The peace agreement signed August 13 between the United Arab Emirates and Israel is a transformational event, in a region where old ways of thinking die hard. By deciding to normalize relations with Israel, the UAE has made a bold investment in the future of the Middle East and signalled its desire to work with former opponents to guarantee peace and prosperity for the coming generations.
Egypt and Jordan signed ground-breaking peace agreements in 1979 and 1993, respectively. But the larger trend has been less obvious: of 57 Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) member countries, over the years 28 have come to the same conclusion – that it is better to engage with Israel and attempt to influence beliefs and decisions through dialogue than to sit on the outside and hope that protests and objections influence actions and opinions.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, the UAE has pushed forward with a number of significant national projects, from launching the Mars “Hope” Mission, to bringing Barakah – the first peaceful nuclear reactor in the Arab world – on line. We have collaborated with scientists in other countries, including Israel, to progress research toward a safe Covid-19 vaccine and hosted the signing of the “Document of Human Fraternity” between His Holiness Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of al-Azhar Sheikh Dr Ahmad Al-Tayyeb in Abu Dhabi. To some, the purpose of these efforts might appear to be more symbolic than practical. But they are extremely practical, and have a common denominator: the development of youth to meet the challenges of the future.
In Pakistan, 64 per cent of the population is under the age of 30; the UAE has a similar demographic. Both countries acutely understand the imperative of youth engagement. Engagement leads to tolerance and coexistence, which is the foundation of a stable society. Without engagement, young people are vulnerable to extremism. The youth of today are more action-oriented and less dogmatic than older generations. This is partly due to having been exposed to a dizzying amount of technological and social and economic change. Millennials view changeless as a risk than a constant, and a source of opportunity.
It is the responsibility of a country’s leadership to assure that its youth and residents are linked up to the change around them – and have the proper education and influences to realize their potential. But clearly it is very difficult to develop minds, mentalities and careers in the context of instability. Which is why stability is so fundamental, and why since its founding in 1971, the UAE has prioritized foreign aid and assistance, and policies that promote regional peace. Its leading role in supporting the Eritrea-Ethiopia peace agreement in 2018 is another example. As a result of its policies, the UAE has become a destination of choice for youth wanting to explore their capabilities and kick-start or progress their careers. Today, 200 nationalities live together in the UAE with peace, respect and dignity.
All of this serves to underscore the importance of dialogue. As responsible nations, we cannot afford to let the region stew in self-referential spirals of violence and recrimination. Nor can we afford to exclude our young people from the transformations that are building human capital and prosperity elsewhere. As societies, we do ourselves a great disservice if we reject dialogue in favour of processes that have repeatedly failed to produce the necessary results.
This is where the leadership of His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, has been invaluable, not only in advancing the bilateral relationship but in changing the regional paradigm. With new reference points and the time and context in which to work out a just and sustainable solution, we hope the Palestinians and Israelis have the courage to work out a just and fair peace between them, based on the principle of two states for two peoples.
There is always light at the end of the tunnel. Change constantly brings new opportunities. But in order to take advantage, one must be able to see the opportunities when they come and have the courage of conviction to act on them.