Just one of the features of the still-shocking Abraham Accords—the business cooperation deal between Israel and many Middle East neighbors—is that people at odds for generations are now visiting each other. This new, open spirit of cooperation on a variety of fronts was driven by Benjamin Netanyahu and Donald Trump.
Imagine being an Israeli and boarding an airplane bound for a Gulf State, and being the first from your country to do it! That began to happen in 2020, as Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain entered into a close coordination the areas of business and tourism. Both those countries, for the first time, recognized Israel’s sovereignty. After 70 years of vicious relations, the whole thing seemed like a dream. Incredibly, by the end of that year, Morocco joined the accords and one month later, so did Sudan! There were Western enticements, such as the U.S. dropping Sudan from a list of terrorist states.
The Accords have the potential to turn the Middle East into a financial paradise, and it’s hard to imagine other countries standing on the sidelines forever. It would be glorious, for example, if Lebanon could join the party at some point. It will require further marginalizing the haters, such as the PLO and Hamas. One wonders if Palestinian society has been too indoctrinated by hate, but we can hope that is not the case.
While Israelis have been visiting other countries, there have been overtures that encourage Arabs to visit Israel. Remember, Egypt’s Anwar Sadat visited Jerusalem in 1977, a political earthquake that had long-term implications. Things may move slowly in the Middle East, but things eventually happen that are good.
Recenty, an Israeli contingent attended the Jerusalem Post Global Investment Forum in Marrakech, Morocco. Eilat’s Deputy Mayor Matan Be’eri (his family is from Morocco) spoke of Israel’s marvelous sites. According to the Jerusalem Post:
“Be’eri recounted the city’s advantages, including its shared borders with Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, the coral reef, the Red Mountains, cycling routes, the warm and sunny climate and the many music festivals held in the city.
“He also emphasized the fact that Eilat is considered to be the most liberal tourist city in the Middle East. Be’eri outlined goals for the city in aviation, tourism, medicine and innovation and invited conference participants to create collaborations between investors and countries to realize the vision and make history together.”
Be’eri took part in a tourism panel with Jalil Benabbes-Taarji, the former president of the Moroccan National Association of Investors in Tourism. As Be’eri emphasized Israel’s common borders with a host of Arab countries, Benabbes-Taarji did likewise for Morocco, pointing out its proximity to Europe (a popular tourist destination for many Israelis, despite the experiences of World War 2).
Eilat of course is one of the jewels of the region, at Israel’s southernmost tip. The Red Sea, diving sites, luxury hotels and the like attract many thousands each year.
Another key element in Israel’s business/tourism arsenal is the development of medical tourism. Even now, Arabs in the region can travel to Israel and receive state-of-the-art treatment for a variety of ailments. I’ve toured Tel-Aviv’s Sheba Medical Center and discrimination based on nationality does not exist there. This is resonating with longtime enemies. There is one more enticement for new audiences:
“Be’eri promoted the new international airport near Timna and stated that it can be a gateway to the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Europe, both for mass transportation and for transporting goods from around the world through Eilat.”
Now, one could be guilty of naivete, in the same way perhaps Shimon Peres was (I believe his vision of a new Middle East was once described as a “Maginot Line of five-star hotels,” hardly an enticement for career terrorists to give up their ways). Still, as my late friend and mentor David Lewis said often, “A cold peace is better than no peace at all.” That’s why David enthusiastically supported the peace agreements between Egypt and Jordan.
All this is a reminder to us that there are good things going on in the troubled region between the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf.
I do sincerely believe we should hope and pray for more opportunities like this, so that more and more people see the benefits of behaving themselves and realizing the enormous possibilities.