Abraham’s Accords: Trump’s Middle East deal still resonates a year later

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American, Israeli and Arab diplomats are celebrating the first anniversary of the signing of the Abrahamic Accords on Wednesday – the historic normalization agreements between Israel and several Arab powers that many saw as the Trump administration’s biggest diplomatic game-changer.

While President Biden has yet to appoint a special envoy to focus on building the agreements, White House officials stressed on Tuesday that the administration “strongly supports” the normalization agreements and “is working on them. to expand”.

On September 15, 2020, President Trump hosted then Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the foreign ministers of the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain for an official signing ceremony on the grounds of the White House, saluting the agreement as “the dawn of a new era” for Middle Eastern diplomacy.

While severely breaking with Trump in other areas of foreign policy, Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to meet on Friday for a virtual event with his counterparts from Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Morocco and Bahrain to mark the anniversary, while UN Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said at a festive event in New York on Monday that “clearly we want to build on this model and replicate this success.”

Acting Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs Yael Lempert, meanwhile, echoed the administration’s message on Tuesday at an event in Washington hosted by former President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner. The Israeli, Emirati and Bahraini ambassadors to the United States were present.

While critics say the Biden administration remains reluctant to promote the Trump-era initiative, foreign policy pundits generally argue that the administration had no choice but to pass the agreements d ‘Abraham.

“It was not an easy call for the Biden administration. Partisan politics clouded the process, ”said Jonathan Schanzer, Middle East researcher at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. “These were deals negotiated by Trump, and there is a strong reluctance among elements of Biden’s party not to recognize a single Trump policy as positive.”

At the same time, said Schanzer, “rejecting the Abrahamic Accords was really not an option. Historians would not have described Biden nicely if he had taken this route. I think he knew it. Imagine if Ronald Reagan didn’t recognize or encourage the Camp David Accords, just because it was a legacy from Jimmy Carter. Simply unthinkable.

He added that “the environment is still ripe” in the Middle East for the agreements to expand.

Challenging Orthodoxy

The deals were made possible by unprecedented pressure from the Trump administration to pressure Arab and Israeli leaders to put aside long-standing disputes over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and instead focus on diplomacy direct between Israel and the individual Arab powers in the Gulf.

Breaking with long-held orthodoxy in Washington, Mr. Trump and Mr. Kushner argued that progress could be made despite the frozen Israeli-Palestinian conflict – and that in the long run, a lasting settlement for the Palestinians could be helped by better relations between Israel and its neighbors.

U.S. diplomats and former Trump administration officials, including Mr. Kushner, who was one of the president’s top Middle East advisers, stepped up the push throughout 2019, culminating with the ceremony of September 2020 which signed the standardization agreements between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

The agreements, named after the prophet recognized by Judaism and Islam, were later expanded to include Israel’s diplomatic agreements with Morocco and Sudan.

Saudi Arabia has yet to follow suit. But there are indications that the issue is being scrutinized in Riyadh, and there is consensus among regional experts that the agreements marked a milestone: the first public recognitions of Israel by Arab nations since Egypt and Jordan separated from the rest of the Middle East and established diplomatic relations with Israel in 1979 and 1994, respectively.

The deals have drawn fierce criticism, especially from Iranian, Turkish and Palestinian leaders, who claim they undermine a long-standing Arab consensus that recognition of Israel should only be granted in exchange for it. Israeli agreement to give the Palestinians their own state.

The agreements, the Palestinians argue, only encouraged the Israeli government to speed up the annexation of Palestinian-claimed areas in the West Bank.

Trump’s critics also claim that the former administration used costly counterpart deals to gain support from the UAE, Sudan and Morocco for the deals – especially by agreeing to the sale of F- fighter jets. 35 in the United Arab Emirates, the removal of Sudan from Washington’s list of state sponsors of terrorism and the recognition of Morocco’s contested claims to sovereignty over large areas of Western Sahara.

But it was on the historic nature of the agreements that the celebrations were primarily focused, with some emphasizing the potential for normalization and expanded relations between Israel and Arab powers across the Middle East, including, potentially, Saudi Arabia.

“The moderate countries of the Middle East must unite to tackle our common challenges, such as climate change, and form a regional alliance to face our common threats, primarily Iran,” the ambassador said. of Israel to the United Nations, Gilad Erdan, in New York. York Monday.

“Such an alliance could share intelligence on different threats and even collaborate on defensive capabilities,” Erdan said, according to The Times of Israel. “Can you imagine Israeli air defense systems like Iron Dome protecting the airspace from our new partners in the Gulf? Maybe Saudi Arabia one day?

Some analysts say the Biden administration, distracted by COVID-19 and the Afghan crisis, has dragged its feet in supporting such thinking, after moving swiftly in its first weeks in office to dismiss National Security Council staff who had worked on the chords. While the Washington Post reported in June that the administration was considering bringing in Obama-era U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro to take over as special envoy to promote the agreements, the appointment has not yet materialized.

In June, Mr Biden also appointed Thomas Nides, head of the State Department in the Obama administration and director of Wall Street, as the next US ambassador to Israel, but no confirmation hearing in the Senate was held. place.

Events in Israel also complicated diplomacy, with Mr. Netanyahu ousted by a coalition government led by Naftali Bennett and Israel engaged in a brief but intense military exchange with Palestinian Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip in May.

Jonathan H. Ferziger, Jerusalem-based analyst and non-resident Atlantic Council member, says the Biden administration’s support for the Trump-era initiative has “been lukewarm at best.”

“By neglecting to appropriate the Abrahamic accords and muttering only low praise for Israel’s new ties to former Arab adversaries, [President Biden] helps bring Arab-Israeli peace – the rock of bipartisan politics in the Middle East – into partisan politics, ”Ferziger recently wrote in Foreign Policy.

“Allowing Trump to retain ownership of this breakthrough in Arab-Israeli peacemaking and not work aggressively to expand its reach,” he added, “is a mistake Republicans are sure to make. capitalize on as they plan to return to the White House in three more years. . “

Officials in the Biden administration rejected that characterization on Monday. A White House spokesman said in a feature email to the Washington Times that the administration had “worked to strengthen existing agreements.”

“We believe these agreements demonstrate the benefits of removing barriers and strengthening cooperation in the Middle East,” the spokesperson said, “especially in a way that promotes economic development and people-to-people links.” .

Mr Biden said in a White House meeting on August 30 with Mr Bennett that he was determined to expand Israeli normalization agreements with others. “We also support the development of Israel’s closer ties with Arab and Muslim neighbors and – and the world,” Biden said at the time. “This is a trend that I think should be encouraged and not discouraged, and we will do everything we can to add value.”

Ms Lempert, meanwhile, told those in attendance at Mr Kushner’s event in Washington on Tuesday that she was “delighted” to be on hand to celebrate “these historic agreements and all the progress made over the course of Last year. . “

“The Abrahamic Agreements are not an end, but a beginning. The Biden administration made it clear from the start that it would continue to work to expand standardization efforts and integrate new countries, ”Ms. Lempert said.

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