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Artyom Gofman

Research Assistant, Institute of Oriental Studies Russian Academy of Science

On August 13, 2020, President of the United States Donald Trump wrote on his official Twitter account that Israel and the UAE were ready to sign a peace treaty. Soon after, a joint statement was released on the normalisation of relations between Israel and the UAE. Later, on September 11, the head of the White House went on to tweet that Bahrain would join the UAE, attaching the trilateral U.S.-Israel-Bahrain statement. The Abraham Accords, comprised of the two peace treaties between Israel and the UAE and between Israel and Bahrain, were later signed in Washington, with the U.S. acting as a mediator in this process.

"We are here this afternoon to change the course of history. After decades of division and conflict, we marked the dawn of a new Middle East," said Trump, adding that there are more treaties to follow. The above-mentioned Accords have been labelled "historical." Some Arab countries have already upheld this Arab-Israeli approach, including Egypt and Oman, as well as the European Union and China. Saudi Arabia gave permission to use its airspace for Israeli planes. Approval was gained from the World Muslim Communities Council. However, unlike them, Turkish, Iranian and Palestinian organisations rebuffed.

Perhaps it is still too early to talk about the historical value of the Abraham Accords, since the political process is still ongoing. Nonetheless, one can well conclude that the Accords became a real game-changer for the Middle East peace process, with their value being the precedent they created. This may be used by other countries wishing to normalise relations with Israel, thus setting a new trend in the Middle East.


On August 13, 2020, President of the United States Donald Trump wrote on his official Twitter account that Israel and the UAE were ready to sign a peace treaty. Soon after, a joint statement was released on the normalisation of relations between Israel and the UAE. Later, on September 11, the head of the White House went on to tweet that Bahrain would join the UAE, attaching the trilateral U.S.-Israel-Bahrain statement. The Abraham Accords, comprised of the two peace treaties between Israel and the UAE and between Israel and Bahrain, were later signed in Washington, with the U.S. acting as a mediator in this process.

"We are here this afternoon to change the course of history. After decades of division and conflict, we marked the dawn of a new Middle East," said Trump, adding that there are more treaties to follow. The above-mentioned Accords have been labelled "historical." Some Arab countries have already upheld this Arab-Israeli approach, including Egypt and Oman, as well as the European Union and China. Saudi Arabia gave permission to use its airspace for Israeli planes. Approval was gained from the World Muslim Communities Council. However, unlike them, Turkish, Iranian and Palestinian organisations rebuffed.

Abraham Accords and Arab-Israeli Relations

It is no secret that Israel and some Arab countries have maintained unofficial ties for a while. In this regard, the process of normalisation was mostly a matter of time. Having analysed these Accords, one can well conclude that there are commonalities between them. While both treaties are quite vaguely written, perhaps some issues are still being negotiated. Both the Israelis and the Arabs welcome each other’s aspiration for peace, highlight the importance of mutual interaction for the sake of security and the development of their own states, as well as the Middle East overall. They pledge to combat common threats and affirm the Muslim holy sites’ status-quo. Both agree with a comprehensive Palestinian problem resolution.

They also express their gratitude to President Donald Trump for his peace efforts and pragmatic approach. The same goes for his plan for the Middle East Peace Process, better known as the “Deal of the Century,” which was previously devised in January 2020. The text contains information about embassies opening, ambassadors exchanging etc.

It is easy to observe some deviation between the Arabs and the Israelis when they comment on the Accords. The Israeli side emphasises the diplomatic aspect, pointing out that they will not provide an excuse for interfering in Israeli domestic affairs. Meanwhile, the Arab side highlights that, according to the text, Israel must cease the annexation of Palestinian territories.

Furthermore, there is no sign of the so-called “arms part” in these Accords, namely the newest American F-35 aircraft sold to Abu-Dhabi. Trump himself said that he had “no problem” with that, despite Israel’s opposition.

At this moment, Israel is the only country to have access to F-35 fighter jets among the Middle Eastern nations (the U.S. cancelled transferring these aircraft to Turkey after they bought the Russian anti-aircraft missile system S-400). Thus, Israeli military advantage is maintained in the region’s sky. The fact that the UAE may acquire an F-35 is of concern to pro-Israeli lobbies, as Israel is likely to lose its air force advantage.

Iran is another issue that was not discussed in the Accords. Constraining the “Iranian threat” is one of the issues that brought Israel and Arab Gulf states together. It correlates with an idea of the so-called “Arab NATO,” which Trump’s administration has been maintaining for a while. According to Washington, this organisation will be devised for Israel and other American Arab region allies in order to restrain Iran and its policy, as well as preserve the role of the U.S. in the Middle East. Arab-Israeli reconciliation is an integral part of that plan.

It is not a secret that Israel and many Sunni Arab states are allies of the U.S. The latter provides huge political, economic, military, and other kinds of support to its beneficiaries. Obviously, the Iranian threat is a pretext used by Washington to bring the Israelis and the Arabs together on the base of an anti-Iranian platform. Additionally, this platform can be used not only against Iran or its allies (for example, the Lebanese organisation Hezbollah) but against other countries or powers which might be recognised as hostile to U.S. interests.

Abraham Accords and the Palestinian-Israeli Settlement

Palestinian authorities expressed concern regarding Israeli-Arab normalisation. The Prime Minister of the State of Palestine [1] Dr Mohammad Shtayyeh tweeted on his account that “the U.S.-sponsored UAE-Israel agreement is a flagrant departure from the Arab consensus and an encouragement for Israel to continue its aggression/intensify its settlement activity. The decision to freeze Israel’s annexation plan was due to the strong Palestinian opposition to it.”

On September 9, 2020, the League of Arab States refused to uphold the Palestinian resolution draft law which condemns Israel-UAE reconciliation but emphasised its adherence to the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative [2]. As Palestinian journalist Ramzy Baroud said, “Although the Arabs will continue to speak of the ‘Arab Peace Initiative’, what happened today in Cairo is the death knell of the initiative, which was never taken seriously by Tel Aviv in the first place.”

That outcome in the Arab League indirectly confirms the assumption that current events are not random, but rather part of a previously discussed plan for action. It is hard to imagine that Arab League’s decision was allowed without Riyadh's authorisation. Although Saudi Arabia, as well as the other Arab states, claim that the Palestinian issue is still on the table and remains crucial for Arab-Israeli relations, the reality is more complicated. Prioritising national interests over common Arabic ones (to which the Palestinian case is often related) is becoming an obvious trend.

In Israel, it is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who reaped the most political benefits from normalisation. The head of the Israeli government depicts himself as the “main fighter of peace” in his country. In light of the fragile political and economic situation in Israel, accusations of misuse and bribery, as wells as the COVID-19 pandemic, Netanyahu actively wields the Abraham Accords for his own political ends.

His strategic advisor, Aaron Klein, even talks about the “Netanyahu Doctrine,” which, from his point of view, led to Arab-Israeli normalisation. Netanyahu himself made the extraordinary Israeli propaganda statement that “Israel and the UAE are two of the most advanced countries in the world.” No Israeli leader had said such words before or compared the two states as such.

Overall, Israel gains more from normalisation than annexation. Economic and political benefits are supposed to be a key element of Arab-Israeli interaction. Moreover, the Jordan Valley annexation plan seemed to be a “scarecrow” for the Arab interlocutors in order to reach concessions.

Israeli settlers have already accused their Prime Minister of lies and divergence from the annexation plan. Nonetheless, for the Revisionist Zionist [3] the settlement movement was almost always a means for achieving political goals, rather than an end in itself. It is important to understand Netanyahu’s perception and the current state of affairs in Israel. Israeli political analyst Ben Caspit wrote that “his [Netanyahu] belief and that of his associates and voters that he is a version of a modern-day Messiah allows him to mould his ideology according to his political needs.”

In other words, Netanyahu, despite the image of his own party, does not only adhere to the Israeli right-wing political spectrum and may align with the left-wing one if, as he thinks, but it is also necessary to ensure the national interests of the State of Israel. Nevertheless, it seems that he succeeded in implementing the “Peace for Peace” formula instead of the “Territory for Peace” as a platform for the Arab-Israeli settlement — an outcome that his Likud’s predecessor Itzhak Shamir failed to manage.

Conclusion

The Abraham Accords, in general, make the division between the Arab-Israeli and the Palestinian-Israeli settlements even deeper. This worries the Palestinians — normalisation over (or instead of) the Palestinian problem resolution.

Overall, is it possible to succeed in the Middle East Peace Process solely on the basis of Arab-Israeli reconciliation, but without the Palestinian-Israeli one? The answer is probably no. Looking back at history, we already had such a period — the “Oslo Accords,” [4] when the Israelis and the Arabs worked together on achieving peace. But without a final solution for the Palestinian problem, the peace process was doomed from the start and brought the Second Intifada instead, as well as a degradation of the Israel-Arab nations’ ties.

That is why the Russian reaction to the Abraham Accords was important. Moscow believes that normalisation will "strengthen stability and security in the region," including the fair and comprehensive resolution of the Palestinian issue.

The Russian Federation can and ought to play a more active role in the Palestinian-Israeli settlement. Current events once again proved that the division between the parties in Palestine is dangerous and needs a solution. The Palestinian elite is under attack for its inability to ensure the national interests of its people. For the purpose of improving this situation, it is necessary to achieve real national unity with Moscow’s help. There is no need for another bloody Intifada. The best method of solving this problem is to make a clear and realistic counteroffer to combat the American plan.

Perhaps it is still too early to talk about the historical value of the Abraham Accords, since the political process is still ongoing. Nonetheless, one can well conclude that the Accords became a real game-changer for the Middle East Peace Process, with their value being the precedent they created. This may be used by other countries wishing to normalise relations with Israel, thus setting a new trend in the Middle East.

1. In some countries including Israel and the U.S. with respect to Palestine it is still appropriate to say "authority" instead of "state."

2. The peace initiative is based on the UN resolutions with a return to pre-1967 boundaries and the creation of the Palestinian State.

3. The Likud party is considered to be a successor of the Herut one that was led by Menahem Begin for a long time. The ideological platform of Revisionist Zionism bases mainly on Vladimir (Zeev) Zhabotinsky’s ideas.

4. The "Oslo Process" – an alternative name for the peace process that took part in the 1990s. It based on the “Oslo-1” (1993) and the “Oslo-2” (1995) treaties which were signed by the Israelis and the Palestinians.


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