“The blood of Abraham, God’s father of the chosen, still flows in the veins of Arab, Jew and Christian…”
The Abraham Accords, which refers to the collective agreement between the United States (US), the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Israel was signed in September 2020. These Accords were later extended to the countries of Sudan, Bahrain and Morocco and marks the first normalisation of ties between Israel and an Arab country since Jordan in 1994.
The Accords were called ‘the Abraham Accords’ as the three major monotheistic religions of the world, Islam, Christianity and Judaism, all find their roots in Prophet Abraham. Thus, the designation of the “Abraham Accords” was not a random or an arbitrary act, but a well-designed feat to remind people of their common ancestry and inculcate the mentality of fraternity and brotherhood in their minds. The Accords were named ‘the Abraham Accords’ to reiterate that though the history of the three faiths is rife with war, animosity and conflict, their broad beliefs and faith are shared and they are children of the same God. People adhere to collective ideals depending on how far shared values can be realised in objects. These objects can have a universal representation such as sacred places or revered figureheads such as priests, prophets and political leaders.[ii] Therefore, the naming the Accords could be perceived as a form of political symbolism meant to enhance this fraternal social sentiment.
The factors conducive for the Abraham Accords
Although the Accords did come as a surprise for many, it was an attempt to bring to limelight the existing relationship between Israel and several Arab countries. The timing of the signing of the Accord is as important as its naming. The possibility of the return of the Democratic Party rule in the US under Joe Biden in 2020 meant an attempt to revive the Iran Nuclear Deal. The UAE and Israel were both not on board with the terms of the JCPOA. Additionally, the actions of the US indicated its intentions to reduce their armed personnel in the region, thus necessitating greater cooperation to ensure regional security. Furthermore, issues within the Palestinian regime led to differing opinions and diluted the cause.[iii]
It is also interesting to analyse why the UAE was the first among the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) nations to recognise Israel. The UAE has long been pursuing an image of tolerance and the newer leadership seeks wider economic liberalisation agendas with a pragmatic approach.[iv] Additionally, the Trump administration also formally notified the US Congress of an intention to sell advanced weaponry to the UAE, a request which was previously denied.[v] However, these talks were suspended due to the restrictions imposed by the US on the usage of these weapons and concerns on the growing relations between China and the UAE.[vi]
As far as the other signatories are concerned, Sudan was removed from the list of ‘State-sponsors of Terror’ by the USA. When it comes to Bahrain, the Saraya al-Mokhtar, an Iran-backed group operating and causing havoc in its territory was identified as a ‘Specially Designated Global Terrorist’[vii]. For Morocco, the US recognised its sovereignty over the disputed region of Western Sahara.[viii]
For Israel, besides gaining the much-needed legitimacy, the Accords symbolised a diplomatic win for the Netanyahu government. Additionally, as the conditions for Israel’s West Bank annexation were not imminent, it created the space needed for the UAE and Israel to come to a common ground of understanding. This also ensured that the UAE did not dilute its views on the Palestinian cause in pursuing its own strategic interests.[ix] Thus, the Abraham Accords was termed as a “win-win solution” by Anwar Gargash, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs of the UAE.[x]
The Abraham Accords
The declaration of the Accords states that the significance of strengthening and maintaining peace in West Asia is upheld and recognised. It also highlights religious freedom, intercultural and interfaith dialogue. The Accords also pursue an end to conflict and radicalisation and calls attention to art, medicine, science and commerce and its role in bringing countries together. It finally states that it seeks to expand friendly relations between Israel and its neighbours in the spirit of a shared commitment to a better future[xi]
Following this, the peace treaty between Israel and the UAE establishes a few key points, the first of which is the establishment of diplomatic relations, normalisation and peace between the two parties. Their relations shall be guided as per the UN Charter and each recognises the sovereignty of the other. Additionally, it confirms the establishment of embassies and the exchange of diplomatic personnel as per international law. They would also work towards counter-terrorism programmes and sign bilateral agreements in the fields of energy, education, healthcare, water etc. Furthermore, any disputes between the two would be resolved via negotiations.[xii]
The Agreement between Israel and the Kingdom of Bahrain states their shared commitment for peace and security in the Middle East. They also recognised the sovereignty of the other and agreed to seek negotiations regarding tourism, culture, technology etc.[xiii] Additionally, the Joint Declaration between Israel, Morocco and the US mentions the recognition by the US of the sovereignty of Morocco over the territory of Western Sahara and states that it would establish its embassy there. It also establishes direct flights between Israel and Morocco, grant of airspace and cooperation in various spheres.[xiv] Finally, the Declaration is also applicable to Sudan which highlights terms similar to the agreement between Israel and the UAE.[xv]
The Advancements since the Abraham Accords
Although relations existed between Israel and the UAE prior to the Accords, the official declaration has provided the opportunity to escalate economic and cooperative ties even further. Besides the Israeli embassy opening in Abu Dhabi in June 2021, the two countries also signed various agreements in air travel, economy etc. Additionally, the UAE also opened its embassy in Tel Aviv.[xvi]
Economically, the UAE announced the investment of 10 billion USD for various sectors in Israel. One prominent example is a three-way trade water accord signed between Israel, UAE and Jordan. As per this agreement, a UAE-owned firm would construct a solar energy facility in Jordan and provide energy to Israel. Israel, in turn, would either build a new desalination plant or provide more water to Jordan, thus quadrupling the amount it already sells to Jordan.[xvii] For 2021, the trade between the UAE and Israel amounted to 900 million USD. There was also an agreement signed for a free trade area concerning government procurement and IP rights endorsed in April 2022.[xviii] In contrast, the trade relations between Israel and Morocco and Bahrain respectively are relatively lower but have potential to improve in the near future.[xix]
When it comes to tourism, after direct flights were established, Dubai hosted more than 67,000 Israeli tourists during the first month after the Accords.[xx] By the end of the year, it had grown to a quarter of a million. With respect to direct flights with Morocco, albeit being established in July 2021, there has been a good number of Israeli applicants for the entry visa. This has also led to a rise in people-to-people ties.[xxi]
The challenges of the Abraham Accords
The Abraham Accords, though geopolitically transformational, are not without their drawbacks, the most prominent of which is the Palestinian cause. Despite the violence that has persisted after the Accords, the new ties remain unaltered indicating that Arab-Israeli ties have adopted a different trajectory and is slowly becoming independent of the Israeli-Palestine conflict.[xxii] Additionally, this further exacerbates the divide with other nations such as Qatar and Turkey.[xxiii]
Another issue is the change in administration in the US which has seemingly diluted the potential of the Accords. The Abraham Fund was set up as a part of the Accord and it delegated approximately 3 billion USD to development initiatives in the Middle East. However, the Biden administration failed to set up a replacement for the head of the fund who stepped down post the change in government and this fund has been frozen indefinitely.[xxiv] The apparent slackening of US interest in the Abraham Accords, especially after the Biden administration took over is a challenge to their success and extension.
India and the Abraham Accords
Although India officially welcomed the Abraham Accords, it reiterated its “traditional support”[xxv] for the two-state solution, thus reiterating its stance on the Palestinian cause.[xxvi]
The Abraham Accords provides the atmospherics for India to foster stronger ties with Arabs countries as well as Israel. As a result, some agreements have been signed between India and the members of the Accords. In October 2021, the Foreign Affairs Ministers from the four countries, the UAE, US, Israel and India virtually met and discussed potential partnerships and cooperation. It is interesting to note that the flight taken by the Indian Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar to Tel Aviv was routed via the UAE, which was the flight established as part of the Accords itself.[xxvii] This meeting eventually led to the formation of the grouping, now known as I2U2.
The Israeli Ambassador to India, Naor Gilon called this new grouping an ‘offspring’ of the Abraham Accords. It was also unofficially described as the “West Asian Quad” and the “Indo-Abrahamic construct”[xxviii]. He also added that India’s technological capabilities, finances from the UAE and Israel’s innovative capabilities could lead to further cooperation among the three nations.[xxix] The grouping encourages joint investments in six mutually identified sectors which includes food security, health, transportation, space, water and energy.[xxx] In the first of these ventures, an Emirati project for a robotic solar panel was endorsed by Eccopia, an Israeli company, which has a manufacturing base in India.[xxxi] Additionally, in December 2020, the International Federation of Indo-Israel Chamber of Commerce (IFIICC) was established in Dubai.[xxxii]
The history of these varied faiths and nations has materialised itself in the form of war, regional strife and various alliances. With the Abraham Accords having been concluded in spite of several hindrances, it is clear that the countries have adopted a pragmatic engagement approach in the interest of mutual advancement. However, due to the challenges concerning the Palestinian future and the opposition to these Accords from Iran and Qatar, the future of the Abraham Accords remains to be seen. While it is clear that a good beginning has been made for closer Israel-Arab ties with the Abraham Accords, their success and extension to other countries will depend on a range of factors that are currently impacting the geopolitical environment, including the US-China rivalry and West Asia politics of alignments and realignments.
*Ms. Delma Joseph, Research Intern, Indian Council of World Affairs, New Delhi
Disclaimer: Views expressed are personal.
[i] Carter, J. The Blood of Abraham: Insights into the Middle East. University of Arkansas Press. Accessed on 20 June 2022
[ii] Linklater, A. Symbols and world politics: towards a long-term perspective on historical trends and contemporary challenges. European Journal of International Relations, 25(3), 931-954. Accessed on 20 June 2022
[iii] Guzansky, Y., & Marshall, Z. A. The Abraham Accords: Immediate significance and long-term implications. Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs, 14(3), 379-389. Accessed on 22 June 2022
[iv] Ulrichsen, K. C. Israel and the Arab Gulf States: Drivers and Directions of Change. Accessed on 23 June 2022
[v] Singer, J. The Abraham Accords: Normalization Agreements Signed by Israel with the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco. International Legal Materials, 60(3), 448-463. Accessed on 21 June 2022
[vi] Gill, M, Explained: Why UAE suspended $23 billion arms deal with US, 18 December 2021, The Indian Express, https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/explained-why-uae-suspended-23-billion-arms-deal-with-us-7676235/ Accessed on 20 July 2022
[vii] Designation of Saraya al-Mukhtar as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist, 85, Fed. Reg. 82564, 18 December 2020, https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2020/12/18/2020-27849/designation-of-saraya-al-mukhtar-as-a-specially-designated-global-terrorist Accessed on 22 June 2022
[viii] U.S. Proclamation on Recognizing the Sovereignty of the Kingdom of Morocco Over the Western Sahara. 10 December 2020, https://ma.usembassy.gov/proclamation-on-recognizing-the-sovereignty-of-the-kingdom-of-morocco-over-the-western-sahara/. Accessed on 22 June 2022
[ix] The Abraham Accords: Israel–Gulf Arab Normalisation, Strategic Comments, 26:8, iv-v, DOI: 10.1080/13567888.2020.1853892 Accessed on 23 June 2022
[x] Ng, Abigail, “The UAE’s peace deal with Israel is a win-win solution, says UAE minister,” CNBC, 14 August
2020,https://www.cnbc.com/2020/08/14/the-uaes-peace-deal-with-israel-is-a-win-win-solution-says-uaeminister.html. Accessed on 22 June 2022
[xi] The Abraham Accords. The US Department of State. 15 September 2020 https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/Abraham-Accords-signed-FINAL-15-Sept-2020-508-1.pdf Accessed on 24 June 2022
[xii] The Abraham Accords. The US Department of State. 15 September 2020 https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/UAE_Israel-treaty-signed-FINAL-15-Sept-2020-508.pdf Accessed on 24 June 2022
[xiii] The Abraham Accords. The US Department of State. 15 September 2020 https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/Bahrain_Israel-Agreement-signed-FINAL-15-Sept-2020-508.pdf Accessed on 24 June 2022
[xiv] The Abraham Accords. The US Department of State. 22 December 2020, https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Joint-Declaration-US-Morrocco-Israel.pdf Accessed on 24 June 2022
[xv] The Abraham Accords. The US Department of State, https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Sudan-AA.pdf Accessed on 24 June 2022
[xvi] Yellinek, R. The Abraham Accords one year on. The Middle East Institute. 19 August 2021, https://www.mei.edu/publications/abraham-accords-one-year Accessed on 27 June 2022
[xvii] Maital, S., & Barzani, E. (2021). The Economic Impact of the Abraham Accords After One Year: Passions vs. Interests.
[xviii] A New Horizon? Assessing The Abraham Accords' Economic and Political Effect on Israel 18 Months After Their Conclusion. Athens Journals. 18 May 2022, https://www.athensjournals.gr/reviews/2022-4791-AJMS-MDT.pdf Accessed on 27 June 2022
[xix] Yellinek, R. The Abraham Accords one year on. The Middle East Institute. 19 August 2021, https://www.mei.edu/publications/abraham-accords-one-year Accessed on 27 June 2022
[xxi] Yellinek, R. The Abraham Accords one year on. The Middle East Institute. 19 August 2021, https://www.mei.edu/publications/abraham-accords-one-year Accessed on 27 June 2022
[xxii] Pressman, J. The False Promise of the Abraham Accords. Foreign Affairs. 15 September 2021, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/israel/2021-09-15/false-promise-abraham-accords?check_logged_in=1&utm_medium=promo_email&utm_source=lo_flows&utm_campaign=registered_user_welcome&utm_term=email_1&utm_content=20220630 Accessed on 28 June 2022
[xxiii] Yoel Guzansky & Zachary A. Marshall. The Abraham Accords: Immediate Significance and Long-Term Implications, Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs. 30 October 2020, DOI: 10.1080/23739770.2020.1831861 Accessed on 28 June 2022
[xxiv] Zaken, D. US freezes Abraham Fund, as Israel-UAE business ties falter. Globes. 7 July 2021, https://en.globes.co.il/en/article-us-freezes-abraham-fund-as-israel-uae-business-ties-falter-1001377257 Accessed on 28 June 2022
[xxv] Haidar, S. India welcomes UAE-Israel agreement. The Hindu. 14 August 2020, https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/india-welcomes-uae-israel-agreement/article32358126.ece Accessed on 29 June 2022.
[xxvi] “India Welcomes Abraham Accords, Calls for Talks on ‘Two-State Solution.’”. 18 September 2020, https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/india-welcomes-abraham-accords-calls-for-talks-on-two-state-solution/story-g5MOU9PIpwxQ0Zzc5CfZ3N.html. Accessed 1 July 2022
[xxvii] Haider, S. India, Israel, UAE, U.S. decide to launch quadrilateral economic forum. The Hindu. 19 October 2021, https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/jaishankar-takes-part-in-new-quadrilateral-with-israel-uae-and-us/article37064989.ece Accessed on 1 July 2022
[xxviii] Taneja, K. Middle Eastern Quad? How Abraham Accords opened West Asia for India. Firstpost. 19 October 2021, https://www.firstpost.com/india/middle-eastern-quad-how-abraham-accords-opened-west-asia-for-india-10067651.html. Accessed on 4 July 2022.
[xxix] Roche, E. ‘India-US-Israel-UAE grouping an offspring of the Abraham Accords’. Livemint.com. 28 October 2021, https://www.livemint.com/news/world/indiausisraeluae-grouping-to-focus-on-infra-development-israeli-ambassador-11635409381172.html. Accessed on 4 July 2022.
[xxx] Banerji, E. “I2U2 Summit: What India Stands to Gain”. news18.com, 18 July 2022, https://www.news18.com/news/opinion/i2u2-summit-what-india-stands-to-gain-5575831.html Accessed on 4 July 2022
[xxxi] Haider, S. India, Israel, UAE, U.S. decide to launch quadrilateral economic forum. The Hindu. 19 October 2021, https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/jaishankar-takes-part-in-new-quadrilateral-with-israel-uae-and-us/article37064989.ece Accessed on 1 July 2022
[xxxii] Taneja, K. The New US-Israel-UAE-India Minilateral in a Changing West Asia. ORFonline. 25 November 2021, https://www.orfonline.org/research/the-new-us-israel-uae-india-minilateral-in-a-changing-west-asia/ Accessed on 1 July 2022