The Abraham Accord: clarity or catastrophe for the Middle East?
By HANNA BAJWA
The new treaty between the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Israel, known as the Abraham Accord, has been described as historic and ground-breaking. The Democratic Party’s presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden called it a ‘historic step to bridge the deep divides of the Middle East.’ So, what is this treaty? It is not a peace treaty but rather a method of establishing a new regional order. As America withdraws as the regional hegemon, new ones are needed – so the UAE and Israel have stepped up to the challenge. Both countries share many views on the region. Both states see Iran as a hostile actor with its secretive nuclear programme and proxy militias in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen and Turkey becoming an increasing threat to regional stability. Aside from the business, scientific cooperation, and tourism that will come with normalisation, the Israelis and Emiratis can now bring their security and military cooperation out in the open and develop it further. This should be a game changer for these countries that are situated in such a hostile region.
In return, Israelis have promised to suspend their annexation of West Bank territory. If Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does not reverse his promise to suspend annexation plans, other countries such as Bahrain, Oman and Qatar may soon follow the UAE in treaties with Israel. Despite the Israeli promise of halting annexation, the Palestinian leadership rejected the accord and recalled its ambassador home from Abu Dhabi. Furthermore, Israel has tightened its grip on the West Bank and with Egypt’s help, also maintains a tight cordon around the Gaza strip. America previously in 2018 moved the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem which has significantly curtailed aid to Palestinians, and now has produced a peace plan that Palestinians regard as unfair. Moreover, many view the treaty as a sign that Abu Dhabi has betrayed the Palestinian cause. The UAE's Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed (known as MBZ) doesn’t seem to like the corrupt Palestinian Authority leadership in Ramallah and is sensitive to the idea of justice and rights for Palestinians. However, he cares enough to try to put a brake on Israel’s annexation. The Trump administration follows in a similar direction, refusing to clarify how long Israel will suspend annexation, and under what circumstances they would support Prime Minister Netanyahu returning to annexation plans.
For MBZ, this treaty risks making UAE leadership highly unpopular in the wider Arab world. The deal, which Tehran has condemned as an act of ‘strategic stupidity’ between Israel and UAE, is seen as a further consolidation of American allies countering Iran’s influence. However, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, and Oman have publicly welcomed the Abraham Accord. Saudi Arabia has remained silent, though there is significant speculation that this lack of reaction is a sign that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman supports the agreement but is constrained because of his father, the King, who opposes normalization with Israel. India, a long-standing friend and security partner of Israel, has also welcomed the deal.
The Trump administration oversaw the negotiations for selfish reasons. One can safely assume that President Donald Trump fast-tracked the process of the agreement to spur his re-election campaign for the upcoming Presidential election. Israel’s consistent anti-Iran position and U.S. weapons sales to Gulf states promotes a strategy that counters a common regional foe by establishing a bloc that supports a U.S. pressure campaign against Iran. Ultimately, the Abraham Accord highlights a shift of interests from the Palestinian cause to one that focuses on countering Iranian influence. Rather than adopting a strategy that harms Palestinians and regional stability, leaders should have instead applied an inclusive diplomatic approach. This means including Palestinian authorities in discussions regarding impending normalization between Israel and Gulf states namely Sudan, Bahrain, and Oman.
This alignment with Israel, which fuels anti-Iran sentiment could lead to future conflict. The U.S. maximum pressure campaign against Iran is driving this dynamic without attempting to mitigate potential hostilities in the region. Therefore, this treaty could lead to major destabilizing effects across the region. We are witnessing the rise of an Israel-Arab alliance with this diplomatic agreement which stretches beyond trade to contain a growing threat from Turkey, Syria, and Iran. With this said, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, through a spokesman, says he “welcomes this agreement”, adding that he hopes it will “create an opportunity for Israeli and Palestinian leaders to re-engage in meaningful negotiations that will realize a two-state solution”. What the future holds for this region is, therefore, still unclear.
IMAGE - Flickr (Avi Ohayon / GPO)