Israeli Press Reflects on the Impact of the Abraham Accords’ First Year

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Medlir Mema, PhD
Fellow, Middle East Policy Council


One year since the announcement of the so-called Abraham Accords, Israeli newspapers and commentators reflect on what has been achieved in the intervening time period and the remaining challenges. The Accords, a series of normalization agreements Israel signed initially with the UAE, then followed by Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco, were one of former US president Donald Trump’s most visible achievements in the Middle East. However, many remain concerned that by side-stepping the Palestinian question, the normalization agreements have only put a band-aid on the most pressing issues in the region, rather than resolved them.

Houda Ezra Ebrahim Nonoo, a former Bahrain’s ambassador to the United States, and the first Jew to be appointed an ambassador of Bahrain, writing for Israel Hayom speaks glowingly of the Accords, characterizing them as “be one of the biggest Middle East milestones in our lifetime…. These Accords represent a promise that the leaders in the region have made to build a better life with security and opportunity for all of us and for future generations still to come…. As we embark on a new era in the Bahrain – Israel relationship, it is important to remember that at the core of this agreement is the desire to create a new Middle East, one built on peace and prosperity for all.”

Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, the deputy mayor of Jerusalem and the co-founder of the UAE-Israel Business Council and the Gulf-Israel Women’s Forum, is equally optimistic about the economic benefits of the agreements, opining on the pages of Yedioth Ahronoth that “Up until now, Israel was a lone player in the region and we were not part of any regional cultural, sporting or business alliances. Our network faced west rather than to our own neighborhood, where we share much in common. This past year has changed everything…. Despite this past year being a pandemic year with lockdowns and essentially a closed airport, nearly a billion dollars in trade between Israel and the UAE will have taken place by the end of the calendar year. Nearly a quarter of a million Israeli tourists visited the UAE this past year and, by my estimation, that number will continue to grow in year two.”

Finally, Najat Al-Saied, the author of an op-ed published by Israel Hayom, praises the deal for creating conditions for what she calls “warm peace, also known as a ‘people’s peace’…. The peace process has been in a state of stalemate for many decades; accordingly, thinking outside the box is necessary to reinvigorate a stagnant pond. Most importantly, Arabs must be viewed as facilitators in resolving the conflict…  [T]he Abraham Accords are a win-win situation and each and every country that signed it will benefit from its success. In general, Israel needs the Abraham Accords countries if it is to build trust in the region, especially among the Arab Muslim public, while the Abraham Accords countries need Israel internationally, especially to reach out to the general public in the United States, in particular, the Jewish communities and their allies because of the influence they have on decision-makers.”

Many have expressed concern that a new White House administration along with regional instability may weaken the commitment to the agreements. However, in a Haaretz op-ed, Jonathan Harounoff argues that the ties between the parties remain strong: “The normalization agreement has endured – and survived – two major tests as it marks its one-year anniversary: the 11-day flare-up between Israel and Hamas in May; and a new U.S. administration following Joe Biden’s victory over Donald Trump last November…. The Trump administration offered a litany of incentives to normalize relations with Israel. Whether the Biden administration is willing to offer similar carrots to potential Arab partners remains to be seen. At the same time, diplomatic, trade and cultural relations appear to be developing independent of the United States’ input.”

And yet, not all is well. To begin with, a change of leadership at the White House and a return to a less transaction foreign policy has meant that many of Trump administration’s incentives, as Harounoff calls them, may be set aside for the time being. According to Globes’ Danny Zaken, one of those incentives that has been suspended ‘indefinitely’ is the Abraham Fund, which “was set up after the signing of the Abraham Accords between Israel, the UAE and the US in September 2020 and the signatories were meant to finance the fund along with other countries who would join later…. The business relations between Israel and the UAE are blighted by an emerging dispute with the new Israeli government and diplomatic business incidents…. Israel’s retreat from the agreement that the EAPC signed with Med-Red Land Bridge Ltd., to convey oil from the Persian Gulf to Israel for supply to Mediterranean customers, will harm economic relations between the countries and serve as a future deterrent for UAE companies.”

As Haaretz’ Alon Pink points out, the overblown promises associated with the signing of the Abraham Accords coupled with the neglect of the plight of the Palestinians, may have exacerbated the problem, rather than moved it along: “The agreement with the UAE failed to live up to Trump’s hype about the ‘deal of the century’, the Palestinian issue hasn’t faded and there’s no real Israel-Sunni alliance against Iran…. The Abraham Accords, declared exactly one year ago with much fanfare, are a far cry from the grandstanding and bombastic “deal of the century” in the Middle East that Donald Trump promised to deliver. The Palestinian issue and the reality of 13 million people living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, with a near demographic equilibrium without borders as one geopolitical unit, weren’t addressed by the accords.”

Moreover, there are those who suggest, as Sheldon Kirshner does in this Times of Israel op-ed, that the failure to make meaningful progress in the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, is slowing down cooperation in other areas despite Israel’s and its new Arab partners’ wariness about Iran’s growing influence in the region: “It remains to be seen whether Israel and the UAE will cooperate on a strategic military level, but they share a common enemy in Iran, the preeminent Shi’a power in the Middle East. The specter of Iran as a domineering bully in the region almost certainly convinced the UAE to formalize its informal relationship with Israel…. Israel still has a long way to go before it can normalize relations with Arab neighbors such as Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Syria, Iraq or Lebanon. Contrary to Netanyahu’s belief that the gnawing Palestinian problem can be shunted aside, the evidence suggests that most Arab states will remain hostile toward Israel as long as this thorny issue festers.”

In fact, Jerusalem Post’s Seth Frantzman reports that given the recent developments in the region, some Israelis worry whether the UAE and other countries may slow down the pace of economic integration and possible security integration while awaiting news from the Iranian front: “They are not just about Iran or the Brotherhood, or the economy, or the shared interests that the UAE and Israel have in relations with Greece and India, or close ties to the US, or even the Trump administration’s unorthodox policymaking. It’s a complex tree with deep roots, and no single branch or root explains everything…. while the Gulf states could seek closer ties if they see instability in the region, they could also ‘hedge their bets by minimizing open ties to Israel and their full alignment with the United States’…. This leaves many questions about the challenges and hurdles that lie ahead for the Abraham Accords.”

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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