Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State
The White House
SECRETARY BLINKEN:Morning, everyone, or good evening, good afternoon, depending on where everyone is. Minister Bourita, Minister Lapid, Dr. Gargash, Ambassador al-Khalifa, friends, it’s very, very good to see all of you, and thank you for being here. And to our Israeli colleague, Shana tova.
FOREIGN MINISTER LAPID:Happy new year.
SECRETARY BLINKEN:You know, September 15th, 2020, leaders from Bahrain, Israel, the United Arab Emirates signed the Abraham Accords. A few months later, on December 10th, Israel and Morocco also signed a normalization agreement.
Today, a year after the Accords and normalization agreements were signed, the benefits continue to grow.
We’re seeing deepening diplomatic relationships. It’s been a year of firsts: the first Israeli embassy in Abu Dhabi, the first embassy of the United Arab Emirates in Tel Aviv.
This month, Israel named its first ambassador to Bahrain. And earlier this week, Bahrain’s first ambassador to Israel presented his credentials.
Minister Lapid, your visit to Morocco last month to meet with Minister Bourita and others was the first by an Israeli minister to the Kingdom since 2003.
And both countries recently opened liaison offices that are expected to be upgraded to embassies by the end of the year.
We’re seeing growing people-to-people ties, even with the serious challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Diplomatic relations have made it possible to fly between Israel and Bahrain, Israel and Morocco, and Israel and the United Arab Emirates. Some of these flights have never been allowed before.
Your governments are making it easier for your citizens to take advantage of those flights.
For example, Israel and Bahrain were the first countries to mutually recognize one another’s digital COVID-19 vaccine passports, which means that people from your countries can go to restaurants and concerts when visiting each other’s countries without quarantining.
And the people of your countries are seizing the opportunity. Again, despite COVID-19, more than 130,000 Israelis visited the United Arab Emirates just in the first four and a half months after the Accords were signed. There is a hunger to learn about each other’s cultures, to see new sights, to try new foods, forge new friendships – all experiences that have been impossible for so long and for so many, and now they’re making up for lost time.
We’re seeing new economic opportunities, innovations, collaborations. The United Arab Emirates has pursued significant investments in strategic sectors in Israel, including energy, medicine, technology, healthcare. Private firms across your countries are working together on everything from desalinization to stem cell therapies. These opportunities would be exciting at any time – but they are particularly important today, as we work to build back better from the devastating economic impact of the pandemic.
The deepening diplomatic relationships also provide a foundation to tackle challenges that demand cooperation among nations, like reducing regional tensions, combating terrorism, mitigating the impact of the climate crisis.
And we all must build on these relationships and growing normalization to make tangible improvements in the lives of Palestinians, and to make progress toward the longstanding goal of advancing a negotiated peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Palestinians and Israelis deserve equal measures of freedom, security, opportunity, and dignity.
This administration will continue to build on the successful efforts of the last administration to keep normalization marching forward. We’ll do that in three main ways.
First, we’ll help foster Israel’s growing ties with Bahrain, with Morocco, with the United Arab Emirates – as well as with Sudan, which has also signed the Abraham Accords, and Kosovo, which established ties with Israel at the beginning of the year.
Second, we’ll work to deepen Israel’s longstanding relationships with Egypt and Jordan – partners critical to the United States, Israel, and Palestinians alike.
It was 43 years ago today that Egypt and Israel signed the Camp David Accords, and next month will mark 27 years since Israel and Jordan signed the Wadi Araba Treaty.
The visit to Cairo this week by Prime Minister Bennett to meet with President Sisi – the first trip at this level in over a decade – and the negotiations between Israel and Jordan around new agreements on water and trade show how these relationships continue to build on the trailblazing agreements signed decades ago.
And third, we will encourage more countries to follow the lead of the Emirates, Bahrain, and Morocco. We want to widen the circle of peaceful diplomacy, because it’s in the interests of countries across the region and around the world for Israel to be treated like any other country. Normalization leads to greater stability, more cooperation, mutual progress – all things the region and the world need very badly right now.
Let me close by bringing us back to the primary beneficiaries of normalization: people across borders whose lives will be improved by these new possibilities.
Abdulla Baqer is an investor who co-leads the newly created UAE-Israel Business Council. He wants to spend a month in Israel to learn more about its people and culture, so that he can better connect entrepreneurs in the two countries. He says, and I quote, “Everything is possible if we sit together and have a dialogue and understand each other.”
Ebrahim Nonoo is the head of the Jewish community in Bahrain. Just last month, he led Shabbat services in a synagogue for the first time in 74 years – making Jewish life visible in Bahrain for the first time in generations.
And so many people are eager to rekindle longstanding connections that had been cut off – until now. More than a million Israelis have Moroccan heritage, including five ministers in Israel’s current government. How meaningful it will be for more Israelis of Moroccan descent to travel back and forth between the two countries, rediscover cultural ties, and pass them on.
The 2020 World Expo was delayed by COVID-19, but it will soon open in Dubai. The Abraham Accords had not yet been signed when Israel’s pavilion was first conceived. It consists of seven consecutive free-standing gates – no walls, completely open. Across the final gate is a giant sign that reads, “For Tomorrow,” in a script that combines Arabic and Hebrew letters.
What an apt metaphor for the new horizons that open when countries are no longer closed to each other.
Thanks to the countries here today, others who have joined, and the people forging ties between these nations, that vision is becoming a reality. May it be a model for others to follow.
Thank you all.
FOREIGN MINISTER LAPID: Well, apparently, Mr. Secretary, being the one with the longest history as a host of talk shows, we need your direction. Who should start? Maybe my friend, Nasser Bourita —
SECRETARY BLINKEN: I think – I think yes, I think our friend from Morocco is next up.
FOREIGN MINISTER BOURITA: Thank you. Mr. Secretary of State, Your Highness, dear colleagues and friends, allow me first of all to commend you, dear Tony, for this opportunity to renew together our commitment for peace. The normalization of relations with Israel is indeed a historic event that is worth commemorating. It fostered new hope and paved the way for an unprecedented momentum.
Although Morocco’s relationship with Israel preceded the Abraham Accords by few decades, we do recognize and subscribe to the significant impetus generated by the resumption and revival of relations. As you all know, in our case it is the U.S.-Morocco-Israel agreement signed last December, and that the auspices of His Majesty King Mohammed VI – it is the bedrock for the renewed relationship. For His Majesty, the signing reflects the profound links between the kings of Morocco and the large Moroccan Jewish community. At the same time, it ties in with the spirit and the dynamic generated by the Abraham Accords.
I would like to take this opportunity to reiterate Morocco’s sincere appreciation for the pivotal role of the United States as sponsor and guarantor to this process.
Colleagues and friends, Winston Churchill was right when he said that, “Peace will not be preserved by pious sentiments.” Yes, the normalization accords are the result of good will – lots of it – but more than anything we see action. Since the signing of the trilateral agreement and following the high instructions of His Majesty, many bilateral actions have been undertaken. Let me name a few.
We have established a platform of bilateral dialogue and cooperation around five main sectorial working groups. Our government official talk, meet, and work together. Around dozen ministers initiated diverse contacts, laying the ground for the signing of more than 20 agreements. Diplomatic missions have been opened and are operational. We have established – and I will count myself, my friend Yair last month – and we look forward to other important visits, including of ministers of economy and defense.
Channels have been opened between the business communities through the establishment of the Moroccan-Israeli Business Council, and the Morocco-Israel Chamber of Industry. We are happy to note that exchanges grew 50 percent just in the first six months of 2021. Twenty flights operating under two airlines companies already established their rotation, and one million Israeli tourists are expected per year to visit Morocco.
Partnerships in sensitive sectors have been launched, including in cybersecurity and interoperability of forces through joint military special forces exercises like the HD ANNUAL-21, to which Morocco participated.
Colleagues and friends, the challenge of reconnecting was a great one, but it is now behind us. The challenges of preserving, improving, and giving sense to the normalization are still ahead of us. I see four elements or areas in this regard.
First, the impact of the normalization process is meant to be felt in generations to come. We must actively and constantly demonstrate benefits on regional peace and security, on people-to-people relations, on business opportunities. These are the best arguments for other countries to follow suit.
Second, relaunching the peace process is fundamental. Morocco believes that there is no other alternative to a two-state solution with an independent Palestinian state within borders of June ’67. Besides and for His Majesty King Mohammed VI, chairman of Al-Quds Committee, the status of Jerusalem has to be preserved as a common heritage of humanity, as a symbol of peaceful coexistence of the followers of the three monotheistic religions. Morocco has always played a significant, still discreet role in facilitating peace in the past, and is ready to pursue this role today.
Third, the normalization did not generate only sympathy. It generated animosity as well. Such animosity must be dealt with with vision and solidarity. For example and unfortunately, one neighboring country decided to sever its relations with Morocco, pretexting – among other things – the establishment of relations with Israel.
Fourth, there is a need for a new regional order where Israel is a stakeholder and no longer an outsider in its own region. This new regional order should not be perceived as against someone, but rather to benefit us all. Also, this new regional order should be based on an updated joint assessment of threats, but also on how to generate opportunities that favor stability and development forward.
Colleagues and friends, today we are showing to the whole region and the world that brave actions must be taken by all of us in order to push the envelope a bit further for a greater good. Again, thank you, my friend Tony, for convening this important meeting, and stay assured of Morocco’s unwavering and continuous commitment to doing what it takes to contribute genuinely to regional peace and stability. I thank you.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Nasser, thank you so much. And now the floor is yours, Yair.
FOREIGN MINISTER LAPID: Yes. There’s only one correction I want to make to my friend, Nasser Bourita. This is not colleagues and friends; it’s friends and colleagues – friends far most.
As the Secretary has mentioned, today, September 17th, is the 42nd anniversary of the signing on the White House lawn of the Camp David Agreements. Menachem Begin, the late Menachem Begin, Anwar Sadat, and Jimmy Carter – who’s still with us – stood on the lawn of the White House, signing peace agreements. And since then two of them has died, assassined, and regimes and governments came to power and fell out of power in both countries, but the peace lasts. Because peace has this energy to it and tendency to last longer than the people who are signing it, and may this peace last long after all of us are gone. And we have to also mention the fact that this Abraham Accords club is open for new members as well, and one of our goals, our common goals, is to make sure that other countries will follow suit and join us in this Accords and in this new era of cooperation and friendship.
The relations between countries are always the right mix of interests and friendship that is based on values, what Henry Kissinger used to call the right mixture between the ideal and the real. And in this event, the ideal and the real are completing each other, and as long as all of us are involved, they will continue to complete each other in friendship. If you look at the last year, ambassadors were appointed, embassies were built, we launched direct flights, we have mutual visits, we have signed dozens of agreements in this last – in this past month, and many are to follow – and we have more than $650 million in direct trade and extra hundreds of millions in other agreements. We have cooperation in the academy. We have hosts with the UAE and Bahrain, and with Morocco to follow.
And we’re going to dedicate the next couple of years to strategic progress of infrastructure, mostly water, energy, security, food, connectivity, and all of this is going to happen on a regional level. The COVID-19 has taught us all that there’s no such thing as local problems or local challenges; all challenges and all problems are global. And the same way we have dealt together with the COVID-19, we’re going to deal with positive things as well, with creating an economy, with creating an atmosphere, with creating a new discourse in the region.
Looking forward, by the end of the month, I’m going to visit Bahrain for the first time ever for an Israeli minister, and we’re talking also about – and I’ve discussed this in length with Minister Bourita when I was in Morocco – we’re going to have 3+1 and 3+2 and 3+3. We have – we’re going to make this a bigger and bigger event and a bigger and bigger initiative for peace in the region. On top of this, I have – only this week I have launched my initiative about economy for security in Gaza, trying to stabilize the Palestinian arena as well. So I invite you all to be part of this initiative that will help both for the Palestinian economy and to secure and help – and help to secure the entire region.
So this is an optimistic event, and it was created by optimistic people for a better future. And I couldn’t be happier than doing this on the 42nd anniversary of the Camp David agreements. And a Happy New Year, Shana Tova, to you all from the people of Israel.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Yair, thank you very, very much, and optimism is definitely a good thing. We need more of it and we need to be energized by it, so I appreciate that very much.
Ambassador al-Khalifa, Abdullah, over to you.
AMBASSADOR AL-KHALIFA: Thank you, Honorable Secretary, Your Excellencies. Allow me to personally relay the appreciation of His Excellency Dr. Abdullatif Rashid al-Zayani, foreign minister of the Kingdom of Bahrain, for convening this very important gathering to celebrate the first anniversary of the signing of these historic agreements.
The foreign minister unfortunately couldn’t join us today’s – to today’s virtual meeting, going to being en route to New York for the 76th Session of the UN General Assembly. But he has asked for his remarks to be included in the form of a recorded video, and so please allow me to turn the floor to the foreign minister’s recorded message. Thank you.
FOREIGN MINISTER AL-ZAYANI: “Secretary Blinken, Your Highness, Your Excellencies: Thank you, Secretary Blinken, for hosting this virtual event celebrating the first anniversary of the signing of the Abraham Accords. I am delighted to join you today as we not only recognize what has been achieved, but also look ahead to how we can build on these historic agreements to take forward the peace, stability, and prosperity of the entire Middle East and its peoples. Because the past year has clearly shown that despite challenges, change is possible for our region, that there really can be a path toward security and cooperation for us all. Already, we have seen further countries joining the process. And I am so pleased that we are joined from Morocco by my brother, His Excellency Minister Bourita, also with His Highness Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan from the brotherly United Arab Emirates, and His Excellency Minister Yair Lapid from the state of Israel. And already, we are seeing our cooperation bear fruit with a host of agreements and cooperation projects between the countries involved.
“In Bahrain, we have moved quickly to consolidate our new ties with Israel and to seize the new opportunities they have created for the benefit of both countries and the region. I’m particularly pleased that our first ambassador to Tel Aviv has this week presented his credentials to President Herzog, the first step in what I am sure will be a full role in developing our ties.
“Indeed, the Kingdom of Bahrain has been proud to be at the forefront of this historic process, showcasing our deep-rooted values of dialogue, mutual respect, and coexistence, and demonstrating how they can make a real practical difference on the regional and international stage.
“Looking to the future, we must make sure that this past year is only the start of the process and sustain the genuine momentum and progress we have seen. We need to redouble our efforts to highlight the benefits of our cooperation, whether bilateral or multilaterally, among the countries involved. We need to demonstrate what genuine regional peace, interdependence, and prosperity can mean in practice for the day-to-day lives of all the peoples of the Middle East. And we need a real push to resolve the underlying issues affecting the region, most notably the importance of a just and comprehensive resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
“All of this will require real engagement and support from our friends and allies around the world, not just those involved in the Abraham Accords process, but all countries with a genuine interest in a peaceful, secure, and stable Middle East.
“The Kingdom of Bahrain therefore welcomes the strong and active support from the Biden administration. And I want to thank you, Secretary Blinken, for your close involvement in this ongoing historic process. It is my hope that as the benefits become increasingly clear, and with the assistance of our international partners, the region will move forward towards a cooperation of which we can all be proud.
“Secretary Blinken, dear colleagues, I want to close by congratulating all the countries represented here today on what we have achieved together so far by underlining the Kingdom of Bahrain’s continued and active commitment to this process and by looking forward to further progress towards our shared goal of a peaceful, stable, and prosperous Middle East. Thank you.”
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, thank you very much, and Abdullah, please convey our gratitude to the minister for his participation. And we very much look forward to seeing him in the days ahead.
And now, Dr. Gargash, Anwar, so good to see you. Over to you.
MR GARGASH: Good to see you. Good to see you. Good to see you. But I would actually like to start by wishing Minister Lapid, Israelis, and the Jewish people a happy new year. So I think that I would like to start with that. And I hope that this is a year where we can consolidate our relationship, bring better prospects for the future for all of us joined together. But the first anniversary of the Abrahamic Accords is truly an auspicious occasion, and it certainly is an occasion to celebrate. Peace, stability, opportunity are things worthy of celebration in our region, and I think they should really be keywords in a region that we all know is extremely difficult.
Looking back a year ago and seeing this positive new normal, we in the UAE are very, very encouraged. We are encouraged with what has taken place, we’re encouraged with our communications with the Israeli side, we are encouraged with the opportunities that are there, and a lot has happened in the past year. And I would say that a lot of positive, really, things have happened, and this is really a counter-narrative for a region that needs positive counter-narratives.
I also take this opportunity to acknowledge and thank the United States, for if it wasn’t for the American role, this wouldn’t have been possible. And the continued engagement of the United States in this initiative, in expanding the Abrahamic Accords and diversifying the benefits of peace, is something that is welcome, because America is best when it can congregate friends together and allow them to prosper and allow them to build a positive future for a very troubled region.
I would say that the main achievement of the Abrahamic Accords in the beginning was breaking the psychological barrier, and I think once that psychological barrier was broken, this was really the difficult part. And following that, a lot of things and opportunities have appeared – people-to-people opportunities, economies, even our ability really to consult on political issues. The messages of hope and opportunity – and opportunities are the language that we all like to hear, and these opportunities are in a myriad selection or grouping of things that we can do in technologies, in life sciences, in health, in agriculture, in tourism, and in simpler things, really, of allowing Israeli companies to expand and allowing country – companies from our countries also to expand and partner. And I think these are all positive messages as we celebrate the first anniversary.
Politically, also, we feel that the Abrahamic Accords will allow us to help and assist further in the peace process, leading to what we all see as the ultimate goal of a two-state solution. This, of course, will be up to the Palestinians and Israelis to agree. But I think we can all be more constructive as we build a network of trust, and that network of trust I think will allow us to put away a lot of the fears of the past and replace it by the hopes for the future.
But the most important message, also, from my perspective is really to a demographically young region. This is a region where all of our countries are demographically very young. And I think the Abrahamic Accord has been received with overwhelming support among the young in the United Arab Emirates, because they can see that this is a narrative that is positive. It’s a narrative of opportunity, of peace, of doing things together, and also understanding that countries can have very fruitful and forward-looking relations but can disagree on issues and need to work the disagreements together. It can’t be just zero-sum games but it has to be positive as we move forward.
The messages of the great possibilities for peace and cooperation are these messages that we are sending to the young. On behalf of the UAE Government, I will say that we will continue on what we see as a strategic path. We will continue with our utmost power and initiative in order to make it wider, to make it deeper, and to make it more diversified.
And I would end by saying that the satisfaction of building bridges is a satisfaction that has a moral compass, and it’s a satisfaction that has economic and political opportunities. Thank you very much.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Anwar, thank you very much. And my thanks and gratitude to each of you. I think you’ve each underscored eloquently and powerfully why this is such an important moment to mark, and why the vision of each of your countries is already demonstrating concrete results and a vision now that carries forward.
Abraham, in our Bible, had the temerity to engage God, to argue with God, to ask why, and maybe more important, to ask why not. And I think each of you and each of your countries asked, “Why not?” And the answer now we see before us with the accords, with normalization, and with the manifest benefits that it’s bringing to people not just in the countries concerned, but I think increasingly more broadly.
So it’s both an honor and an imperative for the United States to continue strongly to support everything you’re doing and, as several of you have said, to widen the circle going forward. So thanks for spending for the time today. Looking forward to seeing each of you in the days and weeks ahead. Thanks very much.
FOREIGN MINISTER LAPID: Thank you. Bye-bye, everybody. Hope to you see you next year in Israel.
Source: U.S. Department of State (State.gov)