The State of the Abraham Accords

Dec 16, 2021 | AIJAC staff

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is greeted by Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed at his private palace in Abu Dhabi, Dec. 13, 2021. (Credit: Haim Zach/ IGPO)
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is greeted by Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed at his private palace in Abu Dhabi, Dec. 13, 2021. (Credit: Haim Zach/ IGPO)

Update from AIJAC

12/21 #01

Earlier this week, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett made a historic state visit to the UAE, the first by an Israeli PM (all the details of the visit are reported here). About a week before that, Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz made a breakthrough visit to Morocco, where a number of agreements on defence and security cooperation were signed. This Update looks at the state of the Abraham Accords, which normalised relations between Israel and four Arab states last year, in the wake of these visits.

We lead with a Jewish News Syndicate piece that features interviews with two Israeli experts on the significance and implications of the Bennett visit to the UAE. The two experts agreed that, while economics and trade were key focuses of most of Bennett’s trip, a key undertone was shared concerns about Iran. While both agree the UAE is walking a difficult tightrope in trying to build relations with Israel without provoking Iran, they also note that UAE-Israel relations represent a genuinely warm, people-to-people peace. For all the details,  CLICK HERE.

Next up is  Moroccan-born writer and analyst Ahmed Charai, arguing that genuine peace between Israel and its Arab neighbours is now developing in the wake of the Abraham Accords. Reviewing the Gantz visit to Rabat, he sees signs that younger Arabs from numerous countries now want to follow in the footsteps of the UAE, Morocco, Sudan and Bahrain and make peace and begin trading and investing with Israel. He calls on the US to facilitate the growth of the Abraham Accords, and offers some suggestions on how to do so. For Charai’s complete argument,  CLICK HERE.

Finally, Israeli entrepreneur and politician Fleur Hassan-Nahoum and British writer Jonathan Harounoff offer their take on where the Abraham Accords are today. They say that the momentum of these agreements is not flagging, and is in fact increasing, pointing to signs that original signatories like the UAE are now becoming peace brokers to help expand the circle of cooperation, economic prosperity and cultural exchange. They suggest as well that these new arrangements may also offer the key to Israeli-Palestinian peace. For their discussion of what they describe as a  growing “new model for peace”, CLICK HERE.

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“The economy is doing great. Other issues need to be addressed, and I think Iran is the No. 1 issue,” said Yoel Guzansky, a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies.

The optics couldn’t have been better for Bennett. Upon arrival on Sunday, he was greeted by an honor guard and UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan. Israeli and Emirati flags stood in long rows on either side. Bennett called it a splendid welcome.

Speaking of the Abraham Accords—the normalization agreement signed between Israel and several Muslim countries, the first of which was the UAE—Bennett told the Emirates News Agency (WAM) that they established a “new, deep and solid structure for diplomatic, economic and cultural relations.”

Bennett’s meetings on Monday centered on economy and trade. He met separately with the UAE’s minister of industry and advanced technology, its minister of transportation, and the managing director and CEO of the Mubadala Investment Company.

“The volume of mutual trade has expedited within a few months with limitless future opportunities to develop it. Israel, like the UAE, is a regional hub for trade,” Bennett told WAM. “Our cooperation provides unprecedented economic opportunities not only for us, but for more countries, which is another element for enhancing stability and prosperity in this region.”

While economic benefits remain crucial for both countries, unspoken publicly was the issue of Iran, analysts told JNS.

“The timing is interesting because of the ongoing negotiations in Vienna with Iran. And this is, I think, something that was at least in the background of the talks that Bennett is holding right now in Abu Dhabi, perhaps the main issue,” Yoel Guzansky, a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), told JNS.

“The economy is doing great,” he said. “Other issues need to be addressed, and I think Iran is the No. 1 issue.”

‘Dancing a very complicated dance’

Eyal Zisser, the vice-rector of Tel Aviv University and a professor of Middle Eastern studies, told JNS that Israel and the UAE most certainly discussed America’s intention to draw down from the region and the Iranian threat. “Clearly, the Emirates is not strong enough to fight alongside Israel against Iran. So I doubt very much whether we’re talking about joint plans. It’s mainly diplomatic pressure and sharing intelligence, coordinating efforts—not more than that.”

Guzansky said the UAE believes that it will be hit if the Iran situation heats up given its geographic proximity to the Islamic Republic, noting “Israel can help with their security in many ways.”

The Israel-UAE joint photo-ops coming out of Abu Dhabi are very much intended to send a “strong message” to Iran, experts say (Photo: Leonid Altman, Shutterstock)

Both analysts agree that the UAE is “dancing a very complicated dance,” in Guzansky’s words, as it must balance between opposing forces.

The “photo ops” now coming out of Abu Dhabi send “a strong signal, a strong message,” said Guzansky. At the same time, the UAE is eager not to antagonize Iran. “It’s saying we’re not only with Israel. We are trying to be both with Israel and Iran,” he added.

Zisser said “the Emirates do understand that the United States is leaving, or at least decreasing, its level of presence [in the region], so it sends messages to Tehran: ‘We are not enemies of Iran; we also want good relations with Iran.’ There is always the question of how successful will they be in maintaining the balance between the desire to promote relations with Israel and the desire to have normal relations with Iran?”

Guzansky told JNS he thinks a new Iran deal will be struck. “The UAE is trying to appease Iran and lower the flames in the Gulf not out of love of Iran, but out of fear—out of the assumption; the right assumption, I think—that Iran is going to get stronger after an agreement will be signed.”

The UAE approach is not “bulletproof,” he said. “They will pay a price for it. You will hear criticism from the Iranians now after the meeting from Turkey and Qatar and the Palestinians.” But he added that the Emirates will continue a policy of engaging all sides “because they feel they have no choice. This is the only game in town where they cannot avoid Iran.”

Zisser noted that while the UAE walks a tightrope, that doesn’t mean its agreement with Israel isn’t genuine. Unlike the agreements with Egypt and Jordan, “with the Emirates, it’s different,” he said. “It’s a real peace, a warm peace. It’s people-to-people, which is missing when we speak about Egypt and Jordan.”

Arab-Israeli Peace Is Occurring Before Our Eyes

Security and prosperity demand peace between people. The Biden administration should accordingly push for a broader effort at cultural reform with the potential to generate the popular support necessary to sustain a peace process.

by Ahmed Charai

The National Interest, December 10, 2021

Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz arrives for a meeting with his Moroccan counterpart in Rabat, on Dec. 8 (Photo Credit: Ariel Hermoni/Israeli Defence Ministry)

Sometimes the very things that suddenly seem normal tell you how much the world has changed.

While Americans were traveling for Thanksgiving, Israel’s Minister of Defense Benny Gantz arrived in Rabat to sign unprecedented security and intelligence agreements between the Jewish state and the Atlantic Arab state. Little more than a year ago, such an official visit, let alone the signing of mutual cooperation agreements, would have been unthinkable. This past week, the Moroccan press largely covered it as an important event.

It is the latest in some twenty agreements signed between Israel and Morocco.

New institutions have been created, including the Moroccan-Israeli Business Council and the Moroccan-Israeli Chamber of Industry, to allow Israelis and Moroccans to meet each other and strike business deals. Trade between Israel and Morocco has surged by 50 percent in the first six months of 2021 alone.

Nor is Morocco alone among Arab states. Under the Abraham Accords, three other Arab lands have officially made peace with Israel and opened their borders to merchants, traders, and pilgrims. This week marks the second year in a row that Jews are openly celebrating Hanukkah in the United Arab Emirates. Arab tourists are visiting Israel in increasing numbers, from Tel Aviv’s beaches to Jerusalem’s holy sites.

This year, some hundreds of thousands of Israeli tourists have booked hotels in Morocco. Israeli investment in the Gulf Arab states is fueling high-tech startups while Arab investment in both Israel and the Palestinian territory is growing rapidly. Less than two years ago, most Arab nations would not admit travelers who had Israeli stamps in their passports. Now that restriction is gone and millions of Arabs and Israelis have visited each other. Indeed, all of these things have become so common that they are no longer remarked upon.

Count me among the many Arabs who have long believed that the peace plan deserves a chance—although one of the few to say so publicly. Now it is a reality.

If the Arab street has anything to say about it, more Arab nations will make peace with Israel and begin trading and investing with the nation that some Arab state-run broadcasts still refer to as the “Zionist entity.” Many Arabs in Iraq, Syria, and Libya, courageously, without fear or hesitation, now say that they favor normal relations with Israel. The momentum for peace across the Arab world is real and growing.

This normalization process is being carefully watched across North Africa and the Middle East. The best way to bring more Arab nations into the fold is with a relentless march of completely normal events: friendships struck at business events, visiting students and scholars quietly learning that “the other” isn’t really so different after all, diplomats and generals working across borders to stop anarchists who express themselves with bombs, not words. The cumulative impact of these quotidian events will do more to increase the momentum of the peace process than any speech or sermon.

Behind this historic achievement was a man who believed, who fought, and who faced the rejection of large swathes of the American Establishment: Jared Kushner. In a better world, he would share the Nobel Peace Prize. In our world, his reward is measured by the many enriching encounters between Israelis and Arabs that simply would never have occurred as recently as a year ago.

Trump Administration Middle East envoy Jared Kushner’s great insight was that a younger generation of Arabs are different from the elders and open to ties with Israel, according to Charai. (Photo: Alexandros Michailidis, Shutterstock).

Kushner’s great insight was that the younger Arab generation has a fundamentally different perspective from that of their elders. More than 60 percent of Arabs are too young to remember the 1967 and 1973 wars with Israel, and many more consider them to be ancient history. As a result, young Arabs widely accept Israel’s existence as a given and generally view trade with its thriving economy as essential to their own personal prosperity. They want ordinary things, Kushner realized: a steady job, a nurturing school, a safe street, and a durable reason to hope that things will get better. The Abraham Accords that Kushner championed made all of these things a real possibility for the first time since 1948.

The Biden administration was right to signal its support for the signed peace agreements between Israel and Arab countries. This too helped accelerate the momentum for peace.

If the wave of peacemaking translates into tangible benefits for Arab youth, pan-Arab support for peace with Israel will only grow.

We need a new regional order where Israel is a stakeholder and no longer a foreigner in its own region. This new regional order should not be seen as against anyone, but rather as beneficial to all. Also, this new regional order should be based on an updated joint assessment of threats, but also on how to generate opportunities that promote stability and future development.

This time of year in America, it is common to pray for peace.

Simply put, security and prosperity demand peace between people. The Biden administration should accordingly push for a broader effort at cultural reform with the potential to generate the popular support necessary to sustain a peace process.

Doing so means urging and equipping Arab allies to roll back generations of rejectionist messaging in Arab establishment-owned media, mosques, and schools. It means supporting the rising tide of bold, grassroots Arab voices that have been calling for specific relations between Arabs and Israel.

Rather than returning to the old cliches of the “peace process,” the United States could encourage America’s diplomats and scholars to see the extraordinary power in ordinary things.

Ahmed Charai a Publisher of The Jerusalem Strategic Tribune. He is on the board of directors of many Think-Tanks including the Atlantic Council, Center for Strategic and International Studies, International Crisis Group, International Center for Journalists, Foreign Policy Research Institute, Center for National Interest, and the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security.

Abraham Accords represent a groundbreaking model for Mideast peace

Naysayers will dismiss them as nothing more than flowery declarations of peace and cooperation, but momentum isn’t fading; it’s soaring.

JNS, Dec. 2

While the Abraham Accords were a Trump Administration achievement, they have taken on a life of their own, and today, the signatories of the accords have become peace brokers themselves. (Photo: noamgalai, Shutterstock)

Last year’s normalization agreements with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco featured all the pomp and circumstance you might expect—handshakes, verbal affirmations of mutual support and photo ops reminiscent of past “groundbreaking signings” between Israel and its neighbors. Naysayers will dismiss the Abraham Accords as nothing more than flowery declarations of peace and cooperation.

But make no mistake: Momentum isn’t fading; it’s soaring. Even under a Biden administration that has at times shown reluctance to perpetuate a Trumpian agenda, unprecedented agreements continue to be forged in this new era of economic prosperity, security cooperation and cultural exchange that we cannot ignore.

Last year consisted of many firsts, including, to name a few, the first Israeli embassy in Abu Dhabi, the first embassy of the UAE in Tel Aviv, Israel’s first ambassador to Bahrain and Bahrain’s first ambassador to Israel.

The Abraham Accords were not a relic of the Trump presidency; they have paved the way for a Middle East not seen for generations. And now we’re seeing recent signatories of the accords become brokers themselves.

Earlier this month, Israel and Jordan signed a UAE-brokered water and energy deal, the most expansive of its kind since the two countries made peace in 1994. Even U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry, who said in 2016 that there could be “no advance and separate peace with the Arab world” before first addressing Palestinian peace, played a role in getting the Amman-Jerusalem deal over the finish line.

And in Rabat last week, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz formalized security ties and intelligence-sharing with his Moroccan counterpart, Abdellatif Loudiyi, while signing a memorandum of understanding that is expected to initiate significant arms sales worth hundreds of millions of dollars over the next few years.

Bilateral trade between Israel and the UAE alone has exceeded $700 million since the signing of the Abraham Accords, according to Israeli Consul-General in Dubai Ilan Sztulman Starosta. Tourism between Israel and the UAE is at record highs. And Israel’s Reichman University (formerly IDC Herzliya) even enrolled the country’s first-ever male Emirati student this summer, followed by another female Emirati studying midwifery in Hebrew at Haifa University.

150,000 new jobs are expected to be created for Israel’s new regional partners, according to the American NGO RAND Corporation, with an additional four million new jobs and a further “$1 trillion in new economic activity over a decade, if the accords grow to include 11 nations (including Israel) as some have speculated may be possible.”

If anything, the accords have given Israel permission to call its Arab neighbors cousins again. What has for decades been discreet is now out in the open.

Jerusalem deputy Mayor Fleur Hassan-Nahoum,  whose family hails from Morocco, is co-founder of the UAE-Israel Business Council, and represents a generation of Israelis with family ties to the Arab world eager to build on the potential of the Abraham Accords. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons | Licence details)

Everything about how peace was forged this time around—from four landmark agreements being reached in the space of five months, to the business framework through which negotiations were held—was different, and the hope is that this model can one day be extended to Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations that have eluded history’s best statespersons and diplomats. Indeed, the best brokers for lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace may very well be not in Washington D.C., but in Manama, Rabat, Abu Dhabi or Khartoum.

The accords helped create a model of peace that is rarely seen in the Middle East—one based not just on closed-door diplomacy, but on culture, business and deep person-to-person friendships. The accords should not—and do not—purport to replace the Israeli-Palestinian issue, but they demonstrate the viability of alternative methods of peace-building.

Palestinians and Arab Israelis will benefit from these regional normalization agreements, and the city of Jerusalem can serve as a key bridge to the Gulf states since 40 percent of its population is Arab. The hope is that the accords herald a new era of Muslim tourism to Jerusalem, eventually becoming the research-and-development heart of the Middle East.

Peace agreements are inked by leaders, but they are forged by everyday people. Israel and its neighbors are now building a model for peace in the Middle East, one spearheaded by entrepreneurs and environmentalists who envision a better region for their children.

Fleur Hassan-Nahoum serves as deputy mayor of Jerusalem in charge of foreign relations, international economic development, and tourism. She is also the co-founder of the UAE-Israel Business Council and the Gulf Israel Women’s Forum.

Jonathan Harounoff is a British analyst and journalist based in New York. His articles have featured in “Haaretz,” “The Jerusalem Post” and “The Forward.”


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Much of the Arab world knows Hamas ‘is the problem’: Colin Rubenstein on Sky News

Image: Shutterstock

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Image: X/Twitter

AIJAC expresses appreciation to PM, Leader of the Opposition, for bipartisan stance against extremism and antisemitism