Author: Arantza Renteria Vizcarra. 

As the Abraham Accords were being signed, the Palestinian cause was receiving a fatal blow. During just four months, from August to December 2020, four nations – the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco – initiated diplomatic processes to normalize bilateral relations with Israel. The first year since the arrangements were declared has been exceptional to observe. While Israel and the Arab Gulf states had developed circumspect exchange and insight ties for quite a long time, the agreements carried those ties into the sunshine.

At the time, many internationalists did not hesitate to call these actions a “pre-election ploy” made by Donald Trump. From security agreements to cultural exchange, these countries have taken a series of steps to set up a new geopolitical reality.

For the United States, the Abraham Accords offered a valuable opportunity to harmonize a new political order in the Middle East, under American sponsorship. In contrast, the Palestinian cause struggled as Arab countries shared recognition to Israel, considering that – under their words – “economic and political cooperation is imperative for a positive future in the region”.

The Economic and Trade Take-Off

The economic and trade exchange between the parties is an essential assessment. Although Bahrain represents an important contributor to this agreement, the UAE is the principal actor in the scene.

Back in 2020, Yair Lapid inaugurated the new Israeli Embassy in Abu Dhabi during a two-day trip and announced: “We are here to stay; We call on all the countries of the region to recognize it and come talk to us”. This formal statement publicly stated Israel’s intentions to become an important ally for the UAE. Moreover, Lapid designated Zvi Heifetz as Israeli Special Envoy to the Gulf States.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (R) and Emirati Culture Minister Noura Al Kaabi inaugurate the Israeli embassy in Abu Dhabi, June 29, 2021.

With a few exceptions, the UAE’s trade strategy is a symptom of the state-led pursuit of economic interests, competing directly with Saudi Arabia. In October 2020, Arabian Business reported the announcement made by the UAE, the United States of America, and Israel of the establishment of the Abraham Fund, which will mobilize more than $3 billion in investment and development initiatives led by the private sector.

Lately, in March 2021, the UAE reported the foundation of a $10 billion venture reserve across different areas in Israel, including energy, production, water, space, medical services, and agri-tech. From that point forward, various arrangements have been inked between the two countries. The UAE government expressed that reciprocal exchange is relied upon to develop to $ 6.5 billion in 10 years because of the Abraham Accords.

Similarly, the Embassy of Abu Dhabi in Israel reported the consenting to one more arrangement to advance collaboration which will accomplish unprecedented advancement in the field of wellbeing, including a joint tech-based exertion in combatting worldwide pandemics. Currently, Israel is also participating at Dubai Expo along with 190 others on Arab soil attracting investment, taking place as part of this important event.

While these initiatives are truly beneficial for the countries involved, it would be surprising to note that the United Arab Emirates is Palestine’s second-largest trading partner. This country represents 15% of the annual trade.

According to the UAE Minister of Economy Abdulla bin Touq Al Mari, the Abraham Accord will prepare for monetary participation between the two nations and thusly drive financial development across the Middle East. He showed his point of view over the financial relations with Palestine guaranteed that the two sides concur the arrangement will bring monetary advantages for Palestinians. Furthermore, the UAE official highlighted that the country is already in discussions to include Palestinians in their economic plans with Israel.

Nevertheless, there is no concrete alternative in this regard. In recent years, the UAE has not signed any substantial economic, trade, or development agreement with the State of Palestine. Consequently, the UAE’s will to expand the financial advantages of Palestinians stays deficient.

Political perspectives on the Abraham Accords

Certainly, Palestinians critical of the agreement said that any normalization with Israel legitimizes the occupation of the Palestinian territories. This diplomatic engagement could not be compared to the Peace deals made by Jordan or Egypt with Israel. Both countries signed peace after substantial wars or internal conflicts, and they also share borders and proximity with Israel. In contrast, Gulf countries did not have this background.

In this sense, it is important to highlight a fact that has gone quite unnoticed in the face of the diplomatic decision, the role of Saudi Arabia in the agreement. Neither Bahrain nor the United Arab Emirates would have done anything with Israel without the Kingdom’s tacit agreement. Is this a test before a future diplomatic engagement? Why are other Arab countries still rejecting this idea?

From a diplomatic perspective, although Western media has categorized these events as “a political and military but also religious issue, in the sense that it pits the Sunnis against the Shiites”, it is important to note that this strategy is far from being based on religion. This political anchor favors state interests. Israel does not take part in a “Sunni camp”, but in economic perspectives with one of the most emerging economies in the Arab region, the UAE.

On the other hand, it is quite contradictory that the Accords did not cover in any clause the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict when both Bahrainis and the Emiratis sponsored the Accords under this suggestion.

Back in May 2021, the UAE’s ruler, Crown Prince Sheik Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, ventured forward and presented to intervene talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians in a call with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the state-claimed Emirates News Agency announced for this present month. Nonetheless, any intervention was concrete in the extended truce that ended the most recent acceleration of brutality.

Furthermore, the Emiratis have been said to have signed the Accord to prevent the annexation plans of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. However, no clause in the Agreement explicitly mentions the territorial occupation of the West Bank or illegal settlements in Palestinian territory. Therefore, the Abraham Accords have not guaranteed any type of solution or positive advance in this regard, even though it has been sponsored under such a cause.

The Great Chess Game of the Public Opinion

Civil society played an important role in public opinion after the normalization of relations between the four Arab states and Israel. In this regard, many Moroccan nonconformists expressed their dismay at the harmony agreement that established ties between Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain. The protesters held screenings in front of the Moroccan Parliament in the capital, Rabat, and surprisingly consumed a forged Israeli banner. They discredited the “Bedouin standardization” of ties with Israel.

In the same way, anti-Israel struggles broke out in Bahrain on October 2, a day after the visit of Foreign Minister Yair Lapid to open the first international embassy of the Jewish state in the country. Police removed the nerve gas during a meeting when scattered and limited-scope fights broke out across the Gulf state. Nonconformists walked around waving Palestinian and Bahraini banners, reciting “Passing to Israel” and “No to the Israeli government office in Islamic Bahrain.”

Similarly, Seventeen NGOs in Bahrain, along with the General Federation of Workers Trade Unions, have slammed their country’s normalization deal with Israel, stressing that it does not lead to peace, Anadolu Agency reported.

Palestinians protest in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip against Israeli normalization deals with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

Finally, it is important to highlight the expansion of the wave of diplomatic normalization with Israel in other Arab countries, as a continuation of the Abraham Accords. Surprisingly, this is the case in Iraq. On September 24, a large gathering was illegally coordinated in Erbil, attended by 300 people. The meeting facilitated the participation of Dr. Sahar al Ta’i, a senior authority in the Iraqi Ministry of Culture, and was strongly supported by Wisham al-Hardan of the Awakening of the Sons of Iraq movement, who also delivered a speech.

More than 300 Iraqis, including tribal leaders, attended a conference in autonomous Kurdistan organized by a US think-tank demanding a normalization of relations between Baghdad and Israel, organizers said, on September 24, 2021.

As UAE, Bahrain, Morocco, and Sudan agreed to standardize relations with Israel, Tai concluded that the opportunity had also arrived for Iraq. He stated that “we will push for peace with Israel until our leaders act.” The main objective of the meeting was to push for the standardization of Iraq with Israel and to join the UAE in helping Israel in a transparent way. The shock, denial, and layoffs that followed this meeting showed that the vitally political separation from Iraq is characterized by Palestinian support.

Although the nonconformity manifested in Bahrain or Morocco is limited, a much stronger trend is observed in Iraq after the event where the question of a normalization of relations was publicly raised.

Prospective Vision: What’s next?

Assessing the scope of the Abraham Accords is limited. Just one year after the normalization is observed, although with little evidence, a planned exponential growth, and diplomatic projects, among members of the Accords.

In the economic sphere, the effects of the normalization of relations are clear. This is primarily the strong importance of the Emirati Israeli strategic partnership in the Accords. On the political side, the contribution towards the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is null. The Agreement is absolute without commitment to this cause.

Hence, it should not be claimed that the Abraham Accords balance a more peaceful, or ultimately more bearable, regional order. Public opinion continues to be firmly present. Although the demonstrations may not have an impact on government decisions, it would be helpful to expand the research around the change in citizens’ opinions and how they see Israel, compared to previous decades.

Finally, the efforts of political leaders in future normalization should not be underestimated, especially in the underrepresented communities of Arab countries. Israel no longer has the bargaining power it had under Benjamin Netanyahu, but it continues to count on the unfailing American patronage, especially with the proximity of the American country with the Gulf countries. While Saudi Arabia observes the effects of the Abraham Accords as an experiment in a future decision, in part, taken by the urgency to stop the advances of Iran. In the end, efforts to solve the Palestinian cause remain far from consistent.

The writer is a Research Intern fellow at The Diplomatic Insight and Institute of Peace and Diplomatic Studies from Peru.

*The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not necessarily represent the position of this magazine.