The Abraham Accords: Evolving Diplomatic Relations with Israel

UAE and Bahrain jointly acknowledge Israel as a sovereign state in a historic agreement.

On Tuesday, September 15th, US President Donald Trump presided over the signing of agreements to normalize diplomatic relations between Israel, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates. A White House ceremony was attended by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani, and Emirati Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan. 

The agreements jointly called the Abraham Accords, saw the UAE and Bahrain recognize Israel as a sovereign state. The UAE and Bahrain are now the third and fourth Middle Eastern countries to have diplomatic relations with Israel; Israel signed a peace treaty with Egypt in 1979 and a peace treaty with Jordan in 1994. 

Netanyahu pledged to suspend annexation plans of the West Bank, a territory located near the Jordan River that Palestinian Arabs self-rule but Israeli Jews have settled on. In 1948, territories considered holy by Jews, Christians, and Muslims, were divided into the State of Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. Minor territorial shifts have occurred, with Israel and Palestine still fighting over land rights. Israeli checkpoints and settlements exist on multiple Palestinian territories. Since 2019, the Trump administration has refused to consider them illegal. 

Israel, Bahrain, and the UAE will also open embassies and increase international trade and tourism, representing historical steps that some are hopeful may end the Arab-Israeli conflict. 

In Israel-controlled sections of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the Israeli government required Palestinians to apply for home permits, but rejected many of them. Those who built anyway found their homes demolished by Israeli soldiers. Arab League statements of support for Palestinian independence have been a flashpoint for tension.

Palestine is an autonomous entity, not a state, and is officially a non-member observer state in the United Nations (UN). However, many countries support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Indeed, the Arab Peace Initiative, or the Saudi Initiative, from the Arab League called for Israel to fully withdraw from Palestinian territories and establish a Palestinian state. 

While the Abraham Accords required Israel to suspend plans to declare sovereignty over the West Bank and Gaza Strip, they did nothing to prevent or reverse illegal Israeli occupation. In resolving Arab-Israeli tension, the Accords may very well worsen conflicts between Israeli’s and Palestinians.  

Palestine has often asked members to refrain from normalizing relations with Israel until they resolve the Israel-Palestine conflic. Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki, who was set to chair the Arab League meetings for the next six months, has already quit his chairmanship in protest of the Accords. Government officials from both of Palestine’s political factions, Fatah and Hamas, have also spoken out. 

The two factions have long maintained that a Palestinian state should be built from territories, including East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, and the West Bank, which Israel occupied in 1967. Fatah recognizes Israel, while Hamas does not. The former controls the West Bank, the latter controls the Gaza Strip but is also a militant organization. When the Accords were signed, offensive rockets were fired into southern Israel from Hamas-controlled land.

Iran has also criticized the Abraham Accords. Analysts say US brokering of the deal may have been about creating a front against Iran as much as it was about defending Israel. US-Iranian relations have been strained since 2018 when President Trump withdrew the US from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. The 2015 Plan of Action had seen the US freeze sanctions on Iran and Iran, in turn, stop stockpiling uranium.

The Shia-majority nation has always had strained relations with Bahrain, which it tried to take over in the 1970s, and the Sunni-majority UAE. If other Sunni-majority nations follow Bahrain and the UAE in normalizing relations with Israel, Iran could very well find itself isolated in the Middle East.

Trump spoke with Omani Sultan Haitham bin Tariq al-Said in August. Jared Kushner and Saudi crown prince Mohammad bin Salman have reportedly talked, and the US and Saudi Arabia are traditional allies. It is possible both countries will normalize relations with Israel. The Accords have already boosted Trump’s November re-election chances, and will surely continue to do so if they lead to new deals.

However, new deals also have the potential to drive Iran closer to countries like Russia and China, in repudiation from the United States. If Iranian officials are concerned about being regionally isolated, they will want to make new allies. US-China relations have been strained recently, and Chinese discussion with Iran surrounding an economic partnership may further the two countries’ connection while distancing the US.

The Abraham Accords have created and will continue to create geopolitical alliances. As it is still unclear as to how the Accords will impact Palestine and Iran, it remains to be seen how they will impact long-term stability in the Middle East.

Photo from Shutterstock.

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