Clockwise from top left: Prof. Brandon Friedman (Director of Research of Moshe Dayan Center for Middle East and African Studies, Tel Aviv University); Ambassador Ilan Fluss (Embassy of the State of Israel, Manila); Miss Andrea Molina (Moderator, Foreign Service Institute); Prof. Henelito Sevilla, PhD (Dean, Asian Center, University of the Philippines Diliman); Ambassador Mohammed Rida El Fassi (Embassy of the Kingdom of Morocco, Manila).

The Foreign Service Institute and the Embassy of Israel in Manila conducted the Mabini Dialogue “The Changing Paradigm in the Middle East: The Abraham Accords and the New Era of Arab-Israeli Diplomatic Relations” on 30 March 2022, bringing together experts and distinguished speakers to examine and share their perspectives on the significance of the Abraham Accords to the flourishing Arab-Israeli relations.

In his welcome remarks, Assistant Secretary Alfonso Ferdinand A. Ver of the Department of Foreign Affairs’ (DFA) Office of Middle East and African Affairs remarked that the presence of millions of overseas Filipinos in the region is reason enough for the Philippines to maintain interest in geopolitical developments, such as the normalization of relations between Israel and some Arab countries. He added that the Philippines will keep supporting measures that would enable Middle Eastern nations to jointly address shared concerns.

Moroccan Ambassador Mohammed Rida El Fassi stressed that people should always be at the beginning and receiving end of the Abraham Accords. Major decisions should be made with people in mind. Morocco has reestablished its diplomatic mission in Israel since normalizing relations, and their bilateral relations span multiple sectors, including but not limited to trade, agriculture, tourism, heritage and culture, climate change, and sustainable development.

Israeli Ambassador Ilan Fluss discussed the Abraham Accords’ impact and Israel’s changing role in the region. According to him, Israel’s strategic shift in regional participation resulted in cooperation in a wide range of areas, not only in diplomatic relations but also in energy, defense, tourism, and agriculture, to name a few. He remarked that the normalization of Arab-Israeli relations reinforces the view that the Israel-Palestine conflict and peace process can be viewed and treated independently of one’s relationship with Israel.

To give an academic assessment of the topic, Dr. Brandon Friedman of Tel Aviv University illustrated the global context surrounding the developments leading to the signing of the Abraham Accords. He cited several major developments, such as the changing U.S. posture in the Middle East, the impact of the new Biden administration and its human rights-focused agenda, the saliency of nontraditional security threats such as climate change and the greater emphasis for decarbonization in the West’s environmental policies, and the Sino-American strategic rivalry. According to Dr. Friedman, the Accords are more than just a tool for regional security; they are Israel and Arab states’ response to geopolitical and societal shifts in the global and regional arenas. Thus, it is driven by strategic calculations, economic interests, energy security, and willingness to expand people-to-people linkages.

Dr. Henelito Sevilla, Jr. of the UP Asian Center agreed with Dr. Friedman – the Accord is primarily motivated by the signatory states’ national interests rather than the immediate restoration of regional peace. Nonetheless, he praised the Accords’ efforts and its goal of enhancing government-to government and people-to-people cooperation.

The webinar was attended by officers and staff of the DFA, foreign service posts, the diplomatic corps, other government agencies, and the academe.