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How The Arab World Is Reacting To Accords With Israel

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

For decades, the holy grail for American presidents engaging in foreign policy has been brokering a deal for peace in the Middle East. Well, like the presidents who came before him, President Trump did not get the peace pact he sought between Israelis and Palestinians. But his administration was able to mediate deals for four Arab states to recognize Israel. After years in which they did not publicly recognize the Jewish state, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco have agreed to normalize ties.

Israelis are celebrating, but how are those diplomatic breakthroughs playing in the Arab world? As the year draws to a close, we're going to hear now from two of our correspondents who have just been in two of the relevant nations. NPR's Daniel Estrin is just back from UAE, and our East Africa correspondent Eyder Peralta was just in Sudan.

Hey, you two.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Hey, Mary Louise.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Hey there.

KELLY: So, Daniel, you start because it was the United Arab Emirates that kicked this off. They were the first to sign on to agreements called the Abraham Accords, named for Abraham of the Bible and the Quran. You are just back from Dubai. What is the view from there?

ESTRIN: Oh, it is totally surreal. There are tens of thousands of Israelis who have flocked to Dubai this month. There are 15 daily nonstop flights. And I heard Hebrew everywhere - I mean, in the malls, in the spice market, the gold market. At the foot of the Burj Khalifa, which is the tallest building in the world, there was this large menorah and a big Hanukkah concert. And I saw Israeli Orthodox Jews with their traditional side locks, their yarmulkes, walking past Emiratis in their traditional dress. And, you know, the Israelis I spoke to were just in total disbelief that they were feeling so welcomed in an Arab country.

KELLY: And what about Emiratis? Are they happy to have so many Israelis in their midst?

ESTRIN: Well, there was this one Emirati man in the spice market, Hamid Mohammad (ph), and he runs his family's saffron shop. He was seeing this flow of Israelis just walking past the shop, and here's what he said.

HAMID MOHAMMAD: (Speaking in Arabic).

ESTRIN: So what he's saying is that, we are with the government, even if the government tells us to go to hell because we get everything from the government. We get housing, free education. This is an oil-rich country; remember. And so part of the deal in the UAE is, enjoy the benefits; leave the politics to the rulers. And dissent there is not tolerated.

KELLY: Yeah. So it sounds like businesses, whether it's spice market or others, that are going to start to cater to the Israeli tourists. Eyder, how about in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, where I imagine a rather different story is playing out?

PERALTA: Yeah, totally different. And part of it is because Sudan is just really in a tough spot right now not just because they're going through a contentious political transition but because they're in a huge economic hole. I went to grab some tea at sunset along the Nile. And I sat with this group of friends, and they told me that things are just really bad in Sudan right now economically. At times this year, inflation has topped 200%. So they said they had to save up for the tea they were having. And I asked Waleed - who was nervous about criticizing the government on tape, so he only gave me his first name - and I asked him what Sudanese thought about this deal with Israel. And here is what he said.

WALEED: The people in Sudan don't care for this.

PERALTA: It's about basics.

WALEED: Yeah, don't care. Just we need the basic three - eat and a small house and good education. That's all.

PERALTA: It's about survival right now in Sudan. And he's 26 years old, and he told me about another basic. He wants to get married. But even that has gotten too expensive. It would cost about a million Sudanese pounds, and he is making about 15,000 Sudanese pounds a month. So, you know, instead of thinking about Israel, he's doing the math. And at this rate, he will have enough money to get married when he is 60.

KELLY: Oh, poor guy.

PERALTA: Yeah.

KELLY: My heart goes out to him. A final question for each of you - Eyder, you can tackle it first. What might this mean for the region? - because the Trump administration is touting these deals as game-changers for the region. Is that the way it is seen in Sudan?

PERALTA: I mean, symbolically, it is a big deal. Remember; Sudan is where Arab countries met in the '60s and they signed the Khartoum Resolution. And that's where they decided there would be no peace, no recognition, no negotiations with Israel. Sudan settled with some of the victims of terrorist attacks carried out by al-Qaida when al-Qaida was given safe haven in Sudan. And in return, the U.S. took Sudan off of the state sponsors of terrorism list. The hope is that international investment and aid begins to flow, and Sudan could get out of this economic hole. But what this means concretely - it's up in the air.

KELLY: And, Daniel, last word - how about UAE?

ESTRIN: For the Emiratis, they're trying to be more of a world player. They want to build a regional coalition against Iran. And they see this as a down payment - that they are giving Israel the recognition that Israel has always craved. And now they expect to have a seat at the decision-making table to influence Israeli policy down the road. And they hope that the U.S. will uphold their promise to sell them the F-35 advanced fighter jets.

KELLY: That is NPR's Daniel Estrin, now back on base in Jerusalem, and NPR's Eyder Peralta from his base in Nairobi. Thanks to you both.

PERALTA: Thank you, Mary Louise.

ESTRIN: You're welcome.

KELLY: And happy holidays.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE TRAGICALLY HIP SONG, "GRACE, TOO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.