The Abraham Accord
On August 13th 2020, the United Arab Emirates and Israel forged a new relationship brokered by US President Donald Trump, that will reshape the politics in the Middle-Eastern region.
Known as the “Abraham Accord”, this agreement was jointly signed by the United Arab Emirates, Israel and the United States, stating that the diplomatic relations between UAE and Israel are to be normalised. In a joint statement by the three countries, this agreement is called a
“historic diplomatic breakthrough” that would “advance peace in the Middle East region” (The Indian Express, n.d.)
The accord also states that Israeli plans to annex part of the West Bank will be immediately halted, and this was one important condition set by UAE in order to normalise these ties. Another important element of the Abraham Accord aims at improved security cooperation against regional threats. Although UAE and Israel already had unofficial security ties, this agreement makes the ties official and brings them out into the world.
In the joint statement, it is also said that as per the Vision for Peace Plan, Muslims would be allowed to visit and pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which is the third most holy site in Islam, located in East Jerusalem, which was occupied by Israel in the Six Day War of 1967. UAE and Israel will also “immediately expand and accelerate cooperation regarding the treatment of and the development of a vaccine for the coronavirus.” (Al Jazeera, n.d.)
The two states will finalise bilateral relations, and talk about areas of investment, security, tourism, technology, telecommunications, establishments of flights, healthcare, energy, etc. The statement also mentioned that the UAE and Israel will be “forging closer people-to-people relations”.
Why is this relevant?
During the Arab Spring, Middle Eastern governments realised that the primary threats to their security were internal and not external. UAE and Israeli governments had shared security concerns and both saw Iran as a threat to their security. Both these states believed that increased democratisation in the Arab world would lead to better results in maintaining peace and avoiding threats.
Israel opened a diplomatic office in Abu Dhabi, the capital of UAE, in 2015 which was in ties with the International Renewable Energy Agency. People from both these nations have visited the other on account of regional competitions, visits of Israeli officials to Abu Dhabi, and Israel is also set to participate in Dubai’s World Expo which was initially planned to take place in 2020 but has now been pushed to October 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Other political reasons behind the strategic timing of this agreement may revolve around the domestic politics in the US and Israel. Various nations in the Middle-East have sour relations with Iran and this step towards normalisation of relationship between the UAE and Israel may be an attempt by US and Israel to use this agreement as an opportunity to improve Israeli relationship with the other Arab nations so as to urge them to alienate and isolate Iran. As UAE’s large oil reserves have made it the second largest economy in the Middle East, the nation has had an opportunity to increase its military and economic power so much that it now plays an influential role in the region. Israel’s good relations with UAE will benefit Israel in furthering its agenda to urge other Arab nations to boycott Iran.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump have been sailing in the same boat to a certain extent lately. Prime Minister Netanyahu has been facing mass dissatisfaction from his citizens with respect to management of the pandemic and is charged for corruption. President Donald Trump too, has been facing harsh criticism over the management of the pandemic and with the Presidential elections nearing, he needs a major success to revive his image if he wished to redeem any chances of re-election. Both the leaders are heavily banking on this foreign policy decision in order to restore their image and popularity. However, Prime Minister Netanyahu risks disapproval and alienation from his population that was in support of his plans to annex the West Bank.
Impact of the Abraham Accord
The most immediate impact of the Abraham Accord, as mentioned previously, will be the suspension of the Israeli annexation of the West Bank that it seized in the Six-Day War of 1967. On a secondary note, it changes the entire political scenario of Israel. Prime Minister Netanyahu was in deep waters and there was increasing speculation that he would soon have to call a fourth round of elections after very recently bringing together a government. After this agreement, Netanyahu’s declining public image has skyrocketed and he is portrayed as a hero who has taken a large step to end Israel’s historical isolation. The prospect of official ties with the first Gulf Arab state has given birth to the possibility of a “New Middle East”.
The accord also acts as a diplomatic win for the Trump government, which has been on a diplomatic downfall in the recent times.
Most Arab governments are likely to be welcoming of this agreement since many are in line with the UAE’s thoughts and those which aren’t, don’t want to alienate such a wealthy nation whose power and influence is rising in the region.
On a darker side, this accord may vindicate Israelis as it might make them think that they can normalise relations with the Arab world without resolving the Palestinian crisis. This may lead to increased apprehension and resistance towards negotiations with Palestine, future possibility of annexations and a dismissive attitude towards Palestinian aspirations. UAE may also possibly use this as an opportunity to pursue the reintegration of Syria into the Middle-Eastern region. The UAE may use Syria, which was traditionally the centre of Arab nationalism, as a way to emphasise on the importance of Arab unity in the future.
How have the Palestinians reacted to this agreement?
The Palestinian leadership rejected and criticised this accord in spite of the Israeli promise of suspending annexation of the West Bank.
Israel has shown very little interest in negotiating with the Palestinians as it continued to seize the West Bank previously and maintained a tight border around the Gaza Strip. The Trump administration has relocated the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, cut off aid to Palestinians, and introduced a peace plan that was extremely unfair to the national aspirations and rights of Palestinians.
Hanan Ashrawi, senior Palestinian official, has disapproved of the Abraham Accord and the UAE particularly. Hazem Qassem, spokesperson of Hamas has said, “This agreement does absolutely not serve the Palestinian cause, it rather serves the Zionist narrative. This agreement encourages the occupation (Israel) to continue its denial of the rights of our Palestinian people, and even to continue its crimes against our people.” Members of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) criticised the agreement on various social media platforms and expressed their disappointment and anger with UAE, stating that the nation has betrayed the Palestinian cause.
How has the world reacted to this agreement?
Egypt, Bahrain, Oman and Jordan have publicly accepted and welcomed the Abraham Accord. Iran has publicly denounced this accord. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called this deal a “huge mistake” (Al Jazeera, n.d.). Turkey is also against this agreement and has called this “hypocritical behaviour” on UAE’s part. Saudi Arabia has remained silent about this entire affair, however, there is speculation that this silence points towards Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman supporting the agreement, but he is constrained because of his father’s opposition to normalisation with Israel. The United Kingdom, Germany, Spain and France supported this agreement and thought it was a positive step.
Pakistan has not given a definitive reaction, and has said that their approach to this situation will be based upon evaluation of how Palestinians’ rights and aspirations are upheld and protected, and how peace and stability is maintained. A spokesman for The United Nations secretary-general Antonio Guterres has said that the secretary-general accepts this agreement with the hope that an opportunity will be created for Palestinian and Israeli leaders to restart negotiations that result in a two state-solution which abides by the relevant international law, UN resolutions and bilateral agreements.
Council on Foreign Relations - https://www.cfr.org/in-brief/whats-behind-new-israel-uae-peace-deal
Center for Strategic and International Studies - https://www.csis.org/analysis/normalization-uae-israel-relations