The Abraham Accords Will Probably Survive – OpEd


Six months into the Gaza war, and world opinion – widely in support of Israel’s initial onslaught on Hamas following the horrendous events of October 7 – has steadily hardened and turned.  Appeals for a pause in the fighting have grown ever more strident, culminating in the Resolution passed on March 25 by the UN Security Council calling for an immediate ceasefire.  The Resolution, while also demanding the immediate and unconditional release of all the hostages held by Hamas, did not link the ceasefire call to the hostage release.  In short, the UN is instructing Israel to stop fighting Hamas, giving it time to revive and regroup and leaving it free to continue bombarding Israel with rockets and drones.  Security Council members knew, of course, that demanding Hamas release all its hostages was simply virtue signalling, since it is quite unenforceable. Hamas is a terrorist organization, unbeholden to the UN or anyone else.  

Arab street opinion and the self-interest of Arab sovereign states rarely coincide.  The Abraham Accords were initially sold to a skeptical Arab public on the grounds that they would give rich Arab countries unprecedented financial leverage on Israel, and would eventually improve conditions for the Palestinians.  Months into a conflict that has cost thousands of lives, polls of Arab opinion indicate overwhelming support for Hamas.  Regardless, Abraham Accord regimes, convinced that the benefits from the Accords override other considerations, are sidelining public opinion.

It was back in 2020-2021 that the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan signed the deals, collectively known as the Abraham Accords. Sudan is a special case. For nearly a year the country has been torn asunder by a ferocious civil war, and is suffering one of the worst humanitarian crises in recent history.

Fighting between the army, headed by General Abdel Fattah al-Burham. and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), led by Mohamed Hamdan Dagtalo, has resulted in the death of tens of thousands of people. Food is in short supply, and the threat of famine for much of the population looms.  The world has regarded the rapidly developing tragedy with indifference.

Addressing the UN Security Council on March 20, Edem Wosornu, director of operations at the UN Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said: “By all measures – the sheer scale of humanitarian needs, the numbers of people displaced and facing hunger – Sudan is one of the worst humanitarian disasters in recent memory…Simply put,” she said, “we are failing the people of Sudan.” 

According to the UN more than 18 million Sudanese are facing acute food insecurity – 10 million more than at this time last year – while 730,000 Sudanese children are believed to be suffering from severe malnutrition.  Eventually, no doubt, the conflict will end and Sudan will struggle back to a more normal existence.  Then will be the time for its government to consider where the country’s best interests lie, and whether to endorse its membership of the Accords or to reject it.

In the case of the UAE, according to a March 10 report in the New York Times (NYT), Emirati officials say they have no intention of cutting ties with Israel.  On the contrary, in a document addressed to the NYT, the Emirati government highlighted how its officials had used their relationship with Israel to facilitate the entry of humanitarian aid for Gazans, as well as the medical treatment of injured Gazans taken to the Emirates.

“The UAE believes that diplomatic and political communications are important in difficult times such as those we are witnessing,” said the government.

In late February economy minister Nir Barkat became the first Israeli minister to visit the Emirates since October 7.  He attended the World Trade Organization’s ministerial conference in Abu Dhabi, and was seen shaking hands and chatting with Saudi Arabia’s commerce minister, Majid bin Abdullah Al-Qasabi.  In an interview, he said he was “very optimistic” after meeting with Emirati officials.

“There’s a bit of sensitivity while the war is still happening,” he said, but the two countries “have aligned interests, and the Abraham Accords are extremely strategic for all of us.”

An article by Middle East specialist Joshua Krasna, published by the Foreign Policy Research Institute, records the gesture pronouncement by the lower house of Bahrain’s Parliament on November 2 declaring; “the halting of economic ties with Israel and the return of ambassadors on both sides… in support of the Palestinian cause and the legitimate rights of the brotherly Palestinian people.” 

It was no more than a gesture because the Bahraini parliament has no locus at all in the state’s foreign policy.  Krasna maintains that the parliamentary initiative had no impact on formal diplomatic relations between Israel and Bahrain. 

He is uncertain, though, about the scope and content of those relations post-war. The re-emergence of the Palestinian issue as central to the regional and international agenda, he believes, must have an impact – although as yet highly uncertain – on future economic and political relations.

As regards Morocco, the Qatar-based news medium, Al Jazeera, reports that despite rising public anger in the country over the Israel–Hamas conflict, the normalization deal between Morocco and Israel will likely hold.

Since early October, thousands of Moroccans have marched in the capital, Rabat, with Palestinian flags and slogans calling, among other things, for an end to Moroccan government normalization with Israel.  However high political considerations, spearheaded by the king himself, outweigh popular murmurings.  The juicy carrot offered to Morocco by the Trump administration as an inducement to sign up to the Accords was US recognition of the nation’s claim to the disputed territory of Western Sahara.  This prize Morocco acquired, and it represents a major boost in its long dispute with Algeria over claims to the territory.

Moreover, says Intissar Fakir, a senior analyst at the Middle East Institute, the military advantage Morocco has been able to acquire through deals with Israel, “is substantial… [it] would be difficult for Morocco to walk away from this partnership with Israel.”

In general, analysts assess that the effect of the Gaza conflict will be to slow, rather than halt, Israel’s continuing normalization with Abraham Accord states UAE, Bahrain and Morocco.

 Meanwhile Saudi Arabia, its relations with Israel still very warm, remains in the wings, perhaps awaiting the moment just to sign up. 

Neville Teller

Neville Teller's latest book is ""Trump and the Holy Land: 2016-2020". He has written about the Middle East for more than 30 years, has published five books on the subject, and blogs at "A Mid-East Journal". Born in London and a graduate of Oxford University, he is also a long-time dramatist, writer and abridger for BBC radio and for the UK audiobook industry. He was made an MBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours, 2006 "for services to broadcasting and to drama."

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