THE Abraham Accords are a series of historic agreements signed in 2020 between Israel and several Arab nations, marking a significant shift in the Middle East diplomacy and relations. The accords are named after Abraham, who is considered a common ancestor in Judaism, Islam and Christianity, symbolizing the desire for peaceful coexistence among the signatory nations. The primary objective of the Abraham Accords is to establish diplomatic relations and normalize ties between Israel and the Arab countries involved. This includes the exchange of ambassadors, the opening of embassies and the establishment of trade and economic relations. The agreements also emphasize economic cooperation, including trade, investment and technological collaboration. These initiatives are aimed at promoting economic development and prosperity in the region.
The accords encourage cooperation on security and defence matters, with a focus on countering common threats, such as terrorism and Iran’s regional influence. The agreements promote cultural exchanges and people-to-people connections, fostering understanding and tolerance between the signatory nations. The Abraham Accords were a significant departure from the previous diplomatic stance of many Arab nations which had historically refrained from recognizing Israel’s right to exist or engaging in formal relations with the country. The normalization of relations was facilitated by a combination of factors, including shared concerns about Iran’s influence in the region, the desire for economic opportunities and the mediation efforts of the United States, led by the Trump Administration.
The Abraham Accords were officially signed in September 2020 and most of the countries involved had had quiet ties with Israel for years prior. Part of this change was the result of Israel’s changing perception of the external threat: for much of the 20th century it feared Arab states, but this then shifted to concern about Iran and the groups it supported, especially Hezbollah. Among Arab states, the underlying threat perception has also shifted, from Israel to Iran. The agreements can be expected to lead to a lasting realignment of the region with a strengthened and US-backed axis against Iran and its allies. In contrast, as Gulf countries have normalized (or are in talks to normalize) relations with Israel, they have monitored relations with Iran and its Syrian ally Bashar al-Assad to weaken and normalize them. This normalization has also extended to Saudi Arabia’s former arch-enemy, Turkish President RecepTayyip Erdogan.
The agreements were a hallmark of the Trump Administration’s foreign policy and now the Biden Administration is scrambling to negotiate similar agreements between Saudi Arabia and Israel. While such US-brokered measures increase American influence and leverage in the Middle East, they have not led to dramatic changes. During this period, Saudi Arabia asked China for a major normalization agreement with Iran, China’s relations in the Middle East continued to develop, US partners in the region did not support Washington’s hardline stance against the Russian invasion of Ukraine and energy deals continued. It is noteworthy that the agreements did not lead to any major changes on the part of Iran. Indeed, during this period Iran normalized its relations with Saudi Arabia, the UAE and other countries. Equally important, Hezbollah brokered a US-brokered maritime boundary agreement between Lebanon and Israel that allowed both countries access to offshore gas.
It is important to note that Israel and its Treaty partners now have very different approaches to Iran. While Iran remains a concern for everyone, the Gulf countries in particular have normalized relations with Tehran and tried to maintain a neutral position in any future conflict between Israel and Iran, but it is possible that Israel expects its new partners to become closer to his own. All parties benefited from increased trade and investment trade between Agreement countries was estimated at $3.37 billion by the end of 2022 as well as increased tourism. The opening of the Abrahamic Family House in Abu Dhabi which accompanied the Accords, helped separate Israeli-Palestinian or Israeli-Arab hostility from the issue of religious tolerance and respect between Muslims and Jews. This is in line with the UAE’s previous efforts to bring together the Grand Mufti of al-Azhar and the Catholic Pope to work towards strengthening Muslim-Christian religious tolerance and respect. The peaceful approach has been sidelined in favour of something closer to “peace for peace” or “suspension for peace” for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Sudan was removed from the US list of state sponsors of terrorism, Morocco won US recognition of its sovereignty over Western Sahara and Bahrain improved long-term relations with Washington. For its part, the UAE was counting on a positive change in relations with the United States and receiving F-35 fighter jets; but it didn’t come to that.
Israel might have been expected to be the biggest winner from the agreements, but three years later it is in its own crisis: its internal cohesion is crumbling and its dominance over the Palestinians is becoming increasingly aggressive and apartheid. Of course, many of the dynamics in Israel have nothing to do with the Accords, but one cannot help but wonder what influence arrogance can have. Without any resistance from the US for decades and no resistance from the major Arab states now, Israel’s right wing has advanced further, threatening an Israeli-Palestinian civil war as well as disintegration within Israel.
Three years later, the Abraham Accords have become an important and relatively permanent feature of the emerging Middle East landscape and part of a broader movement toward de-escalation and normalization of relations. This is a significant trend in a region that has long been plagued by terrible conflict. But the agreements end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which remains one of the central sources of tension in the region and risks taking another dangerous turn. This is another reason for negotiators in any future normalization, such as the one being discussed with Saudi Arabia, to ensure that progress on the Israeli-Palestinian side is included along with progress on other bilateral issues.
—The writer, a PhD scholar, is associated with Islamia University Bahawalpur.
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