Marathon interviews hail Abraham Accords on first anniversary (we were No. 96 out of 99)

Lior Haiat, spokesperson for Israel’s foreign ministry, faces his 96th interviewer in one day, Ron Csillag of The CJN.

The idea, dubbed “Talking Peace,” was to set a record for the most consecutive media interviews held in different places around the world.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether this was an attempt to enter the hallowed Guinness Book of World Records, but it appears Israel’s foreign ministry pulled it off.

The CJN was No. 96 of 99 back-to-back interviews, 14-and-a-half hours into the 15-plus hour marathon, conducted on Sept. 14. The surprisingly fresh interviewee was Lior Haiat, spokesperson for the foreign ministry, and the topic was the first anniversary of the signing of the Abraham Accords.

The accords began with the stunning normalization of relations between Israel, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain, in a deal signed on the White House lawn on Sept. 15, 2020.

It marked the first such breakthrough with an Arab country since Israel made peace with Jordan in 1994, and before that, with Egypt in 1979.

The Abraham Accords grew to include Sudan and, mostly lately, Morocco.

So The CJN’s first question was about the most asked query Haiat had been posed in the 95 previous interviews.

He chuckled and replied, “Who’s next?” But he declined a clear answer.

“There are a few countries thinking of (joining),” he said. “Each country has its own rhythm. I don’t think mentioning one or another will help the process, but I do hope that when we celebrate the second anniversary of the Abraham Accords, there will be other countries celebrating with us.”

In the year since the accords were signed, Israel opened a consulate in Dubai and an embassy in Abu Dhabi, the UAE’s capital, as well as an embassy in the Bahraini capital of Manama.

The UAE and Bahrain have both opened embassies in Tel Aviv and appointed ambassadors to Israel.

As well, since the first direct flight between Tel Aviv and Abu Dhabi on April 6 of this year, thousands of Israeli and Emirati tourists have visited each other’s countries.

Excluding tourism and services, trade between Israel and the UAE rocketed from $50.8 million between January and July in 2020 to $614 million during the same period in 2021.

The accords’ economic, cultural and political benefits have been “beyond expectations,” said Haiat, who then corrected himself. “I don’t know what expectations were. It was a new reality for us. We didn’t know what to expect.”

Israel’s new partners indicated they wanted to move quickly, saying they wanted the accords to “be as tangible as possible, not only for the leadership and the politicians, but also for citizens,” Haiat explained.

To date, 40 separate agreements have been signed between the parties in several areas.

Events have moved so quickly, Haiat noted, that when the Bahraini ambassador presented his credentials to Israel’s president on Sept. 14, it was barely noticed in Israel.

At one point, the Bahraini envoy, Khaled Yousif Al-Jalahma, joined Haiat for part of the interview marathon, pledging that his country will be a “sincere and strong partner—an active partner—in peace.”

Israel and the UAE participated in joint military training in Greece last year, but Haiat stressed the accords are not based on security issues, “but on how peace will bring a better future.”

With a new regional “paradigm,” Haiat said the accords have illustrated one thing on which participants agree: that Iran is the biggest threat to stability in the Middle East.

Haiat believes the accords could also “create an atmosphere” for the Palestinian leadership to pursue peace, especially if more Arab countries join.

“We are patient and optimistic,” said Haiat, “because we think the peace process is stronger than any conflict and is definitely the future of the Middle East.”