An Educational Agenda for the Abraham Accords

March 22, 2021 | Peter Berkowitz
About the author: Peter Berkowitz is the Tad and Dianne Taube Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. In 2019 and 2020, he served as Director of Policy Planning at the U.S. State Department. His writings are posted at

Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Israel have repeatedly indicated that they wish the agreements signed last year to herald an era of cooperation and economic and cultural exchange. To Peter Berkowitz, one important area for interaction lies in the domain of higher education:

Israel and the UAE have taken the first steps to create what should become a variety of vibrant student-exchange programs. Much more can be done. Universities should establish visiting professorships to bring Israeli scholars to teach in the Gulf, and Bahraini and Emirati scholars to teach in Israel. And they should provide financial incentives to encourage faculty members to devise proposals for academic conferences that focus on issues of special interest to all three Middle East countries as well as to the United States—from desalination and the environment to comparative religion and religious freedom.

Such projects, Berkowitz adds, need not be limited to universities, but instead can be modeled on programs in the U.S. that bring together small groups of students or professionals for a few days or weeks for intensive study, encouraging interactions inside and outside the classroom. For instance, a “common traditions” seminar:

Its point of departure is that Jews and Muslims as well as Christians share a common biblical heritage, and that great philosophers in all three traditions undertook enduring efforts in the Middle Ages to reconcile their faiths with the wisdom of Plato and Aristotle. The first half of the seminar would concentrate on biblical passages of surpassing importance to the three Abrahamic religions. The second half would explore influential arguments from the outstanding medieval philosopher of each of the traditions: al-Farabi, Maimonides, and Thomas Aquinas.

These three seminars—and variations that could follow on their heels—needn’t remain restricted to original Abraham Accords signatories. As soon as is practically possible, citizens from Sudan, Kosovo, and Morocco—which also recently normalized relations with Israel—should be invited to join. The same goes for Jordanians, Egyptians, and Palestinians. And why not reach out to the Republic of Cyprus, a vibrant democracy in the eastern Mediterranean eager to contribute to regional stability and prosperity?

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