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Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Despite Controversy, Emirati-Israeli Research Cooperation Has Kicked Off

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Ben Hayum envisages that the areas of primary interest for the U.A.E. will be food technology and agriculture, medical technology, water and energy. “On all these we have quite a lot to contribute,” he says, but the Emirates also have an interest in developing infrastructure for research and development, “so what I’m suggesting is co-R&D,” he says.

The next step will be to engage research institutes, universities and companies interested in cutting-edge technology across a range of fields, he says. From an Israeli perspective, there is great hope. “The entire array of the Israeli market engages with the potential of this deal.”

Less Enthusiasm in Some Quarters

Not everyone in the Emirates shares that enthusiasm, however. Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, an eminent Emirati political scientist, says that some members of the U.A.E.’s Arab community undoubtedly will balk at the seemingly sudden changes announced last month.

“Naturally you will find different attitudes and reactions,” says Abdulla. “I would expect that one-third of the research community is ready to collaborate—it’s now official and legal, so why not? I think you’ll find another one-third who will be highly resistant. Psychologically and mentally, they are not ready to cooperate with Israel. Another one-third may be more aloof, taking it one case at a time. There is no one consensus.”

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Non-Arab expatriates are likely to be more willing to embrace the changes right away, Abdulla says, but Arabs, especially the country’s Palestinian expatriates, will not be.

“Among the locals, too, very few will be forthcoming,” he suggests. “Several will be very hesitant, especially the older generation, so there is no one response to this.”

While the first commercial collaboration signed between the two countries was specifically targeted to advancing knowledge of Covid-19, Abdulla envisages more types of studies to follow, in areas like artificial intelligence and medical research. “However, I see military and security collaboration will take off faster than all the others,” he says.

A Joint Study of Positive Psychology

One area in which Emirati and Israeli scholars have already begun collaborating is the study of positive psychology. Louise Lambert, of the United Arab Emirates University, and Shiri Lavy, of the University of Haifa, in Israel, are pioneers in this area.

Collaboration is a pivotal tool for peace and tolerance, Lambert says. “If we want to genuinely fix things in the Middle East beyond politics, to fix people’s perceptions of ‘the other,’ one way is through what we call the contact hypothesis,” she suggests, referring to a tool that brings people together, focusing on commonality over differences, families, life challenges, and common likes and dislikes.

“For me, it’s exciting on a personal note,” she says. “In the region, Israel does the most research on this topic of positive psychology, so this is good for me. In terms of developing more peaceful relationships however, this is how we do it. We can learn more about peace psychology, social psychology.”

In their new collaboration, Lambert and Lavy will each lead teams in their own country looking at character strengths in young adults and how to develop 21st-century employability skills. Lambert anticipates they will find that young people in the two teams share many of the same concerns: they want to make their parents happy, they worry about living a good life and finding a job, they want to be liked. “We’re just a lot more similar than we think we are,” she says.

Generally, Lambert sees the shift as a chance to push the envelope of knowledge for the U.A.E. “This is really an epic moment to be part of a new direction,” she says. “This feels like history in the making and I’m really excited to have this door open for us here.”

Lavy feels the same way. “There is certainly excitement among my peers about such opportunities,” she says. “Such joint endeavors are generally perceived as very meaningful. Beyond the scientific interest, there is also personal interest of many in Israel in the U.A.E., including many social scientists.”

While the initial enthusiasm is high, Lavy says practicalities will still need to be ironed out, and government-level support structures have yet to be put into place. “We will have to learn how we can sustain joint scientific endeavors over time—in terms of funding, language, goals of research, and so on.” However, the feeling is one of hope and positivity. “At this time, I think researchers, at least in some disciplines, can overcome these barriers, especially as there is a strong will to collaborate.”

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