Religious and cultural ties between Israel and the UAE will surely have drawbacks due to striking historical differences.
It was this Tuesday that Israel and the UAE signed a multi-billion-dollar free trade agreement. This was the last ring of the long chain of events in line with the Tel Aviv-Abu Dhabi rapprochement policy since the signing of the Abraham Accords.
Up until the signing of the Accords back on August 13, 2020, the UAE did not officially recognize Israel, and Israeli passport-holders were not allowed to legally enter the Gulf country.
Relations became even worse in 2010 after the UAE accused the Mossad of assassinating Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, the co-founder of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades. He was for long wanted by the Israeli government for murdering two Israeli soldiers back in 1989.
But since the penning of the Abraham Accords, which was proposed and initiated by the United States, Israel is getting closer and closer to the UAE in many areas.
The trade agreement signed Tuesday is expected to increase annual bilateral trade to more than $10 billion over the next five years. It is in fact the largest trade agreement ever signed between Israel and an Arab country.
Israel’s Minister of Economy and Industry Orna Barbivai and her counterpart, UAE Minister of Economy Abdulla bin Touq Al Marri, signed the deal in Dubai.
The signing opened “a new chapter in the history of the Middle East,” Emirati Trade Minister Thani Al Zeyoudi wrote on Twitter. “Our agreement will accelerate growth, create jobs and lead to a new era of peace, stability, and prosperity across the region.”
Going beyond economic cooperation
But Israel-UAE rapprochement has not been confined to economic cooperation only. To read between the lines, the two countries have even expressed willingness to cultural and religious blending as well.
It was on March 29 this year that in a joint statement by the US, Israel, and the UAE, the countries announced launching “an ambitious agenda to promote interfaith and intercultural dialogue and counter religious intolerance and hatred at the inaugural meeting of the Trilateral Religious Coexistence Working Group in Dubai”
As the UAE Minister of Health and Prevention Abdul Rahman Al Owais said back then, the joint statement is in fact “a direct outcome” of the historic Abraham Accords. “The Abraham Accords have become the most important force for positive change in the Middle East. To realize their full potential, we must reverse long-held mistrust, misconceptions, and misgivings about one another. We must find new ways to encourage people-to-people engagement that bridges religions, cultures, and nationalities,” said Al Owais.
Israeli Minister of Intelligence Elazar Stern also noted the same day that “tolerance and coexistence are the paths to our shared humanity and peace. The Abraham Accords have shattered long-standing paradigms, and now it is our duty to build on them and widen the circle of peace, regionally and globally, through these meetings of the Abrahamic faiths to send a clear message of reconciliation, acceptance, and inclusion.”
But the question is whether this religious and cultural blending can go on without consequences. After all, these two areas have for long been the main conflicting points in the historically dark relations between the UAE and Israel.
Israel’s resumption of relations with the UAE may therefore face opposition from the Emirati people in particular and the Muslim world in general. Just to give an example, it was this Monday that after senior Rabbi in the UAE, Elie Abadie, delivered a speech in Abu Dhabi’s Mosque, many Muslims strongly rebuked the move on social media.