By Avi Hasson
When the foreign ministers of four Arab countries, the United States and Israel gathered last week for the first time, they did not sit in Israel’s capital, Jerusalem, or its military headquarters in Tel Aviv. The historic ministerial for Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Morocco, Bahrain, Israel and America took place at Sde Boker in the Negev Desert.
The secluded kibbutz, where Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, lived out his last years with his wife, Paula — and where they are both buried — symbolizes to Israelis the grit, innovation and social solidarity necessary to build a modern state.
By choosing that spot, the six countries were showing their readiness to confront shared challenges through those very same traits. The 18 months since the signing of the Abraham Accords among Israel, the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan (which did not send a representative) have demonstrated that the benefits of cooperation extend far beyond security and survival to include long-term prosperity for all the people of the region.
“What we are doing here is making history, building a new regional architecture based on progress, technology, religious tolerance, security and intelligence cooperation,” said Israel’s Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, echoing Ben-Gurion’s assertion that history is made, not written. Lapid was not alone. The ministers agreed to form working groups on health, food security, energy, tourism, security and education.
Israel, though historically poor in natural resources, has emerged in recent years as a world leader in the field of innovation and entrepreneurship. Start-Up Nation Central, the nonprofit I lead, which is dedicated to strengthening the Israeli innovation ecosystem and promoting it around the world, regularly tracks and reports on the constantly growing and maturing Israeli high-tech industry, and has a firsthand view of how that impacts Israel’s international relations. We see how the same attributes that drove Israelis to excel in innovation — ingenuity, agility and a willingness to take risks — make it a magnet for foreign governments, investors and corporations.
Long established in cybersecurity and fintech, Israel’s innovation ecosystem is now well-positioned to help tackle some of the major threats of our times. Hundreds of companies are active in the fields of health tech, agritech and climate tech, helping provide solutions to problems all over the world.
But Israelis can’t do it alone. Innovation cannot exist without collaboration: whether among scientists, entrepreneurs, companies or countries. There’s no way of achieving any of our goals by working in independent silos. We look forward to the day when we can conduct business, design research programs and exchange tourists with the hundreds of millions of people who live in countries we cannot yet visit or even call on the phone.
The Abraham Accords afford us the opportunity to show the value of those partnerships. They are a striking example of what we call “Innovation Diplomacy” — leveraging innovation as a frictionless channel to tackle shared challenges and achieve common goals.
“The Abraham Accords are making the lives of people across your countries more peaceful, more prosperous, more vibrant, more integrated,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in his closing remarks of the Negev Summit. “They’re allowing governments to focus their energies and attentions on the issues that are actually affecting the lives of our citizens and making them better.”
I applaud the secretary of state for his words and call on American and regional leaders to build on the promise presented in last week’s historic summit by developing a regional forum that focuses on finding technological solutions to our shared challenges.
In his speech, UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan lamented 43 years of not “knowing each other better, of working together, and of changing the narrative that many generations of Israelis and Arabs have been living,” that were squandered since the signing of the 1979 peace agreement between Egypt and Israel. In the interest of future generations, we must not waste any more time.
Avi Hasson is CEO of Start-Up Nation Central, a nonprofit organization that addresses the Israeli innovation ecosystem’s most pressing needs and broadcasts its strengths to the world.