First anniversary of Abraham Accords between Israel and Arab countries: Achievements and unfinished business
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First anniversary of Abraham Accords between Israel and Arab countries: Achievements and unfinished business

The ceremony, signing the Abraham Accords, at the White House, 15 September 2020, credit: Avi Ohayon (GPO)

A historic event took place at the White House in Washington on 15 September 2020 when Israel signed a peace agreement with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and a declaration on establishing diplomatic relations with Bahrain.

The agreements were welcomed by the EU. Signed between Israel’s Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu and the foreign ministers of UAE and Bahrain with President Trump as witness, they broke Israel’s isolation in the Middle East and opened the door for diplomatic relations with more Arab countries.

In fact, this was the third peace treaty between Israel and an Arab state, following the treaties with Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1984. Israel and the Palestinian Authority have been close to a comprehensive peace deal in the past but currently the peace process between them has reached a dead end.

During a special day of broadcasts to mark the first anniversary of the Abraham Accords, Israel Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Lior Haiat held back-to-back interviews with journalists from across the world on the topic of Israel’s normalization agreements with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco.

Asked by The Brussels Times if the implementation of the Accords during the first year had met Israel’s expectation, he replied that that they had been met more than expected. “The implementation has been extraordinary. During this year we have paved the way for the future development of our relations.”

In the year since the Abraham Accords were signed, Israel has opened a consulate-general in Dubai (UAE), an embassy in Abu Dhabi (UAE), and an embassy in Manama (Bahrain). The UAE and Bahrain have both opened embassies in Tel Aviv and appointed ambassadors to Israel. Israel and Morocco have opened liaison offices in each other’s capitals that are expected to soon turn into embassies.

“The purpose is to encourage people-to-people contacts and set the ground for tangible benefits for all citizens in our countries,” the spokesperson said. “About 40 agreements on economic and scientific cooperation have been signed between us.”

There is an enormous economic potential in the agreements. Trade, for example, between Israel and the UAE has surged to from 50 million US dollar in January – July 2020 to over 600 million US dollar during the same period in 2021. Direct flights between Tel Aviv and Abud Dhabi started already in April 2021 and have opened up for mass tourism in both countries.

Tourism is expected to develop even more with Morocco from where hundreds of thousands of Israelis have emigrated. “By establishing a warm peace and full cooperation, the Abraham Accords have effectively consolidated the moderate forces in the region and transformed the Middle East.”

Israel hopes that other countries will notice the achievements and follow suit. Sudan which also signed the Abraham Accords has not yet normalized its relations with Israel but the process is still on-going, according to the spokesperson.

Lior Haiat is hopeful that also Saudi-Arabia will normalize its relations with Israel but it will take time as each country follows its own rhythm. In the long run more Arab countries will establish diplomatic relations with Israel. “None is more eager than Israel to end the conflict and normalize relations with all its neighbours.”

What about the elusive peace between Israel and the Palestinians who felt betrayed by the Gulf States when they signed the Abraham Accords? The new Israeli government under Prime-Minister Naftali Bennett has excluded political talks with the Palestinian Authority to resume the peace process.

In this regard his “government of change” appears to be continuing the same policy as former prime-minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was of the opinion that the Abraham Accords had vindicated his formula “peace for peace” instead of the formula “peace for territories”. That formula would require Israel to withdraw from most of the occupied territories and dismantle most of the settlements.

In a TV interview yesterday, Bennett explained that political talks with the Palestinians are not relevant and even excluded a meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Reasons: The Authority’s submission of a request to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Haque to prosecute alleged Israeli war crimes and its support to the families of convicted terrorists.

Instead, his policy is to focus on economic development in the Palestinian territories (“economy in exchange for security”). He did not comment on the  unsustainable situation but did not exclude that it could escalate to violence and renewed hostilities with Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

The spokesperson added that the political situation in Israel, with a fragile coalition government of eight parties across the political spectrum, and the internal divisions in the Palestinian camp, does not allow for a resumption of any political talks. He also blamed the Palestinian side for having derailed the talks in the past.

It is not clear if the previous plan for unilateral Israel annexation of part of the West Bank and the peace plan of former American President Trump are definitely off the table – as the Arab countries who have signed the Abraham Accords would expect – but they are at least not on the table, according to the spokesperson.

The Brussels Times tried to reach out to the UAE embassy in Tel Aviv for a comment but did not receive a reply by the time of press.

On the eve of the anniversary, the new Ambassador of Bahrain, Khaled Yusuf Al Jalahma, presented his letter of credence to Israeli President Isaac Herzog. After a diplomatic working meeting, they made a joint statement to the press, in Hebrew and Arabic.

“The Kingdom of Bahrain is guided in its diplomatic relations by solid national principles based on firm foundations and authentic values of prosperity and acceptance of the other,” the Ambassador said. “Throughout history, the Kingdom of Bahrain has committed in its relations with other states to promote stability, peace, and prosperity for the peoples of the region.”

“In my role, and in cooperation with the Government of Israel, I shall strive to make our relations constructive and beneficial for both sides.”

EU has kept a low profile in the normalisation process and was represented at the signing ceremony a year ago by the head of its delegation, ambassadors of some member states and the foreign minister of Hungary. EU’s High Representative for foreign affairs, Josep Borrell, has not yet visited Israel and the Palestinian territories since the new Israeli government took office.

“EU has consistently argued for the resumption of the talks and been stressing tha trecent developments are creating a momentum to restart the process,” Peter Stano, lead spokesperson for EU foreign affairs, said a year ago. “We continue to be ready to help in any way we can.”

Asked by The Brussels Times to comment on the first anniversary of the Abraham Accords, he referred to the statements last year.

The joint declaration between Israel and Bahrain states that the two countries will continue “the efforts to achieve a just, comprehensive, and enduring resolution of the Israeli- Palestinian conflict.” If there is no progress in the peace process, it might affect the implementation of the Abraham Accords and make it difficult for other Arab countries to join them.

M. Apelblat
The Brussels Times