Alex Ryvchin, author of Zionism – The Concise History and the Co-Chief Executive Officer of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry
The Abraham Accords signed between Israel and the Gulf states of Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates in Washington in mid-September constitute a rare moment of hope and fraternity in a region wracked by bloodbaths in Syria and Yemen, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and mass-dislocation brought about by the competing barbarisms of the Islamic State (ISIS) and the Iranian regime.
The Death of a Western Consensus
Aside from promising an era of Israeli-Arab collaboration for the good of the region, the Accords are highly significant both for delineating alliances and battlelines in the region and for upending failed modes of mediation and negotiation that have long stifled the prospects of peace.
Perhaps most significantly, the achievement of a formal state of peace and mutual recognition between the Jewish State and two Arab nations has completely upended a conventional wisdom that Israel’s acceptance and integration into the region can only be achieved following a final status agreement with the Palestinians—in other words, the satisfaction of Palestinian political and territorial demands. These demands, hitherto unmet, despite three comprehensive peace offers from Israel in the last twenty years, have long been seen as a condition that must be met before there can be any new Arab-Israeli accords after the treaties with Egypt (1978) and Jordan (1994).
Indeed, the idea that normalization of relations between Israel and the Arab states were inseparable from the Israeli-Palestinian peace process had become so entrenched that to challenge it raised immediate derision and scorn in foreign policy circles.
Addressing the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East, North Africa, and International Terrorism, Mara Rudman, a foreign policy advisor in the Democratic administrations of Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama and the executive vice president for policy at American Progress, a Left-wing American think-tank, dismissed the Donald Trump administration’s approach to regional peacemaking as “a textbook on how to fail on Middle East peace”, asserting that “the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis must be resolved to fully realize the cooperation possible between Israel and Arab states.”
President Obama’s Secretary of State, John Kerry was even more explicit and cocksure that a wider Arab-Israeli peace was irrevocably bound up in the Israeli-Palestinian issue. He told the Saban Forum in 2016:
“There will be no separate peace between Israel and the Arab world. I want to make that very clear to all of you. I’ve heard several prominent politicians in Israel sometimes saying, ‘Well, the Arab world is in a different place now, we just have to reach out to them and we can work some things with the Arab world and we’ll deal with the Palestinians’. No, no, no, and no.
There will be no advance and separate peace with the Arab world without the Palestinian process and Palestinian peace. Everybody needs to understand that. That is a hard reality.”
Kerry had hoped to reinforce a situation that he favoured through the sheer force of his assertions. The possibility that the Arab world might be fatigued with the Palestinian issue and could seek to prioritize its own economic and security interests was not one Kerry was willing to entertain. To do so would upend conventional wisdom in the Washington and European foreign policy establishments that placed the Palestinian issue not only at the heart of the Arab-Israeli conflict but, for decades, considered it to be a leading source of Islamic radicalism and terrorism throughout the world. In November 2015, after ISIS terror attacks in Paris killed 130 people, the Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström even went so far as to attribute the attack to the plight of the Palestinians which, she asserted, compels Muslim sympathisers to “resort to violence.”
A Paradigm Shift
The Abraham Accord has shown, however, unequivocally that the Palestinian issue, while still meriting a solution for its own sake, has been severed from global and regional affairs.
The failure of the Palestinians to extract even a tepid verbal condemnation of the Abraham Accords from the Arab League is further evidence of the withdrawal of the Arab world from the conflict, which now takes on the more manageable proportions of a clash of nationalisms in former Mandate Palestine, rather than being a much more problematic and region-spanning Arab-Israeli confrontation.
By cleaving the Palestinian issue away from wider regional considerations and projecting Israel as a legitimate part of the Middle East, the Accords have effectively removed a potent source of incitement and radicalisation in the Arab world. It has also sharpened the delineation between the regional forces of moderation and extremism.
Peace and Radicalism
The most fervent opponents of Israeli normalization and the advent of regional peace and cooperation have predictably been Turkey, the Iranian regime and its proxies in Syria, Lebanon, and the Palestinian Authority.
Iran has long claimed patronage of the Palestinian cause, manipulating the emotive power of the issue to build support in the Arab world. On the one hand, the increasing acceptance of Israel will blunt Iran’s propaganda. On the other hand, the Palestinian claims of being betrayed by the Gulf States and the Arab League will only strengthen Iran’s assertion that it is the only power willing and able to fight for the Palestinian cause, thereby increasing its hold over what it calls the “Axis of Resistance”.
The Iranian Foreign Ministry ominously warned that “the UAE government and other accompanying governments must accept responsibility for all the consequences of this action”. The Iranian newspaper Kayhan asserted that the UAE is now a “legitimate target”.
Turkey, meanwhile, which has enjoyed extensive diplomatic and economic ties with Israel since 1949, ties that have continued even in recent years when Turkey’s belligerent and authoritarian President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has used anti-Israel sentiment as a political tool, has announced it is considering suspending diplomatic ties with the United Arab Emirates and withdrawing its ambassador over the Gulf state’s decision to extend recognition to Israel. Ironically, the Turkish foreign ministry accused the UAE of “hypocritical behaviour” over the move.
The signing of the Abraham Accords and the reframing of the Arab-Israeli conflict as a localised dispute between Israelis and Palestinians has shattered a policy paralysis and a cycle of failed mediation and negotiations that has lasted for over a century. It has undermined generations of anti-Zionist propaganda that had once made peace between Jews and Arabs unthinkable. But while the Accords are clearly a victory for peace and diplomacy that have isolated the extremists, the regional forces opposed to the agreements will inevitably seek to reorientate the region into the path of radicalisation and war.
European Eye on Radicalization aims to publish a diversity of perspectives and as such does not endorse the opinions expressed by contributors. The views expressed in this article represent the author alone.