President Donald J. Trump, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bahrain Dr. Abdullatif bin Rashid Al-Zayani, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Minister of Foreign Affairs for the United Arab Emirates Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan participate in the signing of the Abraham Accords Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020, on the South Lawn of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)
From a virtual Policy Forum of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy on Sep. 14, 2020.
The Abraham Accords are a turning point in the Middle East. The UAE has become an important power not just in the Persian Gulf, but around the Horn of Africa. Israel touches on the same geographic region, creating many areas for cooperation. Both countries can use their alliance with the United States to shape responses to the Iranian threat. The Emiratis are very enthusiastic about the breakthrough, which Israel can surely appreciate as previous peace partners did not feel the same way. In turn, Israel will advocate for their peace partners in Washington, as they did with the Jordanians.
The Abraham Accords create new possible security structures for the Middle East in the future. Israel is currently in a position similar to that of Europe at the end of World War II, when the United States was planning to pull out and Russia would fill the vacuum. In response, the United States created NATO. Security structures are very important in light of changes in the region, and partners can help design a different Middle East based on stable players. Israel has a legitimate argument about its qualitative military edge, but it is not against the Emiratis. If Israel suddenly decides to go easy on QME, the ultimate effect will be on other Arab states who are not at peace with Israel and would try to exploit such a QME pullback.
In terms of the Palestinians, the key is whether they are ready to consider reasonable proposals. President Mahmoud Abbas was not ripe for a deal toward the end of the Obama years, and the same situation holds today. Since the time of Israeli strategist Yigal Allon, it has been widely accepted that certain portions of the West Bank would be retained by Israel and certain territories would be returned. When Israel accepted the Trump peace plan, it accepted the territorial divisions in the proposal as being relevant for the future. Israel has the opportunity to work with Arab state partners on how to use normalization to impact the territorial configuration in a peace settlement with the Palestinians.
For instance, Palestinians need an arrangement to increase their gross national product; perhaps the new regional partnerships could facilitate routes for trucking and trains from Haifa to the West Bank to Jordan to the Gulf. The Palestinians would financially benefit as conduits for trade. It is important to consider how peace between Israel and Arab states can interact to create better outcomes for the region.