Hope and Optimism: A Reflection on the Abraham Accords Anniversary | Opinion

Last December, I had the opportunity to join a group of young Emiratis and Bahrainis for dinner in Jerusalem. They were visiting as part of the first-ever civil society delegation from the Gulf, brought to Israel by the Sharaka organization.

As I sat down at the iconic King David Hotel with the group, I noticed that they were engaged in quite animated (albeit polite) conversation and heated debate, which was casually interrupted with the occasional request to pass a dish across the table.

At that point, I thought to myself: "Wow, they are just like us. This could be any Shabbat dinner table, anywhere in Israel or basically any Jewish family across the world."

This was my first interaction, as an Israeli, with anyone from the Gulf after the Abraham Accords.

As the evening continued, I had the opportunity to engage further with the group. They had already visited Yad Vashem, met Israeli president Reuven Rivlin and even lit a Hanukkah candle at the Western Wall. My immediate impression was how easy, free flowing and natural the conversation was. There was an immediate bond and a real, authentic connection, as if we had been best friends for years, even though we had just met.

In a year that has been so difficult for so many people, the Abraham Accords have offered a beacon of light and hope to the Middle East.

In its first 72 years, Israel reached peace agreements with only two Arab countries—Egypt and Jordan. In the space of 72 days last summer, it signed three peace or normalization agreements with three countries—the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan—and has since signed a fourth with Morocco. We can say with some degree of certainty that there will be more to come.

UAE-Israel diplomacy
The national flags of the United Arab Emirates (L) and Israel, are set side by side at the new Israeli consulate of Dubai, ahead of a press conference by Israel's Foreign Minister, on June 30, 2021. KARIM SAHIB/AFP/Getty Images

These are truly historic times, bringing a paradigm shift in the Middle East and the Jewish state's acceptance in the region. Gone are the days of the infamous "3 Nos" of Khartoum, instead replaced with "3 Yeses"—yes to peace, yes to negotiations and yes to recognition.

There is a tremendous, palpable sense of excitement and optimism not only amongst Israelis, who yearn for peace and normalization with our Arab neighbors, but also amongst our newfound friends from the Gulf. The feeling is reciprocal.

One would imagine that, after not having formal diplomatic relations for decades, these countries would proceed to embrace each other at a steady, incremental pace. But that couldn't have been more wrong. Instead, they have moved with remarkable speed. From direct flights and the opening of embassies to the signing of new agreements, bilateral trade and cooperation on COVID-19 responses, health and education, the sky is truly the limit.

In May of this year, I found myself rushing to the bomb shelter in Tel Aviv with my family after a wave of rocket attacks from Hamas in Gaza. The first people to message me to ask "are you ok?" were my friends from the UAE. This would have been unthinkable barely a year ago, but moved me so deeply beyond words.

As the first anniversary of the Abraham Accords approaches next week, I have never been more hopeful, inspired or optimistic about the future of Israel's relations with the Arab world. This is a real friendship based on shared values and a mutual commitment to create more prosperous, peaceful and tolerant societies, both today and for future generations.

Peace is very much like a flower. Politicians and diplomats plant the seeds of peace, but ultimately, civil society, young leaders, educators and the business community are the ones who allow it to grow. That is what differentiates the Abraham Accords from past agreements—this peace is being led not by the politicians, but by the people on the ground.

Arsen Ostrovsky is CEO of The International Legal Forum and a Board Member of Sharaka, an NGO that was founded last year by social activists from Israel and the Gulf, in the wake of the Abraham Accords, to strengthen the bonds between young people in the region. Follow Arsen Ostrovsky on Twitter: @Ostrov_A.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.