Christian businessmen and women should pay attention: If the beginning of the Abraham Accords is any indication, the next few years are going to produce an explosion in economic opportunities, cooperation and growth in the Middle East.
That was the assessment of ALL ISRAEL NEWS Editor-in-Chief Joel Rosenberg, who was a panelist at the ARISE Digital Summit on Tuesday.
“Bottom line right now – I would say: Yes, the gold rush has started,” Rosenberg said. “COVID has caused it to go a lot slower, at first, but you already had a quarter of a million Israelis who rushed into the United Arab Emirates just to see it. And business deals are happening.”
Rosenberg said the spirited business climate that has emerged – thanks to the Abraham Accords – has set the stage for unprecedented interaction between the nations involved.
The Abraham Accords were signed in Sept. 2020 during the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then – and despite that – the Middle East has seen the flood gates open in business and economic cooperation between Israel and its Arab allies already leading to trade, investment and even tourism.
“We are at the early stages and I think the Abraham Accords group of countries will expand,” Rosenberg said, noting friendly ties between Israel and Oman plus warming relations with Saudi Arabia.
And that is where entrepreneurial minds would be wise to look, the panelists said at the ARISE Summit.
The United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan all joined the Accords between September and December 2020. While the business sector took off, the governments have also signed some massive deals from intelligence sharing to the recently-inked water for solar deal between Israel, Jordan and the UAE.
This season represents a new paradigm, a vast difference from decades of terror and conflict.
“This is a strategic decision that was deep,” Rosenberg said. “This was not about keeping one set of armies over here and another one there. It wasn’t about armies; this was about a strategic decision from the UAE side to brand themselves as probably the most progressive” Arab country.
The UAE took the leap and opened to business and tourism, hosted an international expo, invited the Pope and is going to the moon with Israel.
“That’s a lot for a country that didn’t exist 60 years ago,” Rosenberg said.
ARISE is a U.S.-based organization dedicated to cultivating a community for business engagement, economic development and support for Israel. The event, which was online this year due to COVID restrictions, revolved around the unfolding phenomenon of the Abraham Accords.
ALL ISRAEL NEWS was a sponsor of the event, which – in addition to the summit talks – provides b2b matchmaking opportunities for businessmen and women to connect with other participants who share the same faith, values and business goals.
Rosenberg was joined by Fleur Hassan-Nahoum who is Jerusalem’s deputy mayor and one of the founders of the UAE-Israel Business Council (UIBC), and Esther Ochana, UIBC Tourism and Delegations director.
The UIBC is a new initiative that connects Israeli technology and innovation businesses with ecosystem with the UAE’s unique strengths in finance, trade, and logistics. Hassan-Nahoum said the organization preceded the Accords which she said created a new “paradigm.”
“It's not the Arab-Israeli conflict anymore – that is over. The countries who are here are here for peace and prosperity,” she said.
The UIBC has amassed a list of 3,000 businesses that want to connect with partners abroad.
In a prescient and visionary move, Hassan-Nahoum and her business partner launched the organization even before the peace accords were signed.
“This was such a game changer,” she said. “People were desperate and they didn’t know how to connect. …And since then it's just grown.”
Meanwhile she says to look at the trend: Just two years ago, there were about 200 Israeli companies doing business through third parties in the UAE.
Now “there are companies doing business with Saudi Arabia, through Bahrain, through Oman and through the UAE,” she said. “And so if you want to look at the trend, reverse engineer the Abraham Accords and look at what's going on in Saudi Arabia today.”
An offshoot of the business platform is the Women’s Leadership Forum.
“The momentum really is with women in the Middle East. People here and around the world tell me, ‘Oh, aren't women totally repressed there?’ Not at all. They are business leaders, they are political leaders,” Fleur-Nahoum said.
The UAE and Bahrain are not the patriarchal societies many would presume, Fleur-Nahoum said.
“In fact, they're matriarchal societies. It's not openly a matriarchal society, but everybody is obsessed with their mothers. It's like, all the Jewish men that I know – the mother decides who they marry.”
Ochana, who works with incoming tourists but now also brings Israelis to the Gulf, concurred. The women’s groups are involving more Palestinians, Israeli Arabs and women from Egypt and Jordan in developing ties made thanks to the Abraham Accords, she said.
Ochana also described the changes in tourism taking place. For instance, Emiratis, Bahrainis and Moroccans can now travel to Israel and Israelis to the UAE and Bahrain – all forbidden prior to these normalization pacts – while only Morocco was open to Israelis. But now, Jerusalem will become a Mecca of sorts to Muslims from these nations – something that Fleur-Nahoum welcomes.
"I think we're going to be seeing a new era of Muslim tourism that we've never seen," she said.
And more so, that is going to galvanize the local Arab population "embracing them into the Start-Up Nation and using them as a bridge and as a hub for R&D, for research and development, for the entire Middle East. I think that's a really exciting prospect that I'm trying to push forward," Fleur-Nahoum said.
In addition to other business insights, ARISE Founder and Chairman Calev Myers mentioned property in the Holy Land as a surefire investment.
“This is the time to buy real estate in Israel,” Myers said during the panel discussion which underscored the excitement in the current housing market.
Rosenberg said that with all these events going on, Evangelical Christians can find a way to step into the story as well.
For Rosenberg, watching the Accords unfold has been a journey in which he was personally involved. Over the years prior to the announcement, Rosenberg had led Evangelical delegations to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other countries and was privy to conversations that indicated peace with Israel was imminent. He recounts these details in his book, “Enemies and Allies.”
Nicole Jansezian is the news editor for both ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS and senior correspondent for ALL ISRAEL NEWS