Biden coming to a ‘different Middle East’ after peace deal: Jerusalem’s Deputy Mayor

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The Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem has said that US President Joe Biden will be visiting a “very different Middle East” when he makes his tour to Israel and Saudi Arabia later this month after the historic Abraham Accords paved the way for a “new atmosphere in the region.”

In an interview with Al Arabiya English, Israeli politician Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, who is in charge of the country’s foreign relations, international economic development and tourism, said the Abraham Accords, brokered by former US President Donald Trump and which led to UAE and Bahrain forging ties with Israel, has transformed the landscape of the Middle East.

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“We are very excited about President Joe Biden’s visit to Israel as part of his tour to the region,” said Hassan-Nahoum, who is also the co-founder and founding member of the UAE - Israel Business Council. “Biden is coming to a very different Middle East than the one he visited as Vice President of the (Barack) Obama administration.”

The US president will stop in the West Bank and Israel from July 13 to 16, before taking a direct flight from Tel Aviv to Saudi Arabia from July 15 to 16, where he will meet Saudi King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

File photos of US President Joe Biden (left) and Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (right). (Reuters)
File photos of US President Joe Biden (left) and Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (right). (Reuters)

“As my work with the administration’s delegation in Israel, I know they (the US) are very keen to continue developing the Abraham Accords and we are working on all levels to continue that work that has realigned the Middle East to what we have today,” said Hassan-Nahoum.

“In the wider context of both Saudi and Israel, we are very excited that the US are here to discuss common interests and be an interesting convener.”

The Biden administration has “continued to strengthen and develop the Abraham Accords" since the US President took office in 2021, said Hassan-Nahoum.

“This wasn’t a given as it was a different administration (to the one that brokered to Abraham Accords). Yet, the Biden administration is very much onboard with enriching the Abraham Accords.”

“In Jerusalem, we are working on multi collaborations from business and cultural point of you on a number of projects for both Jewish people and Arabs; helping bring more economic opportunities for all sectors.”

After the UAE and Bahrain normalized ties with Israel, Morocco then re-established relations with Israel under a separate Trump-brokered agreement.

Hassan-Nahoum said she hoped talks would continue to see more Middle Eastern countries join the Abraham Accords.

Strengthening Middle East relations

“However, we have to deepen ties before adding more countries to the Abraham Accords,” she said. “But what the Abraham Accords has done is also strengthen old allies in the region such as Jordan and Egypt; places where we have doubled and tripled trade over the past few years.”

“Thanks to the Abraham Accords there is this new atmosphere that exists in the region; it has really developed not only business but developed people-to-people relations.”

“I hope the takeaway (from Biden’s visit) is that the US administration will continue to work to develop and spread the message and narrative of the Abraham Accords to counties that have not joined – and America can be a catalyst for this.”

Hassan-Nahoum said the US can work to separate those who want “peace, prosperity and development” and “isolate the extremists who have no interest in the good of their people.”

“America can be pivotal in this; and we are (therefore) very excited about the visit and the flags are going up.”

The White House confirmed on Thursday that President Joe Biden would be in Jeddah later this month to highlight its work to integrate air defense systems in the region to counter a growing Iranian threat.

“The President will sit down in a bilateral meeting with King Salman and his leadership team, as you know, the Crown Prince is on that leadership team… So, certainly, the President will be seeing the Crown Prince in the context of that larger bilateral discussion,” National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby said.

Kirby spoke to reporters ahead of Biden’s first visit to the Middle East.

“What happens over there [in the Middle East] definitely affects us here at home,” he said.

Asked about expanding the Abraham Accords, Kirby said the US would encourage the expansion of Gulf countries normalizing ties with Israel. “We believe that’s good for the region; it’s good for the security interest of all concerned, including the United States,” he said.

Avi Hasson, CEO of Start-Up Nation Central, a Tel Aviv-based non-profit organization that promotes Israeli innovation around the world, said President Biden’s visit to the Middle East comes at a pivotal point in time.

“President Biden will be visiting both Israel and Saudi Arabia on this trip, at a time when close observers are wondering what a potential relationship between Jerusalem and Riyadh might look like,” he told Al Arabiya English. “While it may be tempting to expand on the success of the Abraham Accords by bringing Saudi Arabia into the fold immediately, these relationships can often take time to develop.”

“Instead of pursuing normalization immediately, I suggest instead that the US administration set its sights on a more modest goal, though one no less revolutionary for the long term: to identify a specific sector where Israelis, Saudis, and perhaps other regional neighbors can work together.”

“Over time, this approach would demonstrate to the people of our countries that innovation and collaboration can bring a trusting and resilient relationship. In my view, any regional arrangement – whether the Abraham Accords or a direct improvement of ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia – will center around security.”

“But what if we were to expand the meaning of the word security? What if instead of focusing narrowly on shared geopolitical challenges in the region, we could take joint steps to protect ourselves from other important security threats like food shortages, global pandemics, and environmental crisis.”

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