Unpacking the Abraham Accords

November 13, 2020

by: Cheryl Hauer, International Vice President

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Most people would agree we are living in pretty remarkable times. However, some might not recognize that one of the hallmarks of life today is a very short collective memory. Yesterday’s news seems to disappear in the clamor of today’s headlines, and somehow, as important as it might have seemed when it was read yesterday, it may well never be thought of again.

Such seems to be the case with recent events in the Middle East, developments of enormous importance that could potentially affect the future of the entire world. Although the signing of the Abraham Accords on September 15 caught the attention of the international community, there seemed to be less international attention given to subsequent measures taken to advance goodwill and cooperation in one of the most volatile regions in the world.

Perhaps that is because the peace being cultivated flies in the face of the narrative we have heard for decades from the world media, the United Nations, the international community and the Arab world itself: no peace in the Middle East without a resolution to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. No Palestinian state, no peace. And as Israel struggled to establish itself as a legitimate member of that international community as a sovereign nation with the same right to peace and self-determination as any other democratic state, the Arab bloc stood stubbornly in its way, supporting their Palestinian brethren at every turn.

A New Middle East

Today, the landscape is changing rapidly, beginning with the extraordinary developments on Israel’s diplomatic front in what the Wall Street Journal called Israel’s greatest month since 1948, when both the United States and the Soviet Union recognized the newly formed state.

On August 13, 2020, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Israel announced an agreement to normalize relations, followed by a similar agreement with Bahrain on September 11. On September 13, Oman issued a statement of support for Bahrain’s decision, while on September 15, the historic signing of the Abraham Accords was held in Washington DC. The following day, the UAE’s Dubai TV, Israel’s Channel 12 and Bahrain’s TV News shared a live broadcast for the first time in history.

In the interim, with some help from the United States, Kosovo became the first Muslim-majority country in the world to agree to place an embassy in Jerusalem. Saudi Arabia agreed to allow flights between Israel and the UAE to fly through their airspace, while Morocco will reportedly soon allow direct flights to the Jewish state as well.

Perhaps the biggest shift became apparent when the Palestinian Authority (PA) introduced a resolution condemning the UAE’s interaction with Israel at a Zoom session of Arab foreign ministers. In a complete departure from what surely would have been the response in the past, the motion failed. Clearly, the PA has lost its veto power over its fellow Arabs’ relations with Israel.

The Signing of the Accords

There has been rampant speculation as to the root causes of this change in attitude toward Israel. Some have referred to the economic, military, scientific and humanitarian benefits a relationship with Israel could bring to the entire region as a motivating factor. Others have suggested that the motivation is actually fear, a recognition of the threat that Iran—and now perhaps Turkey—presents to the region and the benefits of a united diplomatic and military front with Israel. But the signing ceremony was alive with goodwill, and the speeches made by the various national leaders provide perhaps a window into the heart of the matter.

In his remarks, UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan continually referenced the importance of economic and scientific achievements in the advancement of the future of the Middle East. Peace is the only choice, he frequently reiterated, with any other option resulting in destruction, poverty and human suffering. But he made it clear that the UAE brings a lot to the table too, mentioning the Hope Probe to Mars launched earlier this year as well as astronaut Hazza Al Mansourie, the first Arab astronaut to spend time at the International Space Station. Al-Nahyan reminded the distinguished gathering that peace requires courage and shaping the future requires knowledge, while the advancement of nations requires sincerity and persistence.

“We have come today to tell the world that this is our approach,” the foreign minister said, “and that peace is our guiding principal. In a difficult year in a difficult region, the peace accord is a bright starting point for the Middle East’s future.”

In a Wall Street Journal article published the day before the signing, Al-Nahyan referred to the “perpetual resistance and sectarian extremism that have delivered a deadly and decades-long pandemic of chaos and strife” in the region.

“Non-Arab countries and a mob of nonstate actors exist in a warped axis of perpetual resistance, advocating various brands of extremism, nostalgic over lost empires and obsessed with a new caliphate, thriving on conflict, disorder and instability while bashing America, Israel and the UAE,” Al-Nahyan continued. “The signing of the peace accord is the virtuous response, a reminder that the people of the Middle East are tired of conflict.”

Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al-Zayani told the White House gathering that the agreements with Israel are a “historic step on the road for genuine and lasting peace across the region.” More than any other speaker, however, he used the words “hope” and “opportunity” repeatedly, speaking of relationships based on trust, respect and understanding. He spoke several times of the importance of a new and lasting peace to the future generations of the Middle East.

“For too long, the Middle East has been set back by conflict and mistrust, causing untold destruction and thwarting the potential of generations of our best and brightest young people,” he said. “Now, I am convinced, we have the opportunity to change that.”

Perhaps many in the room were reminded of the famous quote attributed to former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir: “Peace will come when the Arabs love their children more than they hate us.”

It was Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, however, who spoke primarily of gratitude. He talked of the blessing of peace to the entire region, the cessation of hostility, the pain and the price of war. And so he expressed his gratitude to all the parties involved, to all Israel’s friends throughout the Middle East, for the support of the US President Donald Trump and the American people, for a future brightened by the possibility of real peace. “For those who bear the wounds of war,” the prime minister said, “cherish the blessings of peace.”

Photo Credit: Dove: Michel Kwan/pixabay.com • Signing: Official White House Photo by Tia Dufour/flickr.com

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