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Top U.S. diplomat in Jerusalem: Israel is a ‘natural place’ for Saudi economic collaboration

Stephanie Hallett was speaking at a Start-Up Nation Central event commemorating the third anniversary of the signing of the Abraham Accords

Melissa Weiss

U.S. Chargé d'Affaires Stephanie Hallett, Bahraini Ambassador to Israel Khaled Yousef Al-Jalahma and Start-Up Nation Central CEO Avi Sasson speak at an event at Start-Up Nation Central on Sept. 7, 2023.

Israel is the “one country in the region” that can serve as a leader in “innovation [and] technology expertise” as Saudi Arabia works to implement its Vision 2030 project, U.S. Chargé d’Affaires Stephanie Hallett said at Start-Up Nation Central (SNC) in Tel Aviv on Thursday.

Riyadh is Washington’s “preeminent target” for expanding the Abraham Accords, Hallett, who is the highest-ranking official at the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem following Ambassador Tom Nides’ departure earlier this summer, said, adding that “Israel is a natural place” for the kinds of economic collaboration that Saudi Arabia is seeking under the leadership of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Hallett was speaking alongside Bahraini Ambassador to Israel Khaled Yousef Al-Jalahma in a conversation moderated by SNC CEO Avi Hasson.

Hallett joked that a new signatory to the Abraham Accords would be announced later in the day, a nod to growing speculation that Saudi Arabia and Israel are nearing a normalization agreement, before clarifying that “there are many roads to travel down concurrently to get to the place of full normalization,” citing comments from National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan earlier this week.

Should Israel normalize ties with Saudi Arabia, Hallett said, “I think you’re likely to see other countries want to — in the broader Muslim world — that may want to follow suit as well.” Established ties, she added, “just anchors the Gulf countries more broadly to Israel, to the United States, and innovation and technology are the key pillars of that cooperation.” 

Al-Jalahma and Hallett were participating in a half-day innovation summit hosted by SNC, a nonprofit tech incubator, at its Tel Aviv headquarters to mark the third anniversary of the signing of the Abraham Accords normalization agreements. The summit also included a panel discussion with Israeli and Gulf entrepreneurs, as well as breakout sessions with the Israel Export Institute, Abu Dhabi Investment Office and the Bahrain Economic Development Board.

Hallet and Al-Jalahma cited the roles that technology and innovation are playing in building relationships between Israel and Gulf nations. 

“The best collaboration,” Hallett said, “is not necessarily government-to-government driven. It’s [driven] by the private sector and the people in this room.”

Al-Jalahma touted collaboration between Bahraini and Israeli entities, despite initial challenges attributed in part to cultural differences and some reluctance by Bahrainis to travel to Israel. “Just because it’s slow, doesn’t mean that it isn’t good. Doing it slowly with some savlanut,” he said, using the Hebrew word for patience. “It really is the right way forward. Everything that we’re facing is really something positive because we’re learning from it. We’ve adapted a lot, we’ve been working a lot with the different fields until we found the right path to move along.” 

He also noted Manama’s efforts to help Israel hire foreign talent in the tech industry, many of whom work remotely from Bahrain.

Al-Jalahma cited the success of the first Connect to Innovate conference, held earlier this year in Manama, which brought together Israeli and Bahraini entrepreneurs and resulted in the signing of several memorandums of understanding before the conference’s end.

At the end of the Thursday summit, Nave Shachar, SNC’s director of innovation diplomacy for the Gulf and the managing director of Israel’s pavilion at the Expo 2020 in Dubai, announced a second Connect to Innovate convening in Bahrain next year.

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