There is finally good news coming out of the region thanks to superb leadership skills in the three countries that do not fear change; as a matter of fact, transformational change. Two of the most advanced economies in the region have come together during an era of uncertainty, exemplifying to the rest of the region and the world how much work can be done for peace even during the worst of times.
Ibrahim Shukralla is an award-winning Emirati journalist. He holds an MA in Media, Culture and Communication from New York University, US. Twitter: @Shukralla