Arab-Israeli Relations on the Eve of the U.S. Election

Arab-Israeli Relations on the Eve of the U.S. Election

Event Information


The Middle East Policy Council held its 102nd Capitol Hill Conference on Friday, October 23rd: “Arab-Israeli Relations on the Eve of the U.S. Election.” The event was virtual and held through Zoom due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The panelists discussed recent Bahraini-UAE normalization agreements with Israel, what these mean for regional relationships and U.S. policy choices, and how these new dynamics impact internal Israeli and Palestinian political calculations as well as the ongoing quest for Palestinian civil rights.

Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley (former U.S. Ambassador to Malta; Vice Chair of the Board of Directors, Middle East Policy Council) moderated the event and Thomas R. Mattair (Executive Director, Middle East Policy Council) was the discussant. The panelists were Lucy Kurtzer-Ellenbogen (Director, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Program, U.S. Institute of Peace); Bashar Azzeh (Founding Board Member, Tatweer Investment Group); Shira Efron (Senior Fellow, Institute for National Security Studies); and Brian Katulis (Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress).

Ms. Kurtzer-Ellenbogen viewed the recent normalization agreements as an indication that relations between Israel and the Arab states were increasingly divorced from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She views these agreements as simply states pursuing their own interests, with Israel, Bahrain and the UAE further unified of late by their opposition to Iran and the idea that the U.S. is an increasingly unreliable partner. While she noted there is nothing in these agreements addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict substantively, they do slow the pace of annexation and allow all three states to hedge on who will lead the next U.S. presidential administration.

Mr. Azzeh reflected on the internal aspects of Palestinian politics today and how these dynamics hold the key to the next phase of negotiations around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Generally, he views these agreements as confirming the shift from a broader Arab-Israeli conflict to a more localized Palestinian-Israeli one that ultimately must be resolved through direct negotiations between the two parties. Reaching this point requires addressing the “elephant in the room” on the Palestinian side: the political fracture between Fatah and Hamas. In this moment of waiting for the result of the U.S. presidential election, he suggested that Palestinians must unify politically as well as resolve the tension between Islamism and democracy that this political rift implies.

Dr. Efron shared that while the reaction of politicians to the recent Abraham Accords was cautiously positive, the news barely registered with an Israeli public consumed by the Covid-19 pandemic. She explained further that even without the pandemic, the occupation is a non-issue for most Israelis unless there is violence in-country. Also, many Israeli businesses have had commercial ties to the Gulf for a while now, further muting the significance of the announcement. In the longer term, she does not believe that the Abraham Accords can serve as “terms of reference” for a settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as they are overly convenient to the Israeli side and fail to seriously address any of the most complicated components of the dispute.

Mr. Katulis described a Middle East where state stability has weakened over the past 20 years due to U.S. policy choices like the Iraq War but also ongoing tensions around Shia and Sunni affiliation, political Islam, and democracy. He advocated for the U.S. to engage in more inclusive diplomacy: working with a new generation of leaders in the region; pushing allies to use their leverage on the Israeli front; and doing more to de-escalate tensions in the Gulf. Most importantly, he believes the U.S. should be focused on steady progress defined by achievable “wins” while remaining engaged enough in the region to avoid having local problems spill out into the international system.

The full video from the event is available on the Middle East Policy Council website. A full transcript from the event will be posted in a few days at and published in the next issue of the journal Middle East Policy. For members of the media interested in contacting these speakers or other members of the Middle East Policy Council’s leadership, please email

Event Speakers

Ms. Lucy Kurtzer-Ellenbogen

Director, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Program, U.S. Institute of Peace


Mr. Bashar Azzeh

Founding Board Member, Tatweer Investment Group

Member, PLO Palestine National Council


Dr. Shira Efron

Senior Fellow, Institute for National Security Studies

Special Advisor on Israel, RAND Corporation


Mr. Brian Katulis

Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress



Amb. (ret.) Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley

Vice Chair, Middle East Policy Council Board of Directors

Former Ambassador to Malta



Amb. (ret.) Richard J. Schmierer

Chairman of the Board and President, Middle East Policy Council

Former Ambassador to the Sultanate of Oman



Dr. Thomas R. Mattair

Executive Director, Middle East Policy Council

  • 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.

Scroll to Top