Matt Godwin

It's a multi-trillion-dollar prize for Middle East and UK

Two years on from first Abraham Accords, peace dividend promises unimaginable rewards


US President Joe Biden disembarks from his plane upon landing at Ben Gurion Airport in Lod near Tel Aviv, on July 13, 2022, as he starts his first tour of the Middle East since entering the White House last year. (Photo by JACK GUEZ / AFP) (Photo by JACK GUEZ/AFP via Getty Images)

August 11, 2022 14:46

Joe Biden’s recent visit to the Middle East was an effort to reaffirm the US’s commitment to its allies in the region following years of perceived reorientation elsewhere. During his address to the Gulf Cooperation Council, he assured allies that the US would remain an active and engaged partner and “not walk away and leave a vacuum to be filled by China, Russia, or Iran”.

The UK also has a critical role to play in this.

While there may be a desire among some in the region to end dependence on the US and the West, recent Tony Blair Institute (TBI) polling suggests long-held ideas about hostility toward Western countries are unfounded. 72 per cent of people polled in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Lebanon, Tunisia and Egypt view the US favourably, with 67 per cent feeling the same about the UK.

Not only is there a strategic need for the West to ensure adversaries do not fill a vacuum in its absence — the people there actually want partnership with the West.

As the Middle East celebrates the second anniversary of the Abraham Accords, the West’s leadership in supporting this ground-breaking peace should not be overlooked. The ‘Warm Peace’ between Israel and Arab states is leading to burgeoning economic, cultural and educational ties. Agreements are reshaping the economic and social landscape of the region.

It is not only the Abraham Accord states which are firming up stronger ties. Earlier this month, Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid and Jordan’s King Abdullah announced work on a visionary framework to accelerate economic relations through a multimillion-dollar joint industrial park along the border. This follows a recent agreement to collaborate on water and energy.

While security may serve as the primary impetus, stability and economic growth will be the real long-term dividends. Early projections in the heady days of the Abraham Accords forecast four million new jobs and a trillion dollars in economic activity. These may be an understatement. Israel’s free trade agreement with the UAE earlier this year should serve as a model to break down formerly stubborn barriers to regional growth.

The West’s approach has been unnecessarily transactional and uncoordinated. The TBI’s polling has China seen more favourably than the US in four of five countries polled. However, the West has a critical card to play in the battle for influence in the Middle East: shared values.

The vast majority support the economic and social liberalisation championed by modernisation schemes, such as Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, with 73 per cent of people polled across the region in favour of these transformative steps, including 89 per cent of Saudis.

There is a consensus in support of women’s rights, with 70 per cent supporting women getting the same opportunities as men in government and business, while 78 per cent believe it is important their governments protect the rights of citizens of all faiths. The people of the region are increasingly pluralist.

Now is the time for the West to contest the influence of China and other actors. The appetite for greater integration and cooperation in the Middle East between countries and cultures is growing, and the priority should be to extend the spirit of the Abraham Accords between all allies. The UK is particularly well-placed. A long-standing ally of countries across the Gulf, Levant and North Africa, the UK could serve as a champion for expanding the spirit of the Accords.

The UK should support the recognition of Israel among Arab states which have yet to follow the lead of UAE and Bahrain, and to support efforts toward structural integration. With one of the world’s leading university sectors, the UK could be a driver for a ‘Horizon Middle East’ research and innovation fund. As one of the most advanced start-up economies, the UK is well-placed to bolster burgeoning innovation ecosystems.

Finally, the UK is ideally placed to ensure that stabilising Palestine and including it in the Middle East’s steps towards greater economic cooperation is a top priority. While political uncertainty in Israel and Palestine may prove a barrier, the people of Palestine are impatient for a resolution.

There are steps leaders can take now, including supporting the revitalisation of the long-dormant Israeli-Palestinian Joint Economic Committee (JEC) scheduled to finally meet later this year. The West’s investment in this mechanism could serve as the glimmer of hope necessary to establish momentum toward renewed negotiations.

The time has come for Britain to be more proactive in supporting a permanent peace — and the arrival of a new prime minister in No10 provides the perfect opportunity for this to become a more prominent element in foreign policy.

Matt Godwin is a programme lead in the Extremism Policy Unit at the Tony Blair Institute.

August 11, 2022 14:46

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive