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Israelis expect Saudi breakthrough as Biden visit rolls back Sand Curtain

Improving Israel’s relations with the Arab Middle East is a rare and precious point of bipartisan agreement in US politics

(Illustration by AVI KATZ)
(Illustration by AVI KATZ)

President Joe Biden’s arrival in the Middle East this month has fanned expectations of another historic step toward pulling down the Sand Curtain that has divided Israel and the Arab Gulf States.

Since then-president Donald Trump ushered in the Abraham Accords less than two years ago, trade and tourist ties have blossomed between Israel and the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco.

Now President Biden says one aim of his trip is “to deepen Israel’s integration in the region, which I think we’re going to be able to do and which is good — good for peace and good for Israeli security.” Israel’s leaders have come out “strongly for my going to Saudi” he says.

Improving Israel’s relations with the Arab Middle East is a rare and precious point of bipartisan agreement in US politics. It will also help to unleash the benefits of Israeli technology to help its neighbors as they grapple with an unprecedented crisis in food, water and energy that threatens the stability of many countries in the region.

Israel gave the world both the drip irrigation technique and reverse osmosis seawater desalination technology that now preserve and supply water for millions of people across the globe. Israel recycles 80 percent of its own water, the highest ratio in the world. Israeli food, water, agriculture and energy technology could help alleviate conditions across the region.

The Arab Barometer, a BBC-Princeton University poll released on July 6, reveals millions of residents in North Africa struggling with food shortages and economic hardship. The picture has grown even bleaker since the survey, which was conducted before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine sent energy prices soaring and cast a shadow over supplies of grain and fertilizer.

The success of the Abraham Accords has surpassed even the most optimistic predictions. Israel and the UAE concluded a free trade agreement in record time, while hundreds of thousands of Israelis have flocked to the Emirates, where there are now more kosher hotels and restaurants than in many European capitals.

“We are looking to create over $1 trillion dollars of economic activity over the next decade,” Abdulla Bin Touq Al Marri, the UAE Economy Minister, said last September, when bilateral trade was a quarter of the $2.5 billion expected this year.

I have witnessed the acceleration of Israel-UAE ties. I was one of the first Israeli investors invited to speak at a public event in the UAE, long before the Abraham Accords were signed. When OurCrowd appointed Dr. Sabah al-Binali to head our UAE business, we were among the first Israeli companies to appoint an Emirati, and the first Israeli investment firm licensed by the Abu Dhabi regulatory authorities. Our Emirati investment portfolio is expanding and ties between OurCrowd companies and UAE partners are flourishing.

We can only guess at the huge range of opportunities that await Israeli businesses bringing new technology to Saudi Arabia.

Decisive shift

Talks between Israeli and Saudi leaders and security have been quietly underway for some time, but the benefits of normalizing ties with Israel are now starting to trickle down to regular Saudi citizens, particularly the younger generation. “Prince Khalid bin Salman, the son of Saudi King Salman and brother of the kingdom’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, privately told people that recent polling showed a decisive shift, especially among Saudis under 30 years old, in favor of diplomatic relations with Israel,” The Wall Street Journal reports.

While the common interests between Israel and the kingdom are primarily geopolitical, strategic and military, the Saudis are swiftly modernizing their economy by adding renewables and other advanced technologies to their leadership in fossil fuels.

The Saudis are focused on growth and building Neom, an incredible smart city, in the desert on the shores of the Red Sea, not far from Israel’s southern border. As the kingdom opens up to tourists, Israelis will flock there in droves as they have to the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco. There is no better partner for the Saudis in this great project than Israel, with its innovative technology and nimble entrepreneurs.

A mid-term report on the Abraham Accords finds they have been a wild success. Extending the accords promises to be even more successful and transformational as it reaches, inshallah, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. With President Biden’s arrival, we expect the US to continue to play a positive role, helping all sides continue this historic leap forward for the region.

OurCrowd is proud to have been one of the leaders of Israel’s business community in establishing ties with our new partners in the UAE, and I am confident we will be in the vanguard of Israel’s future economic relationship with Saudi Arabia.

Jonathan Medved is the founder and CEO of OurCrowd, the world’s leading global equity funding platform for accredited investors, based in Jerusalem.

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