On September 15, 2020, when Trump hosted Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani, the then foreign ministers of the UAE and Bahrain, and Israel's then Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on the White House's South Lawn, one man was conspicuous by his absence. But the peace deal that the two Arab countries signed with Israel on that historic day had his indelible fingerprints.
When media around the world splashed pictures of the trio and former US President Donald Trump rubbing shoulders and forging new friendships, His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the then Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and the Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, chose to avoid the limelight.
The real architect behind the Abraham Accords that changed the face of Middle East geopolitics was content to watch a new era of peace and security dawning on his country from a distance, sitting in Abu Dhabi.
That is MBZ (as he is fondly called), the new UAE President, who seldom speaks in public, but whose words and vision are heard loud and clear across the region and the world.
Unquestionably one of the most powerful Arab leaders in the world, Sheikh Mohamed, is credited as the Abu Dhabi' strongman' who catapulted the emirates into diplomatic distinction on the world stage. A Sandhurst-trained soldier, his legacy is that of a peacemaker who ended decades-old hostilities with Israel and forged diplomatic relations with the country.
"The UAE aspires to a greater peace, one that is for the benefit of all," he said after winning the prestigious Scholar-Statesman Award, from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy for his role in cementing the Abraham Accords. He said he drew inspiration from his father the late Sheikh Zayed, who he described as a man of peace and compassion. He said the UAE-Israel peace is important "to send a clear message to the world and the region that we are striving for peace."
Some saw the peace accord that ended the pariah status of Israel as a watering down of the Palestinian cause. But Sheikh Mohamed was willing to take it in his stride for the greater good. "Every decision has risks, undoubtedly, and we live in a complex region. But the rewards are an incentive, and the outcomes we will achieve together are far greater than the drawbacks," he said.
His words rang true in the last two years as the peace deal created a domino effect with other countries following suit. On December 22, 2020, Morocco signed a declaration announcing the renewal of diplomatic relations with Israel in the spirit of the Abraham Accords. Sudan also announced the normalisation of relations with Israel in October 2020, and a declaration was signed in Khartoum on January 6, 2021.
Trade and people-to-people relations flourished between Israel and the UAE. Despite Covid-19, more than 130,000 Israelis visited the UAE just in the first four and a half months after the Accords were signed.
Since the signing of the Abraham Accords, the value of trade between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain has risen tremendously and has opened immense business opportunities for both countries. High level cooperation agreements and MoUs have been signed-in the areas of investment, energy cooperation, food security, technology and healthcare to mention a few. Both countries established embassies and there was a flurry of high-profile visits between the two governments.
According to Abraham Accords Peace Institute, a nonpartisan, non-profit US organisation dedicated to supporting the implementation and expansion of the historic peace agreements, the peace agreements have the potential to transform the region, creating a new Middle East corridor of prosperity, stability, and trade. "While the historic Abraham Accords have led to an exciting surge in economic ties between Israel and its new Arab partners, the Accords' promise goes much deeper than bilateral business deal," it said.
The deal, many saw, also cemented a new security blanket against the Iranian influence in the region.
The deepening diplomatic relationships also provided a platform for both countries to cooperate to address issues like reducing regional tensions, combating terrorism, mitigating the impact of the climate crisis.
By pulling the right diplomatic strings and making the Abraham Accords a reality, the biggest gift MBZ has given the people of the region is the gift of hope. In a region marred by protracted conflicts, the peace deal shines a beacon of hope for a better tomorrow for millions of Arabs.
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