Israel FM’s revelation of the bilateral trade figure validates the estimates made by some Israeli and UAE officials, soon after announcing the Accords, that even initial bilateral economic engagements would run into hundreds of millions of dollars, Binsal Abdulkader interviews Yair Lapid
Israel-UAE bilateral trade has reached over NIS2.2 billion (AED2.48 billion/US$675.22 million), within ten months of signing the Abraham Accords in September 2020, according to Israel’s top diplomat.
In an exclusive interview, Israel’s Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said, “It is estimated that the bilateral trade potential will multiply many times over in the coming years.”
Lapid, who reached Abu Dhabi on Tuesday morning for a two-day official visit, is the first Israeli minister to visit the UAE since Abraham Accords were signed. This is his second foreign visit since he became the Alternate Prime Minister and Foreign Minister in the new coalition government formed this month. His first visit was to Rome early this week.
Lapid’s revelation of the latest bilateral trade figure validates the estimates made by some Israeli and UAE officials, soon after announcing the Accords, that even initial bilateral economic engagements would run into hundreds of millions of dollars.
Dubai Government announced on 30th January that the emirate’s trade with Israel in five months (September 2020-January 2021) had reached a value of AED1 billion (US$272.26 million).
Not a ceremonial visit
The top Israeli diplomat said “it is a huge honour” to be the first Israeli minister to embark on an official visit to the UAE. “This is not, however, a technical or ceremonial visit; it is part of a deep understanding that begins here with the shared journey of true cooperation.”
“This visit does not occur in a vacuum, it comes after the comprehensive work carried out by many people, which is bearing fruit today. This historic moment is thanks to them, and benefits us all,” he added.
He inaugurated the Israeli Embassy in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday afternoon and met with Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation. He also opened the Israeli Consulate General in Dubai on Wednesday.
Real peace not on paper
About the prospects in educational, cultural and sports arenas and people-to-people relations between Israel and the UAE, Lapid said, “Real peace does not exist on paper but in peace between nations, peoples, and cultures. I am happy to see that Israelis are coming to visit the UAE and I am sure that joint tourism will expand, and we look forward to welcoming Emirati tourists to Israel.
“The first year [of Abraham accords and first official visit] are just the beginning of the journey.
“We need to allow our economies to integrate and prosper. We need to preserve the open dialogue and open-mindedness.”
Israel’s pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai, which will open in October, is another stepping stone in the building of relations, he said, added that the initiative, innovation and cooperation in health, education and technology will build ties for many years that will benefit generation to come.
Cooperation in advanced technologies
The Israeli minister said that business cooperation in the field of advanced technologies between Israel and the UAE “finds expression, among other things,” in B2B-level transactions and in the encouragement of Israeli startups to develop technologically and financially and establish branches in the UAE.
“Since September 2020, a number of transactions, valued at tens of millions of dollars, have been signed between Israeli and Emirati companies in the fields of AI, cyber, renewable energy, water security, health and more,” Lapid explained.
“The horizons are promising for companies from both countries operating in these and other fields, including food security and desert-tech.”
Apart from ten economic agreements that had been signed between the two governments, other agreements are in the negotiations stage, “as part of the establishment of the bilateral infrastructure agreement between our countries within the framework of the Abraham Accords,” the minister added.
From media to politics
Lapid, who was a media celebrity before entering politics, said, “The decision to leave life in the media and television was easy for me. I love the State of Israel and I knew that real change is made through political work in the Knesset [parliament] and government.”
His father, Yosef Lapid, a Holocaust survivor and an antireligious politician, once also headed a centrist party and served as justice minister. His mother, Shulamit Lapid, is a well-known novelist.
Although many people and events throughout the life have shaped him, one of the biggest influencers was his father, he revealed.
“His history and his story as a child in the ghetto during the Holocaust whose childhood was stripped away from him, and the deep understanding that Jews need a state and that children need protection, are foundational elements in my worldview. My intelligent mother and her family, as well as my wife and my three children, are also part of who I am today, from my decision-making process through to what drives me,” he said.