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What Was in the Abraham Accords Signed in Washington?

September 25, 2020

by: Amb. Alan Baker

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The signing ceremony of the Abraham Accords. Left to right: US President Donald Trump, UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, Bahrain Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Friday, 25 September 2020 | Considerable discussion has been generated in the international and local media as well as in political circles since the signing of the peace documents at the White House in Washington DC on September 15, 2020. 

The following analysis attempts to clarify some misconceptions and misunderstandings regarding the nature of the new relationships that are being forged, respectively, between Israel, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.

The Israel–Bahrain Declaration: Declaration of Peace, Cooperation and Constructive Diplomatic and Friendly Relations between the State of Israel and the Kingdom of Bahrain

As its title and content imply, this document is a bilateral declaration between two states, expressing their intention to open an era of “friendship and cooperation” and commence “a new chapter of peace.” 

As a declaration, it is nonbinding and declaratory, expressing the joint, bona fide intentions of the two parties to enter into negotiations on a series of bilateral normalization agreements.

The declaration constitutes an independent, sovereign and reciprocal expression of intention by the parties to open up relations between them. It is not pursuant to, does not emanate from, nor is it dependent on any UN [United Nations] resolution or other documentation regarding the Middle East peace process.

Since a state of war or armed conflict never existed between the parties, no UN cease-fire, armistice or conflict-solving resolution or requirement has ever been relevant or applicable to the relationship between Israel and Bahrain.

However, the declaration does make reference in its second paragraph to the parties’ shared commitment to advance peace and security in the Middle East and to the need to continue efforts “to achieve a just, comprehensive and enduring resolution of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict.

Culture of Peace

The declaration’s third paragraph includes agreement by the parties “to establish diplomatic relations and to promote lasting security, to eschew threats and use of force and to advance coexistence and a culture of peace.

The expression “culture of peace” (which also appears in the Israel–UAE Peace Agreement) would appear to be based on the internationally accepted concept of a culture of peace defined in various resolutions of the UN General Assembly. 

In the third paragraph of the declaration, the parties agree to open negotiations between them to seek agreements regarding twelve fields of normalization, including investments, flights, tourism, security, energy, technology and opening of embassies.

Israel–UAE Peace Agreement: Treaty of Peace, Diplomatic Relations and Full Normalization between the United Arab Emirates and the State of Israel

The choice of the term “Peace Agreement” is significant and unique. Generally, as was the case with Egypt and Jordan, states that have been in armed conflict and have chosen to terminate the state of war between them do so through a peace treaty. The treaty formally terminates the relationship of armed conflict and opens up a formal relationship of peace, with all that that implies regarding reciprocal recognition of sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence.

In the context of the relationship between Israel and the UAE as well as Bahrain, there has never existed a state of war or armed conflict. The UAE and Bahrain evolved as independent sovereign states in 1971. As such, neither were parties to the 1948 Arab League collective declaration of war on the new State of Israel. 

However, in light of the formal absence of normal relations between Israel and other Arab countries, including the UAE and Bahrain since their establishment, it was evidently considered important and significant, as well as symbolic, to describe the new situation as the creation of a state of peace.

While diplomatic relations and normalization constitute, by definition, integral and obvious components of any peace relationship, their specific inclusion in the title of the agreement evidently emanates from the difficulties experienced over the years in the peace relationships with Egypt and Jordan, especially in the fields of normalization and diplomatic relations. Legally speaking, this may not, in and of itself, have any legal significance, but it represents a symbolic message to Egypt and Jordan, as well to other Arab states considering establishing peaceful relations with Israel.

Descendants of Abraham

The preambular paragraphs of the peace agreement voice familiar, accepted and standard platitudes regarding the common desire for regional peace, prosperity, economic development and diplomatic relations. 

However, they also include a specific and unique reference to the Arab and Jewish common heritage, as descendants of Abraham, and the concomitant need “to foster in the Middle East a reality in which Muslims, Jews, Christians and peoples of all faiths, denominations, beliefs, and nationalities live in, and are committed to a spirit of coexistence, mutual understanding and respect.”

Preambular paragraphs 9 and 10 refer to efforts to achieve a “just, comprehensive, realistic and enduring solution” to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict that “meets the legitimate needs and aspirations of both peoples…” 

The use of the term “realistic”…is indicative of an acknowledgment by both parties of the need for practical and pragmatic ideas to solve the conflict with the Palestinians, rather than unrealistic claims, empty clichés and buzzwords. 

Critics of the agreement point to the fact that it contains no reference to those UN resolutions dealing with the Middle East peace process, which served as the basis for the peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan as well as for the 1978 Camp David agreements and 1993–5 Oslo Accords with the Palestinians.

Such criticism is misplaced and ill-advised. The reason and logic behind the lack of reference to such resolutions rest in the fact that unlike with Egypt and Jordan, Bahrain and UAE have never been in a state of armed conflict with Israel. Hence, there exists no need to move from a legal state of armed conflict and war to a legal state of peace. 

Since there was no conflict, there was no need to rely on any UN conflict-resolving resolution.

The provisions regarding the prevention of terror and normalization are drafted as intentions to further develop and negotiate future arrangements in these spheres as soon as practicable. The normalization spheres include finance and investment, civil aviation, visas and consular services, innovation, trade and economic relations, healthcare, science, technology and peaceful uses of outer space, water, energy, maritime arrangements, telecommunications and post, agriculture, legal cooperation, tourism, culture, sport and other spheres.

Article 6 entails a reciprocal commitment to respect and foster mutual understanding, respect, coexistence, encourage people-to-people programs, interfaith dialogue, prevent incitement and observe a “culture of peace.”

Conclusion

The instruments signed in Washington represent a significant symbolic and substantive breakthrough in the relationships between Israel and the Arab world. This will undoubtedly be further developed as the relationships strengthen and mutual confidence and good faith are enhanced.

It is regretted that critics of this development and the documents signed prefer to allow partisan views and personal antagonism to color their reasoning, rather than to acknowledge this development on its merits.

Posted on September 25, 2020

Source: (Excerpt from an article originally published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs on September 24, 2020. Time-related language has been modified to reflect our publication today. See original article at this link.)

Photo Credit: Official White House Photo by Tia Dufour/flickr.com

Photo License: flickr.com