Will the Abraham Accords herald peace in the Middle East?

“Let us feel the pulse of history, for long after the pandemic is gone, the peace we make today will endure”. These empty words ended Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address at the signing of The Abraham Accords in Washington DC last month – a genius piece of marketing from The White House. But how significant are these supposed ‘peace’ accords?

Firstly, this agreement does not constitute a peace treaty given that the UAE and Bahrain (a nation as geopolitically significant as Luxembourg) have never been at war with Israel, neither overtly nor covertly supporting the Palestinians militarily either. Further, in 2015, prior to any US involvement in these accords, the UAE began diplomatic talks with Israel, thus bringing them closer to normalised relations.

President Trump’s recent incentives however have accelerated talks considerably. The Emiratis have been lured by a tacit agreement that the US supply them with long-desired F35 fighter jets, something Israel has hitherto discouraged the US from doing. Against the backdrop of Netanyahu’s corruption trial, his disastrous handling of the Coronavirus pandemic, and the spectre of a forthcoming election battle, it’s in his best interest to give Israelis some good news. Furthermore, greater access to foreign trade could provide a vital financial injection for these three countries.

It should also be recognised that the signatures of the UAE and Bahrain do not have the same significance as Saudi Arabia’s, nor that of Syria or Lebanon, who were once at war with Israel and are yet to sign peace treaties. The UAE and Bahrain, therefore, have never been directly or indirectly responsible for spilled “blood in the sand”, as President Trump has often repeated.

There is the potential for some significance to this treaty given that the UAE and Bahrain are part of a cluster of Arab states that previously declared they would only acknowledge Israel’s right to exist once Palestine achieves independence. However, in a year as fraught as 2020, a  U-turn is not particularly surprising. Mohammed bin Zayed, crown prince of Abu Dhabi and de facto ruler of the UAE, was considerably drawn to this agreement in an attempt to make a good impression with the Democrats, with whom they had a shaky relationship under Obama, in case Biden should be elected next month.

On the US side, this agreement is blatant electioneering by President Trump. He is evidently attempting to receive the praise former Presidents Carter and Bush did for their respective involvement in the 1979 and 1994 peace treaties, despite the fact that they were actually significant. However, after the President’s difficult year, this will be unlikely to raise his chances of re-election considerably. The Economist still only forecasts a 10% chance of him winning a second term.

What’s even more startling is the claim that this agreement works towards peace without Palestine at the table. Though US Presidential Advisor Jared Kushner claims the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) were invited to the ceremony, why would they accept an accord which offers them nothing but Netanyahu’s word to halt further annexation of the West Bank? A commitment not to further defy the 1998 Oslo Accords Israel signed with Palestine is hardly worth congratulating.  Indeed, Netanyahu had already cancelled such plans following mass protests by Israelis in Tel Aviv, and Lisa Goldman, co-founder of left-wing Israeli publication +972 Magazine claims he never planned to do so at all.

To see the insignificance of this treaty in working towards peace we need only look at the immediate reaction in the region. In Kuwait’s National Assembly, 41 MPs (out of 50) signed an open letter opposing the normalisation of diplomatic relations, and in Saudi Arabia the hashtag “Normalisation is Treason” started trending. The Grand Mufti of Oman, Ahmed bin Hamad al-Khalili, criticised the treaty while Ahmed Mulla, spokesman for the Iraqi government, said Iraqi laws wouldn’t allow for the normalisation of relations with Israel.

Indeed, just as the ceremony at The White House was concluding, Hamas fired a rocket into southern Israel and lambasted the agreement as a “treacherous stab in the back of the Palestinian people”, while Fatah, the largest faction of the PLO, accused the UAE of “flouting its national, religious and humanitarian duties”. This comes after the PLO and UAE severed diplomatic relations in 2012, with animosity intensifying in June when the PLO rejected UAE aid on the grounds that it was sent through an Israeli airport. These reactions could serve as foreshadowing for the future of the region, as the Palestinians now seem opposed not only to Israel, but also the Arab states who served as crucial diplomatic intermediaries for previous peace treaties. Finally, this agreement also tightens the screws further on Iran, with a coalition of Arab states and now the Israelis united against a nation too proud to sue for peace and all too capable of launching nuclear weapons.

With all of these implications, it therefore seems that despite the hopeful nature of this agreement, we may have been closer to peace without it.

Image: The White House on Flickr

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