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Abraham Accords Principals Tout Normalization’s Economic Benefits

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The Abraham Accords Peace Institute, launched Tuesday in Washington, aims to increase economic and cultural ties among the accords’ members

There was a big flashing light a few weeks before Israel and the United Arab Emirates announced plans to normalize relations. It came not from any government official or diplomat. Not from Jerusalem, Abu Dhabi or Washington. Rather, it came from San Ramos, California, home of oil and gas giant Chevron.

“It was very much my feeling that absent some of the burgeoning energy cooperation, the will or the courage to engage in the Abraham Accords would not have happened,” Victoria Coates, a former US deputy national security adviser and senior adviser to the energy secretary, told The Media Line.

“The deal with Chevron to buy Noble Energy in the Eastern Mediterranean last summer, which predated the Abraham Accords by some weeks, was an indicator to me that the project was on track, because there’s no way Chevron enters into that deal without assurances from the Gulf that their Gulf business will not be impacted if they start working with Israel. And that’s when I knew we were off to the races,” Coates said.

It’s an example of how business opportunities have played a central role in the wave of US-brokered normalization agreements between Israel and Arab and Muslim-majority nations in the final months of the administration of President Donald Trump, and how business will keep the momentum of the Abraham Accords moving forward.

Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics has reported over $570 million in business with the UAE alone in the last year and projections by Israel’s Finance Ministry show that figure is likely to reach $1 billion by the end of the year, and $6.5 billion by 2025. The UAE is seeking to grow economic ties with Israel to more than $1 trillion over the next decade, Economy Minister Abdulla bin Touq said on Monday.

That was the theme on Tuesday in Washington, as the Abraham Accords Peace Institute held its launch event, commemorating the first anniversary of the signing of the agreements between Israel, the UAE and Bahrain. Former White House senior adviser Jared Kushner delivered opening remarks, while the ambassadors to Washington from Israel, the UAE and Bahrain held a panel discussion touting the possibilities that can be tapped into as a result of their partnerships.

“The institute was established some 90 days ago really to do two things: to increase the economic ties, trade and investment among the accords’ members, and the second is to expand the cultural ties, and the two things together would accomplish two chief goals,” Robert Greenway, executive director and co-founder of the Abraham Accords Peace Institute, told The Media Line. The AAPI was co-founded by Greenway, Kushner, former special envoy for international negotiations Avi Berkowitz and Israeli-American tycoon Haim Saban, a prominent supporter of the Democratic Party.

“The first goal is to reinforce among those that are already in the accords that they made the right decision. And the second is to expand membership among countries who haven’t yet made the decision to do so,” said Greenway, a deputy assistant to then-President Donald Trump and former senior director of the National Security Council’s Middle Eastern and North African Affairs Directorate.

“We’ve seen so many business opportunities develop out of this normalization. We’re seeing airline flight routes and seeing things happening in the energy sector that were unimaginable a year ago. Obviously, tourism has seen a tremendous boost in these particular countries because of these agreements,” Greenway continued.

Indeed, several of the key players involved in the Abraham Accords are trying to capitalize on the business avenues opened up by the agreements.

Former US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and former US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman have opened an office in Tel Aviv for a new investment fund called Liberty Strategic. Mnuchin is looking at opening additional offices in countries that have signed on to the Abraham Accords.

SoftBank, the Japanese behemoth holding company, hired former Mossad chief Yossi Cohen to lead its investment arm in Israel, although he has no background in investment. Cohen, who made a number of secret trips to Gulf states prior to the signing of the accords, said he plans to help SoftBank grow regionally.

Kushner, meanwhile, is in the planning stages of opening a Miami-based investment firm and is considering opening an office in Israel to pursue investments in the Middle East.

“Businessmen were responsible for really concluding the accords,” said Greenway. “And I think businessmen now are going to have an outsized role in making sure that they flourish. Our contacts and relationships I think could be brought to take full advantage of the accords, and to expand the economic interest in the collaboration that occurs, and also the cultural ties among its people.”

Friedman and his then-senior adviser Aryeh Lightstone led an effort to kick-start a $3 billion Abraham Fund that was to be used as seed money for development projects throughout the Middle East. After Trump lost the 2020 presidential election, the fund, which was to encourage public-private partnerships in those development projects, was frozen, and the Biden administration has refused to make clear the current status of the fund.

Greenway says he is confident there is enough private capital available to make up the difference.

“A lot of my understanding after traveling to the region and conversations with colleagues − public and private – is that there’s no shortage of capital looking for investment. If anything, there’s a shortage of investments that meet the criteria,” he said.

Greenway’s background is mainly in defense, security and intelligence. And while allowing that aspects of the Abraham Accords came about as a result of a shared desire to confront Iran and that intelligence sharing and common defense will be strengthened among the new partners involved in the accords, ultimately his new endeavor is almost all about the dollars, and many other currencies, inside and outside the Middle East.

“Our focus is on the economic and the cultural space, and I think that that also tends to increase and expand the cooperation among nations more broadly. Ultimately security, as a rationale, comes typically from an economic interest, which often is an extension of a cultural one,” he said.

“So, if there’s an economic relationship between Israel and its neighbors, it has a logic to defend, and it creates something I think which is stronger and more powerful and will likely endure. So from our perspective, an economic interest is one that should be defended and protected, and we think that’s what the accords offer,” Greenway said.

“The rearrangement of flight routes, maritime and ground transportation and logistical routes as a whole is untapped potential. And so, Israel’s access to Asian markets now is radically different because it has got partners within the region who already have existing ties to those countries and vice versa. I think a number of countries now can also access European, as well as the American market, in ways that previously were impossible,” he continued.

“This obviously also impacts tourism, which is critical – 6% of Israel’s GDP − but it’s important to everyone in the accords. And so, I think that the restructuring of the flight routes and transportation networks is critical and I think an enormously important area of potential, and I think in the next year, you’re likely to see sort of the reverberations of that,” said Greenway.

Some economic and geopolitical analysts say the accords are leading to the Middle East reclaiming its place as a global trade hub, a position long limited by regional strife and distrust, and providing an opportunity for participating nations to reorient market access on more favorable terms.

Beyond transportation and technological partnerships, Israeli Ambassador to the US and the UN Gilad Erdan told The Media Line that the next big breakthrough as a result of the accords could very well come in the environmental protection sector.

“We all live in a region that suffers from water scarcity and other environmental hazards, and environmental hazards know no boundaries, so we all need to work together against pollution, to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, to find solutions for food scarcity and to find solutions for renewable energy,” Erdan said.

On that front, Coates recently joined the advisory board of the Council for a Secure America (CSA), a nonprofit founded in the 1980s to build ties between the American energy industry and the pro-Israel community, to rewrite its mission to focus exclusively on furthering the goal of the Abraham Accords within the energy industry.

CSA now works to connect people working in the oil and gas industry in the US with counterparts in Israel and Gulf nations and to make American professionals aware of the benefits of working with Israel. Coates said renewable energy is an avenue already being pursued by a number of Gulf states historically reliant on fossil fuels, opening up new avenues of investment in the process.

“The UAE is making strides in this; so is Saudi Arabia, so is Qatar. But then again, so is Israel, which is at the cutting edge of new energy technologies − something that we partner with as the United States government, particularly through the Department of Energy. We partner with our Israeli colleagues on this and it’s an enormous source of strength,” said Coates.

It’s also an enormous source for big business, and big business is something that seemingly every architect of the Abraham Accords had in mind.