Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice- President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, Shaikh Saif bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior, Shaikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Dubai Crown Prince, Shaikh Maktoum bin Mohammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Deputy Ruler of Dubai, Shaikh Mansour bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Image Credit: WAM

Dubai: Former French president Francois Hollande condemned on Tuesday the move by the United States to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel at a time of high political and military tensions around the world.

Speaking to delegates at the 10th annual Arab Strategy Forum in Dubai, Hollande criticised President Donald Trump’s unilateral declaration as unwise and inflammatory for a region already steeped in political and religious strife.

The forum draws global thinkers, visionaries, academics and business leaders every year and is hosted at the Ritz-Carlton — Dubai International Financial Centre under heavy security.

Shaikh Mohammad with former french president Hollande. WAM

“It’s not only a bad decision, it’s a brutal decision. It will create more problems than naught,” Hollande said in response to a question from an Algerian delegate from the floor asking if the decision would spawn more terrorist attacks around the world.

Hollande questioned the reasoning behind the move noting that “it has no proper effect on the behaviour of the Israeli government” or its President Benjamin Netanyahu.

Instead of dividing peoples in the Middle East, countries and their leaders should be working towards resolutions to long-standing conflicts, he said.

“We have to share with our Arab friends the road to negotiating; this is the European responsibility,” Hollande said.

Putting up major road blocks to peace is not the way forward, he said, and can only be accomplished with all parties on board.

“The unity of Arabs is essential, it will allow us to find unity and balance,” Hollande said.

World experts at the forum echoed Hollande’s concerns that economic, political and religious challenges lie ahead in an uncertain 2018 regionally and globally.

But countries such as the UAE who are embracing change. said experts, will survive the year ahead and well into beyond, said speakers and panellists.

His Highness Shaikh Mohammad, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, who attended the forum, acknowledged that being prepared for the hard work ahead is critical.

“Through the Arab Strategy Forum, we are trying to politically and economically anticipate the future,” tweeted His Highness Shaikh Mohammad. “The Arab world is going through rapid political and economic changes, and countries that cannot keep up with the changes risk falling behind for many years.”

“Changes in 2018 will be positive for the UAE, because it is amply prepared economically, politically and scientifically. We have a diverse economic base and strong international trade flow, as well as immense experience that qualifies us to deal with and benefit from economic changes in 2018,” tweeted Shaikh Mohammad.

“Major Arab nations will witness huge economic reforms in the coming year. From an economic perspective, I am optimistic about 2018. We hope that 2018 will be a breakthrough year for some critical Arab crises,” he added.

Forum panellist Dr Robert Gates, former United States secretary of defence who served under eight American presidents, said that tensions between Israel and Palestine are ramping up and will continue to worsen in the year ahead in the form of a growing conflict between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

“Israel will see this as an increasing problem that they would be forced to deal with,” Gates said.

The timing couldn’t be worse as Iran and its Middle East neighbours stare down each other in a growing regional cold war that only serves to heighten the discontent throughout the region.

“I think we will see more of this in 2018,” Gates said, adding that Iran will likely try and build a Shia corridor through Syria and into Lebanon, fanning sectarian flames.

Speaking to the North Korean threat, Gates predicted that the isolated hermit country will continue to tempt world powers, including the United States, in its weapons testing.

“I think 2018 will see North Korea have a proven Intercontinental Ballistic Missile capability to deliver a nuclear weapon anywhere in the world,” Gates said.

That said, Gates said there will be “a settling down” of the sabre rattling between North Korea and the US.

Holland, meanwhile, told delegates that he believes the Iran nuclear deal brokered by the United States to limit Iran’s nuclear ambitions will hold in the New Year despite repeated criticisms by Trump of the deal.

“It is necessary where we have to fight against nuclear proliferation,” Hollande said.

He also said that given a looming Brexit and the UK’s departure from the European Union, France is an opportune position as the only EU nuclear power to lead a new defensive posture for Europe amid America’s waning foreign policies abroad.

“It’s up to the European Union to defend it’s own security,” Hollande said.