The Abrahamic Accords one year later

Abraham Accords (Muasher)
From left: Bahraini minister of foreign affairs Khalid Al-Khalifa, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US president Donald Trump, and Emirati Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Abdullah bin Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan, during a signing ceremony for the Abraham Accords, at the White House, Sept.15,2020. (Photo: NYTimes)
More than a year has passed since four Arab countries, the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco, joined the Abraham Accords, paving the way for normalizing relations between them and Israel. اضافة اعلان

These agreements, grandiosely labeled as “The Abrahamic Accords”, were touted as historic steps toward advancing the peace process and ending the Arab-Israeli conflict.  Ironically, the Abrahamic Accords statement does not mention the Palestinian issue, and the word Palestine or any derivative therefrom is nowhere to be found in the whole text of the declaration.

Since then, two major developments took place that might enable a more objective evaluation of these agreements persistently hailed by its architects as catalysts for regional peace.  The first is the coming in of the Biden administration, with a professedly higher degree of respect for multilateralism and international law, and a totally different set of priorities regarding the Middle East, in general, and the Arab-Israeli conflict, in particular. 

The second is the major flare up between Israel and the Palestinians in May 2021, in Jerusalem, Gaza and inside Israel itself, with the Arab signatories to these agreements playing no role in affecting, not to say ending, the hostilities.

A year later, the question of whether these agreements facilitate or hamper the cause of peace is not only legitimate, but of vital importance if achieving peace in the Middle East is still a priority for the international community.

For the four Arab countries, the normalization agreements largely appeared to be tools to appease the Trump administration so that it would acquiesce to issues that had nothing to do with peacemaking. 

As a result of these agreements, these four countries received concessions from the US they would not have otherwise obtained.  Morocco secured recognition of its claim over the Western Sahara.  Sudan was suddenly removed from the US terrorism list in December 2021. The UAE, until recently, has been in negotiations over an arms deal that includes F-35 planes with the US, and Bahrain hopes to deter Iranian regional threats and please the US.  With such an agreement, perhaps also wanting the US to turn a blind eye on its human rights record.

Israel did not appear to prioritize peace in any way when it signed these agreements. It is becoming increasingly clear, even to most optimists, that it has no intention to withdraw from the occupied territories and no intention to allow the emergence of any credible and sustainable Palestinian state. All it is doing is to ensure that the political status quo continues indefinitely,  while making sure that the on-the-ground situation keeps changing to achieve a de facto annexation of the occupied territories, as a prelude to a de jure annexation.

By signing such agreements, Israel hopes to convince its people as well as the international community that regional peace is possible without the Palestinians. In other words, no need for withdrawal, no need for a two-state solution, no need for “concessions”.

All four Arab countries have argued that the normalization agreements with Israel serve as levers of influence with the Israeli government to entice it to reach a solution with the Palestinians. They also point out that the agreements show the Israeli public the virtue of being more flexible when it comes to withdrawing from occupied territories and establishing a Palestinian state. But the record suggests otherwise.

Egypt, the largest Arab country, signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979 and Jordan, the country with the largest number of Palestinian refugees, signed a similar agreement in 1994. Despite the heavy references in both documents to the principle of land for peace and the need for Israel to withdraw from occupied territory, that never materialized. Moreover, in the last four decades, the attitude of successive Israeli governments and of the Israeli public toward peace with the Palestinians has hardened. The peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan had little effect in making Israel more flexible when it comes to peace with the Palestinians. On the contrary, Israel has adopted positions that are more intransigent than those it held before it signed peace agreements with the two Arab countries.

It is unclear, therefore, why or how the more recent normalization agreements with the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco can advance the cause of peace.

When the clashes between Palestinians and Israel erupted in May 2021, including the Israeli war on Gaza that left more than 260 Palestinians, including 66 children, dead, not one of these Arab countries came out with any public statements criticizing Israel or offered to use its new diplomatic relations with Israel to try to mediate the conflict. 

The agreements also had a devastating effect on the Arab Peace Initiative. If Israel was not interested in that offer in 2002, it has even less of an incentive to show interest today.

The agreements violated the spirit and letter of the Arab Peace Initiative in two main ways. First, the Arab consensus, a key incentive of the initiative, was fractured. Second, the four states effectively abandoned the principle of land for peace, rendering a two-state solution nearly impossible.

By applauding the agreements as a breakthrough toward peace, the international community has fed the delusion that one can achieve peace when no peace exists between the occupier and the occupied.

The normalization of relationships between some Arab states and Israel cannot obfuscate the fact that it is the Palestinians, not any other Arabs, who live under occupation and with whom Israel has to come to terms. In other words, even if all Arab countries sign normalization deals with Israel but leave the Palestinians out, peace will not be achieved in the region.

The normalization agreements with Israel were undoubtedly meant to address the insecurities of the four countries that signed them. These Arab states in no way sought the reinforcement of an apartheid system. But the agreements, coupled with the death of the two-state solution, became a prime example of the law of unintended consequences.

Regional cooperation between Israel and the Arab world, if it does not include a viable solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, can have disastrous consequences.

The writer is vice president for studies, Middle East Program Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

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