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Experts weigh in on Israel - Gulf relations predictions for 2021

At the Israel Gulf Report we reached out to a group of experts from Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain to see what they predict for relations in the new year. Here are some of their answers.

H.E Houda Nonoo, former Bahrain Ambassador to the United States.

While history was made this past year between Bahrain and Israel, in many ways, 2021 will be even more exciting as the impact of the Abraham Accords begins to come to fruition. At the core of this agreement, is the desire to create a Middle East that is built on peace and prosperity for us all. I believe that the growing partnerships between Bahrain and Israel will lead to sustainable peace in the region. Next year, we will see collaborations in the business, healthcare, education, and travel and tourism sectors which will further bring our leaders’ bold vision to reality.

2021 will also be an important year for the Jewish community of Bahrain as we plan to open our newly refurbished synagogue in the first quarter of the year. We embarked on the process of refurbishing the synagogue before the Abraham Accords were announced but now its significance has come to the fore, as we prepare to welcome many new Jewish tourists to visit us next year. This year also brought with it, the first hotel in the Kingdom – the Ritz Carlton in Manama – to offer kosher food and we’re working with many other hotels to offer kosher food in the new year. We look forward to welcoming you.

Rabbi Menachem Genack, CEO of OU Kosher, the world’s largest kosher certification agency.

In 2021, I predict that we will see an increase in Jewish and Israeli tourism to the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain which will require more kosher food in both countries. Following the signing of the Abraham Accords, OU Kosher played an important role in certifying kosher food – restaurants and hotels – in both countries but we expect those numbers to dramatically increase in 2021 once we get on the other side of the COVID pandemic and more people are comfortable traveling. We expect more hotels in Bahrain to announce kosher offerings during the first quarter of the new year. As the world’s largest kosher certification agency, we laud the efforts taking place in both countries to reach out to Jewish tourists generally, and the kosher traveler specifically.

Many have asked why the UAE and Bahrain are so focused on making sure that kosher food is easily and readily available for Jewish travelers, and the answer is simple: religion and religious rituals are very important to the Gulf countries. It is a core value they imbue in their children and they respect other religions and their rituals as well. The same way that Halal is important to Islam, they understand that kosher food is important to Jews. Additionally, Arab hospitality is all about making sure that your guest is comfortable, and they understand that in order for Jews to travel comfortably to the UAE and Bahrain, they need to have access to delicious kosher cuisine.

Najat AlSaied, PhD in Media Studies, political communication and societal development.

I see it is important to have more collaboration in these fields: More collaboration in academia, mainly in research studies among professors, more joint publications (books, studies), more collaboration in the health industry and getting physicians to meet (local Gulf physicians and Israelis). Definitely more joint collaboration in the media, especially in the face of the attack by hostile media against the Abraham Accords and our countries. I also predict more collaboration in the IT sector.

Rabbi Marc Schneier, President of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding:

In 2021, I predict that we will see another one or two more Gulf states normalize relations with Israel in the coming year. Everyone is waiting for the Saudis, Qataris and Omanis to normalize relations with Israel and they’ve been very clear that they will only do so once Israel and the Palestinians have both come to the table to discuss peace. President-elect Biden presents the opportunity to do just this as the Palestinians feel they have an ally in him and he will likely be the person to get them to come back to the table, at which point the Saudis, Qataris and Israel can establish relations.

I believe that we will see the building and dedication of more synagogues and Jewish institutions and establishments as a result of growing Jewish life and community in the Gulf. Tied to this, the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding recently launched the first ever American Jewish Tourism initiative to Bahrain and we plan to formally announce similar programs in partnership with the Ministers of Tourism in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Qatar in 2021. The Gulf has been moving at an accelerated pace to create the infrastructure to stimulate Jewish tourism to their countries.

Ariella Steinreich, Senior Vice President and Head of the Middle East Division, Steinreich Communications

In 2021, I predict that we will see more business between the Gulf region and Israel. Everyone has been watching the success and impact to the business community resulting from Bahrain and the UAE’s announcements and others want to come along and provide those same opportunities for their people. The Israeli businesses who have entered the Gulf this year through the UAE or Bahrain will have the upper hand as it will be easy transition to move into the other Gulf markets once they normalize relations. The road to success here is to go into the Bahrain or UAE market as soon as possible so that you can build your brand’s name locally in the Gulf and then as soon as the next country comes online, you can be one of the first to enter.

While there has been much focus on Israeli companies doing business in the Gulf these last few months, I believe we’re going to see more Gulf companies do business in Israel as a gateway to the broader international Jewish community. We will see that start in certain sectors such as travel and tourism, finance and technology.

Mohammed Baharoon, Director General, Dubai Public Policy Research Centre.

I think there are two things that will happen in 2021. First, there will be an expansion in the relationship (not necessarily more peace accords but more cooperation and possible involvement in multilateral cooperation). However there will be a threshold where this will have to be translated into more constructive peace talks between Israel and Palestinians which will be required for the expansion of Abrahamic Accords.

Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem, and Co-Founder of the UAE-Israel Business Council.

I predict that in 2021, we will see more Israelis visiting Dubai and Abu Dhabi, especially as more people are vaccinated from COVID and more comfortable traveling. Israelis love to travel, and they love the exoticism of the Arab world that up until now was largely closed to them, so I envision that Israeli tourism in the Gulf will continue to flourish beyond the initial excitement and will become part and parcel of the Israeli travel pallet. Gulf tourism to Israel will be a little slower to kick off, this will certainly be the year where Emiratis, Bahrainis and hopefully other Abraham accords country will dip their toes in the water and come and visit Israel and pray in Jerusalem.

In the business sector, the dating stage will also have ended, and Israeli technology companies will be looking to the Gulf markets for sales of their products. The serious companies with a well thought out business development strategy and presence on the ground will be the winners as Gulf countries looking to make their businesses more cutting edge will look to Israel for inspiration and more importantly – innovation.

In culture, music, sport and academia, I predict many multifaceted collaborations with great promise of Israeli integration into the region and the building of a genuine warm peace.

Rabbi Yehuda Sarna, Chief Rabbi, Jewish Council of the Emirates.

In 2021, I predict that we will see the expansion of Jewish life in the United Arab Emirates – both in terms of the growth of Jewish families moving to and visiting the Emirates as well as the growth in Jewish infrastructure. Our community has been blessed to receive much interest this last year, especially after the Abraham Accords, and we expect that interest to increase three-fold in 2021 once more people are comfortable traveling here. With this expected growth, we will expand kosher food options, Jewish learning opportunities and much more. We’re also excited for the new kosher food on Emirates flights emanating out of Dubai which was announced a few months back and expected to launch in 2021.

Thani Al-Shirawi, the deputy managing director, Oasis Investments.

Shirawi says he is enthusiastic about peace and sees the Gulf as offering a place for Israeli start-ups to scale up through a hub that is close to Asia and Africa. He recently worked on a Memorandum of Understanding with Fluence, a company pioneering water filtration, and is optimistic about all the new ties for the coming year.

Dorian Barak, Co-Founder of the UAE-Israel Business Council.

The relationship between Israel and its new partners in the UAE and Bahrain will deepen substantially in 2021, with a focus initially on the low hanging fruit of tourism in both directions. Israeli food, health, beauty, and consumer products will make their way onto the shelves of Emirati and Bahraini retailers, of course - but these are relatively small markets, so the impact on the Israeli economy will be minor.

With time, however, we will see collaboration on more substantial projects, and this is where the long term opportunity is for a peace underpinned by strong economic ties. Israeli companies will establish regional headquarters in Dubai and Manama from which to penetrate the markets of South Asia, Africa, and the wider Middle East. Israelis and Emiratis, and to a lesser extent Bahrainis, will enter into joint ventures in the areas of water, waste management, renewables, and healthcare.

As exciting as this sounds, we shouldn’t overstate the potential. Israel’s most significant trading partners will remain the US, EU, China and India, which are orders of magnitude larger than the UAE and Bahrain, with populations of 10 million and 1.5 million, respectively.

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