On September 15th, 2020, diplomats from the two Gulf states of the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain signed a deal with Israel agreeing to diplomatic and economic ties. With this agreement, dubbed the Abraham Accords by The White House, commercial air travel will begin between Israel and the Gulf states as well as energy and technology sharing. For Israel, these accords are essentially a normalization deal that, according to Foreign Policy, ‘promises diplomatic benefits without requiring it to withdraw from occupied land.’
Given this, it is no surprise that the Palestinians vehemently rejected them, signaling their opposition by firing rockets from Gaza into Israel, reports the New York Times. While meaningful, because neither Bahrain or the UAE have ever actually been at war with Israel, calling these accords a ‘peace treaty’ and comparing it to previous treaties signed with Egypt and Jordan is misguided. According to President Donald Trump, more countries in the Middle East will follow the UAE and Bahrain in signing agreements with Israel. Trump strongly hinted that one of these countries would be Saudi Arabia, which would be a much more significant success for Israel. The fate of the Palestinians however, is still in question and the possibility of an agreement with Israel seems more and more unlikely.
While the UAE and Israel have maintained an unofficial cooperation in intelligence and military, this move to open relations has been described by critics of Netanyahu as, “the democratization of peace.” According to Daniel Shapiro, the Ambassador to Israel for the Obama administration, and David Makovsky: “History and common sense both show that Arab states that maintain diplomatic relations with Israel play a more active role in supporting Palestinian aspirations than those who do not.” However, Foreign Policy points out that these accords ask little of Israel in exchange for closer ties and, according to the Brookings Institution’s Tamara Cofman Wittes: “the Emiratis, known in the region for their hostility to the Palestinians, are not in a position to influence Palestinian politics unless they hope to replace Palestinian leaders with other, more malleable Palestinians of their own choosing.” Thus, Wittes states, “the reality of Palestinian politics is that the overall stalemate, the threat of annexation, and now the Emiratis and Bahrainis making their separate arrangements will cause the Palestinians to dig in. This all just reinforces an instinct towards resistance.”
It is unlikely that this agreement will create peace in the Middle East, as President Trump touts. For some, it is nothing more than an arms deal, as the UAE and Bahrain may now have access to the same American weapons that has allowed Israel to maintain its military superiority in the region. Additionally, with this agreement, and the potential for future agreements that do not require Israel to discontinue its settlements, the dream of a Palestinian homeland becomes more unrealistic. Therefore, the Palestinians may resort to more desperate attacks as they ‘dig in,’ creating more instability even as the relations between Israel and many of its former enemies warms. As the Palestinians feel backed into a corner, so too may Iran, as its neighbors unite against it.
The Abraham Accords had numerous motivating factors, including economic and security. Three documents were part of the accords: one was focused on regional peace while the other two were economical in nature. Some of the areas the latter two documents covered include finance, education, medical research, trade, and civil aviation, reports Foreign Policy. Not mentioned in the documents was the threat of Iran, a common enemy for Israel and its neighbors in the Middle East. For many Israelis, this represents a thaw in the isolation they experience in the region, as they will now be able to travel as tourists to the UAE. For Netanyahu, the accords serve to reinforce his vision that Israel’s military and economic strength will allow it to make peace with its neighbors without ceding any territory to the Palestinians.
The signing of the Abraham Accords between Israel, the UAE, and Bahrain is a meaningful development towards peace in the Middle East. If Saudi Arabia and more countries follow, as promised by President Trump, the significance will be far greater. However, these agreements signal to Israel that its control over millions of Palestinians is tolerated and there is no need for it to ease its occupation. For Palestine, this implies that a future state the way they envision it is effectively over. Whether the Abraham Accords will bring more stability to the region or less remains to be seen.