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Exclusive: UAE-Israel Business Council co-founders on what comes next after the peace deal

Exclusive: UAE-Israel Business Council co-founders on what comes next after the peace deal

The peace deal will alter the bilateral economic landscape and much more, opine co-founders Fleur Hassan Nahoum and Dorian Barak

“It feels like we are dating” – those are the words that Fleur Hassan Nahoum, Jerusalem’s deputy mayor uses when describing the new relationship between the UAE and Israel.

“In all our conversations and the new friends we’ve made, what is really clear is that both sides have a real thirst for a warm peace. And I’ve never experienced that. I think we are living in historic times, we are curious about each other and we want to get to know each other. It’s so interesting and exciting – we are really making history here,” Nahoum, who is also co-founder of the UAE-Israel Business Council, tells Gulf Business.

There has been a strong momentum following the signing of the historic Abraham Accords between the UAE, Bahrain and Israel in the US in September. Last month, the first-ever official delegation of UAE ministers visited Israel, where a number of landmark agreements were signed across sectors including investment, tourism, financial services and technology.

The UAE, US and Israel have also jointly established a $3bn Abraham Fund to help stimulate private sector-led investments across the region. The fund will bolster regional trade, enable strategic infrastructure projects and increase energy security. From a business perspective, it is almost as if the floodgates have been opened in terms of potential collaborations between the UAE and Israel, opines Dorian Barak, also a co-founder of the UAE-Israel Business Council.

The council, which was established in June of this year – prior to the peace treaty being signed between the countries – aims to foster economic cooperation and business partnerships between the two sides.

“I think there are three specific areas where you are really going to see the floodgates open. The first is employing the UAE – and Dubai in particular – as a hub [by Israeli companies]. It is an unparalleled hub for Israeli companies to tap the greater Middle East, South Asia, East Africa and in fact the entire Indian Ocean base. I think you are going to see a lot of Israeli companies establishing themselves in this remarkable business hub,” he states.

“The second is the direct export of technologies here in a much more organised and open way in areas where Israel is traditionally strong such as agricultural technologies, clean technologies, solar and other renewables.

“Another area which is going to be interesting is that there is going be a lot of opportunities for Emirati businesses in Israel. Emiratis are very advanced when it comes to the hospitality industry, real estate development, construction, infrastructure – those are the areas where I think Israel will directly benefit from Emirati investors in a very broad way,” he adds.

Currently, roughly 250 Israeli companies conduct trade with the UAE according to the council, with Barak estimating that number to double by the end of 2020.

“By the end of the year you are going to have at least 500 Israeli businesses actively working here and this goes beyond all the interest we have had in the Jerusalem innovation ecosystem. Israel is a small market – so most companies have an international orientation. But there are companies that have been exploring the Emirates and the Gulf for quite some time and it will be those companies that will be the first out of the gate and first here in the UAE. Similarly, it’s those large very forward-thinking groups that you are going to see coming out to Israel very soon,” he adds.

Some prominent UAE businesses have already announced plans for the Israeli market. Last month, UAE’s Al Naboodah Group announced that it has partnered with Israeli venture capital fund OurCrowd to form a $100m fund to support bilateral technology investments.

Meanwhile, Dubai-based Al Habtoor Group has revealed plans to open a representative office in Israel. Locally, Al Habtoor Hotels has also partnered with Elli’s Kosher Kitchen to introduce 24×7 kosher in-room dining food and beverage services at three of its properties in Dubai.

Watch the entire interview here:

With the two countries now signing bilateral visa free travel agreements and announcing plans to soon begin 28 weekly flights, tourism is another segment expected to receive a big boost from the deal. According to a report from Israel’s Tourism ministry, it is hoping to attract up to 100,000 tourists a year from the UAE.

“Tourism is something which is very important to Israelis and Emiratis. And now we can travel on  holiday just two to three hours away – in our own region – for the first time,” explains Nahoum.

“We are also looking forward to receiving a new type of tourism – to Jerusalem in particular – which is Muslim pilgrims coming to pray in Haram Al Sharif. So the tourism ties are very significant and can bring a lot of accompanying benefits from it. At the council, we are not just facilitating these conversations, but we are actively looking for the opportunities to build deals that will be game changing for both countries.”

She is also hoping that the deal will support another area that she has been advocating – the development of her city’s Arab sections.

“Jerusalem, the largest Arab city in the country in terms of its population, is the perfect platform for building the bridge between the UAE, Bahrain and Israel. We have a part of the city that needs an influx of development and good job opportunities. We have a budding innovation atmosphere also in East Jerusalem with more Arab speaking engineers in the city than we
have ever seen. All the pieces in the puzzle are in place and what we are trying to do in the council is put all the pieces together,” she says.

Looking ahead, both of them believe that the deal could lead to the warming of ties with other countries in the Arab region.

“We believe there’s going to be a domino effect…We hope that when they see the common prosperity and opportunity and the way that this goes very positively, others will jump into the fray sooner rather than later. We are very excited.

“The UAE gets the credit for really opening the floodgates,” adds Nahoum.

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