Special Report: Why Israeli firms are licking their lips over UAE trade
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Special Report: Why Israeli firms are licking their lips over UAE trade

After an historic agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Jerusalem's deputy mayor Fleur Hassan-Nahoum says: 'It feels like our countries are dating'

Jerusalem’s deputy mayor Fleur-Hassan-Nahoum speaking at a Wizo UK event
Jerusalem’s deputy mayor Fleur-Hassan-Nahoum speaking at a Wizo UK event

Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, Jerusalem’s Deputy Mayor, is looking forward to her first trip to Dubai. The British-educated leader is planning to make the most of the business opportunities that will come with the historic Abraham Accord, marking an era of more open relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). 

As co-founder of the UAE Israel Business Council, she has plans to boost tourism between the two nations, bring UAE funding into key projects in East Jerusalem and even lead a women’s delegation to promote female business relations in both countries. 

“It feels like our countries are dating,” Hassan-Nahoum  says. “We both see each other as exotic birds. There’s such excitement in the air, both sides are thirsty for peace. I really hope other nations will follow with this accord, from Morocco to Oman.

“It’s a very good shidduch, because the UAE have the largest sovereign wealth fund and know that in the next 20 to 30 years oil is over. They’re looking for new horizons for investment and we Israelis are generators of game-changing solutions that could lead us into a brand new era.

“There are Emiratis who want to pray at Muslim sites in Jerusalem and there are tonnes of Israelis who want to go on holiday to Dubai. 

“No one expects this to happen next month, but you have to start laying down the infrastructure. We could start tour guides and who knows, there could be a kosher hotel in Dubai in Pesach.” 

She adds: “A lot of this is preparatory work, lining up people in the relevant sectors where there are natural areas of collaboration. We can collaborate in the energy sector, water, culture and tech.”

United Arab Emirates (UAE) Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Mohammed Gargash (C), US President’s senior adviser Jared Kushner (L) and Israeli National Security Advisor Meir Ben-Shabbat (R) during a meeting in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, 31 August 2020. Photo by: Amos Ben Gershom-GPO Via JINIPIX

Noting plans to develop a ‘Silicon Wadi’ (meaning ‘valley’ in Arabic), she envisages Jerusalem as the focal point to build relations between the two nations. “I want to position Jerusalem as Israel’s natural bridge to the UAE because 40 percent are Arabic-speaking. 

“I want businesses to hire Arabic speakers in great jobs; it can bring investment and quality employment.” 

Recognising the negative reaction to the Accord from the Palestinian Authority, Hassan-Nahoum  says she hopes pragmatic business figures from East Jerusalem will join a future Israeli business delegation to Dubai – and vice versa. 

With a Moroccan background and Iraqi husband, she believes Arabic-speaking Jews in Israel will help boost ties between the nations. “We understand the culture and speak the language.” 

And she believes women will have a role to play in securing business relations, even intending to set up a women’s division in the Council. “People don’t realise that some of the highest executives in companies in the UAE, are women – you just don’t see them in pictures,” she notes. 

Near Tel Aviv, British-born Robert Curtis – who has co-founded the Israel-UAE Business Network – is keen to promote relations on a grassroots level, utilising LinkedIn to encourage connections and planning content, from blogs to podcasts and webinars in English, that will generate understanding and business ties between people on both sides. So far, around 2,000 people have signed up, relatively even between Israelis and Emiratis. 

Fleur

Curtis believes the UK firms will play a key role in cementing deals between people from Israel and the UAE. “There have been some very interesting conversations already. Both countries have such historic ties with Britain that they feel safe with UK financial transactions which are world leading. There’s also not a big difference with the UK.” 

Speaking from Dubai’s only synagogue, German-born Jewish businessman Raphael Nagel is optimistic about collaboration opportunities. 

“We are writing history now,” he acknowledges. “We have a small Jewish community here, but a very good relationship with the locals.”

And now, as chairman of the Abrahamic Business Circle – a project to promote networking and collaboration between senior figures – he anticipates more business deals across sectors from food and agriculture to business and finance to be openly established between the two nations. “The UAE is a very young nation and they have a positive vision for the future, like the Jewish religion.

“At the ABC, we want to welcome British and Israeli Jews, people from all over the world, to come together to create economic peace.”

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