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  • Neehra Sharma

THE ABRAHAM ACCORDS AFTER THREE YEARS


On 7th October, the militant group, Hamas mounted a multipronged assault on Israel

leading to multiple casualties. This attack elicited a strong but divided reaction from the

international community. While most of the world expressed their sympathies with Israel, most Arab nations, including Qatar, Iran, Saudi Arabia stood firm on their stance for advocating self-determination for Palestine, and going so far as to even condemn Israel. The Israel-Palestine conflict has long been a challenge to regional cooperation in West Asia, and has contributed to the increased polarisation of the region. Ironically and tragically, this attack came a few days after the third anniversary of the signing of the Abraham Accords.


The Abraham Accords were brokered by the United States with the aim to bring about greater peace and cooperation in the Middle East by establishing diplomatic relations between Israel and the Arab nations. On 15th September, 2020, these Accords were signed by Israel and the United Arab Emirates first and soon other nations like Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco followed suit. The aim was to deepen diplomatic and economic integration and encourage regional stability. There was also growing unease among the nations of the region regarding Iran's growing influence. The Trump administration was keen to bring together the two poles of power in West Asia, Israel, and Saudi Arabia, as a united front against the ever expanding influence of Iran.


THE ISRAEL-PALESTINE CONFLICT


The Israel-Palestine conflict has long been a major driver of regional relations in West Asia. The signing of the Accords was a diplomatic thaw between Israel and the Arab nations. In the agreement with the UAE, the Trump administration’s ‘Vision for Peace’ plan was explicitly mentioned with regard to resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict through a “comprehensive political framework”. Despite the agreement, there was visible discord between the UAE and Israel regarding the latter's annexation plans in the West Bank.


In October 2020, an Israeli court ruling on the eviction of some Palestinian families living in Sheikh Jarrah sparked demonstrations which led to clashes with the Israeli police forces which culminated in a brutal clash at the Al-Aqsa mosque and the eleven day conflict. Furthermore, the year 2022 was pronounced as one of the deadliest years in the Israel-Palestine conflict by the Middle East coordinator of the UN, as Israel launched a major counter-terrorism operation in the West Bank in response to a number of attacks by Hamas against Jews in Jerusalem.


During this tumultuous time, Israel also went through a change in leadership, as Benjamin Netanyahu failed to secure a clear majority; and the coalition government led by Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid came to power through the June, 2021 elections. Proud settler advocate Bennett, ruled out any chances of a two-state solution as his cabinet was sworn in, hearkening to his reluctance earlier at the part of the agreement under the Abraham Accords, which would stop any Israeli unilateral annexation in the west bank. The following brief reign of foreign minister Yair Lapid saw him advocating for a two-state solution, laying the ground to face his rival, Netanyahu in the following elections, where he lost. The Bennett-Lapid government had focused on domestic issues like preparing a robust state budget and ensuring the political defeat of Netanyahu, but its decline is linked to the passing of a bill to extend the implementation of an Israeli law for West Bank settlers. Once again, Netanyahu came to power and immediately got the administration under scrutiny due to his provocative coalition partner, Ben Gvir. Gvir’s controversial visit to Temple Mount or Haram al Sharif was criticised by the UAE as well as Jordan.


The Biden administration wasn't as keen on Netanyahu as it had been on the Bennett-Lapid coalition, probably because of the apprehension of the former’s possible interference in the domestic politics of the US and potential resistance to the Iranian nuclear deal.This relationship strained further due to the overhaul of the judiciary by the Netanyahu government. The subsequent protests led to the postponement of the Second Negev Summit due to Moroccan concerns. The Biden administration has still tread carefully and hasn't directly criticised Israel, probably the President’s personal takeaway from the times of the Obama administration’s dealings with Netanyahu.


It is no secret that the present administration has shifted its focus to concentrating on the Indo-Pacific, and West Asia, particularly the Israel-Palestine conflict, has taken a backseat with no detailed policy decisions being drawn up to resolve the problem of Jerusalem, refugees, security, and final borders. This is in contrast to the last Government, which took the historic decision of moving the US embassy to Jerusalem; changing previous US positions on settlements, the Golan heights and also presenting a detailed plan for resolving the conflict. The Trump administration was noticed to have had a pro-Israel tilt while dealing with the Israel-Palestine issue and specifically with the question of Israel’s settlements. While the Biden administration had expressed concern regarding any unilateral efforts at annexations.


Despite the differences in approaching the Israel-Palestine issues, the present administration has shown its unwavering support for Israel against the terrorist attacks by Hamas. A strongly worded statement of support by the President coupled with the visit of Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken to Israel has come up with a deep symbolic significance. The unsympathetic reaction of the Arab states emphasises the importance the Israel-Palestine conflict holds in bringing about peace and cooperation in the region of West Asia. The Accords have so far fallen short of addressing this issue truly. One can understand the slim chances of forging people-to-people ties, but normalisation of ties at the state level would help in exploring areas of cooperation which would in turn enable both sides to engage in productive dialogue on this issue.


TACKLING THE IRANIAN QUESTION


There was a shared perception among the signing parties of the agreements, about the Iranian threat. There were worries related to the Iranian nuclear ambitions as well as the violence inflicted by its proxies in the different conflict theatres of West Asia. After the Trump administration’s unceremonious exit from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the Biden administration has been trying to get the deal back on track much to the displeasure of both Israel and Saudi Arabia; both of whom face an existential threat from Iran. One of the hopes from the Accords was to get Saudi Arabia on board, but the Saudis have been reluctant to advance talks with Israel due to the Palestinian quotient, still advocating for a solution under the Arab Peace Initiative. The normalisation with Israel and becoming a part of a US-led united front to counter Iranian influence was certainly an attractive proposition for Saudi Arabia as it had also experienced the Iranian wrath in the form of drone attacks by the Houthi rebels on its oil installations in 2019, prior to the Abraham Accords. On 10th March, this year, another region-altering event came in the form of the normalisation of ties between Iran and Saudi Arabia brokered by China. The dimmed American response to the attacks on the Saudi oil installation convinced the Saudis of the waning security guarantee of the US. This came as a major setback to the West Asian policy of the Biden administration considering the ever growing rivalry with the Chinese. What is now being noticed is no longer a regional Arab-Israeli peace effort, rather an overarching theme of great power competition between the powerful states. This is manifested through the formation of the US-Israel-UAE bloc on one side and China-Iran-Saudi Arabia bloc on the other.


In this essay, we have documented the evolution of the Abraham Accords since their signing three years ago. These agreements were signed to usher in a new era of cooperation between Israel and the Arab nations. This began with the normalisation of ties, so diplomatic communication could be established, to promote transparent dialogue in resolving the issues which plagued this relationship. This agreement also opened different avenues of cooperation, which would further promote cooperation. The two major concerns which were explored above, were the Israel-Palestine conflict and the expanding influence of Iran.


The overtures of the Israeli right-wing government in expanding annexations in the parts of occupied Palestinian territory, has made both the treaty signatories, as well as the United States uneasy. The present crisis in West Asia will only harden the policy of Israel in dealing with Palestine. Iran and Saudi Arabia would maintain a united front in dealing with the Palestinian question, and this would invite other Arab nations to do the same. The strongest relationship of Israel, out of all the Arab nations, has been with the UAE. Both the nations have benefitted from cooperation in the trade sector. It is only fair to mention the India-Israel-United Arab Emirates-United States (I2U2) partnership in this regard. For the United States, this would become another arena of strategic competition with its great rivals.

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