On December 4, Time magazine published an article under the title “It’s time to scrap the Abraham Accords”. The author, Sara Leah Whitston, a director of a body called Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), argued that the Hamas attack of October 7 proved that the assumption on which the Abraham Accords were conceived – that the Palestinian issue was no longer important in Israel’s relationships in the region – was wrong. She maintained that conditions for the Palestinian people had worsened since the Accords were signed, and that the Gaza war has projected the Palestinian issue back to the forefront of global concerns. When signing the Accords, she claimed, the Arab leaders involved “hailed the agreement as a means to encourage and cajole Israel to take positive steps toward ending its occupation and annexation of Palestinian territory.” And now, she wrote, “because continued Arab adherence to the Accords signals continued support for Israel,” DAWN is calling on the Abraham Accords countries to withdraw from the agreement.
Both her assumptions and her conclusions are quite incorrect. The Israel-Palestine dispute had no bearing on the negotiations leading to the Abraham Accords and is unrelated to them. The purpose of the Accords is to advance regional security and stability; pursue regional economic opportunities; promote joint aid and development programs; and foster mutual understanding, respect, co-existence and a culture of peace.
All the Arab leaders concerned have indicated that normalizing relations with Israel has not affected their support for Palestinian aspirations. There is a brief reference to this in the Bahrain agreement, while the Morocco document mentions “the unchanged position of the Kingdom of Morocco on the Palestinian question.” Sheer logic dictates that none of the signatories perceives their support as involving the elimination of Israel. Since October 7 none of the four Abraham Accord signatory states has indicated any desire to withdraw from the Accords.
Sudan is in the throes of a devastating civil war. Government forces are on the back foot, as the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) continues its advance. On December 19 it captured Sudan’s second largest city, Wad Madani. The future of Sudan, and with it the future of its normalization with Israel, hangs in the balance.
In the other Accord countries – the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Morocco – public opinion undoubtedly favors Hamas, deplores the high civilian death toll in Gaza and calls for a ceasefire. As a result all three states have been walking a tightrope as regards their official attitude toward the Israel-Hamas conflict. All the same, the Accords are holding firm.
At one time it seemed as though Bahrain might be wavering. On November 2, Bahrain’s parliament issued an unusual statement saying that the ambassadors of Israel and Bahrain had each left their posts and economic ties had been cut.
“The Zionist entity’s ambassador has left Bahrain,” parliamentarian Mamdooh Al Saleh said in parliament, “hopefully not to return.”
But the parliament has no responsibility for foreign affairs, and it soon became clear that Bahrain-Israeli diplomatic and economic relations were intact. Israel issued a statement confirming that relations were stable, and one from Bahrain’s government mentioned simply that the envoys had left, without giving any reason.
Iran has long been engaged in stirring up Bahrain’s Shi’ite population against the Sunni monarchy. But Bahrain is home to the US Navy Fifth Fleet, and close US relations through the Accords are a vital bulwark against Iran and too valuable to abandon. They also bring Bahrain closer to the wealthy UAE. So Bahrain is content to perform its balancing act – on the one hand seeking to keep the deal intact; on the other needing to reflect its disagreement with Israel’s military campaign in Gaza.
The other two Abraham Accord states face the same problem.
Despite internal and international pressure over the mounting toll of the war in Gaza, the UAE does not plan to break diplomatic ties with Israel. It has sponsored two resolutions within the UN Security Council of which it is currently a member. The first, calling unequivocally for a ceasefire, was vetoed by the US. The second, after days of intense diplomatic effort, concentrated on enhancing the flow of humanitarian aid to the population of Gaza, and was approved on December 22.
As well as maintaining its links with Israel, media reports indicate that the UAE has been working to moderate public positions taken by Arab states, so that once the war ends there is the possibility of a return to a broad dialogue. In addition the UAE has been in talks with Qatar about the possibility of a further Qatari-brokered deal involving the release by Hamas of some hostages in return for a break in the fighting.
The Accords were partly based on a shared concern over the threat posed by Iran. Despite an effort at rapprochement early in 2023, the UAE continues to sees Iran as a threat to regional security. So there seems no prospect of an end to UAE-Israel diplomatic ties. They represent a strategic priority for the Emirates.
As for Abraham Accords signatory Morocco, Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal recently scored a resounding own goal. On November 19, speaking from his luxury villa in Qatar, he addressed the Moroccan people by way of a video. Urging them to cut ties with Israel and expel its ambassador, he declared: “Morocco can correct its mistake,” and called on Moroccans to take to the streets.
The reaction was an outburst of fury on social media from Moroccans condemning the intervention as a breach of the kingdom’s sovereignty. There have indeed been a wave of public demonstrations in Morocco supportive of the Palestinians and condemning the suffering of the Gazan population, but it is a curious fact of Moroccan life that they are all organized with the state’s blessing. The government provides logistical and security arrangements for demonstrators every weekend, and itself calls for de-escalation, access to humanitarian aid, and the protection of civilians in line with international law.
On the other hand, Morocco has not the slightest intention of withdrawing from the Abraham Accords. This became clear on November 11 when, at the Islamic-Arab summit in Riyadh, Morocco together with Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan, Mauritania, Djibouti, Jordan, and Egypt, blocked a proposal to cut ties with Israel.
So in complex and shifting circumstances the Abraham Accords seem in good health. They may yet come into their own in helping rebuild Gaza once the war has ended. That is when, in the recent words of Jared Kushner, one of their architects. they may become “more important than ever”.