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'Strong peace is based on strong relationships'

Israeli soccer stars to join players from other Abraham Accords nations for UAE game

UAE, US ambassadors announce sports and culinary event at Expo 2020 in Dubai, bringing Emiratis, Bahrainis, Moroccans and Israelis together

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Israel's national soccer team celebrates the opening goal during the World Cup 2022 group F qualifying soccer match between Austria and Israel in Klagenfurt, Austria, November 12, 2021. (Lisa Leutner/AP)
Israel's national soccer team celebrates the opening goal during the World Cup 2022 group F qualifying soccer match between Austria and Israel in Klagenfurt, Austria, November 12, 2021. (Lisa Leutner/AP)

The United Arab Emirates will host a day-long Abraham Accords festival at the Expo 2020 Dubai next week, the Emirati and US ambassadors to Israel announced on Thursday.

The event — meant to be the first in a series hosted by Morocco, Bahrain and Israel over the coming months — will feature a soccer game between a combined Israeli, Emirati, Bahraini and Moroccan team and a squad made up of international soccer stars.

Israel national team players Tal Ben Haim, Salim Tuama and Maor Buzaglo will play on the “Abraham Accords Classics Team.”

The athletes from the other Abraham Accords nations also play on their respective national squads.

The “World Legends Team” will feature Brazil’s Kaká and Julio Cesar, Spain’s Carles Puyol and Michel Salgado, Argentina’s Javier Saviola, Nigeria’s Jay Jay Okocha, France’s Robert Pires, Bacary Sanga and Claude Makélélé, and Holland’s Clarence Seedorf.

Culture and Sports Minister Chili Tropper will represent Israel’s government at the event. He will be joined by his counterparts from the UAE, Bahrain, and Morocco, as well as US envoy to Israel Tom Nides and the UAE Minister of Entrepreneurship Ahmad Belhoul Al Falasi.

Poster announcing the Abraham Accords soccer match between national teams players and international stars, released March 24, 2022 (courtesy UAE Embassy in Israel)

The players and dignitaries will also enjoy a joint culinary event, as leading chefs from Israel, Bahrain, Morocco and the UAE prepare a festive dinner.

Avivit Priel Avichai, owner of Tel Aviv’s Ouzeria restaurant, will be the Israeli chef cooking at the dinner.

A signing ceremony will follow the meal, where a “Joint Declaration on Culture and Sport for Peace” will open the door for similar events in the other Abraham Accords nations.

The Dubai event was originally supposed to feature musicians from the four countries as well, but it became too complicated to pull off at this time with the involvement of the performers’ agents. Still, an Abraham Accords musical event is in the works, The Times of Israel has learned.

In September 2020, Israel established formal diplomatic ties with the UAE and Bahrain, followed by Morocco and a normalization agreement with Sudan. In July 2021, Israel opened its embassy in Abu Dhabi.

US Ambassador Tom Nides is interviewed by The Times of Israel at the US Embassy in Jerusalem, on January 7, 2022. (David Azagury/US Embassy)

Nides has brought together diplomats from the Abraham Accords nations in Israel into three working groups. UAE is focusing on culture and sports, Bahrain on technology, health care and economic development, while the Moroccans work to advance travel and tourism.

“As these benefits continue to grow, so do the bonds between people,” said Nides in a statement. “This historic Abraham Accords Festival at the Expo is an opportunity to forge long-lasting connections between athletes, restauranteurs, and other doers and makers who have created such vibrant societies in the UAE, Israel, Morocco and Bahrain.”

Since he arrived in Israel in February 2021, UAE ambassador Mohamed Al-Khaja, an avid runner, has been focusing on sports diplomacy as a way to advance the fast-growing Israel-UAE relationship.

“We are very ambitious here,” he told The Times of Israel in November. “It’s definitely an area where people can feel the relationship. Moving from a vision, from something symbolic, to something real that people experience.”

“We believe that we should always be optimistic,” he continued, “and focus on areas of interest, and double down on what we have in common. This is the only way we can have a long-lasting, warm peace, a sustainable peace.”

UAE ambassador to Israel Mohamed al Khajah at the opening ceremony of the United Arab Emirates embassy in Tel Aviv, July 14, 2021 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Khajah called the soccer match and dinner “part of a broader effort – whereby ongoing sports, food and cultural events serve as cement to form strong people-to-people ties between the signees of the Abraham Accords.”

“Strong peace is based on strong relationships between the citizens of the Abraham Accords countries,” Khajah declared. “We want to see the people get together to play, eat, form partnerships, friendships and have fun together.”

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