Geo-politics & the Abraham Accord of 2020

Politics in Middle East is making great strides. On the one hand, there is consolidation of an alliance between the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Israel and the USA. On the other side the alliance between Turkey, Qatar & Iran is also shaping up. The protracted conflicts in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen have a lot to do with their strategic rivalry. China and Russia are more favourably disposed towards the later grouping.

A stark manifestation of this alliance formation came to the fore when the UAE decided to normalise diplomatic relations with Israel. Until now, UAE and some other Muslim countries had maintained a clandestine relationship with Israel as a counterweight to Iran. But on 13th August 2020, Israel and the UAE signed a US mediated ‘peace agreement’ (Abraham Accord). Under the ‘peace deal’, Israel and the UAE will establish full diplomatic relations. With this, UAE becomes the third Arab state, besides Egypt and Jordan, to fully recognise Israel since its founding in 1948. As part of the deal, Israel agrees to suspend plans for the annexation of the West Bank. But Israeli Prime Minister Mr. Netanyahu made it clear that they have delayed West Bank annexation but the plan remains “on the table”.

The ruling elite in UAE & Saudi Arabia are trying to sell the agreement as a winwin deal for the region because of Israel postponing illegal constructions in the West Bank. Initially there’s no official response from the Saudi government but the hashtag “Normalisation is Treason” started trending in the region, particularly among young Saudi activists. Thereafter, on August 19, Saudi Foreign Minister said that the deal could be seen as positive, but his country will not normalize relations until peace is signed with the Palestinians. But political analysts believe that the deal enjoys a strong backing from the Saudi side.

There’s some opposition to the deal in Israel, especially among the pro-settlement camp. Regionally, it might lead to a multiplier effect with many other Arab countries like Oman and Bahrain potentially normalizing the ties with Israel in future. In a televised address Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: “I have always believed we could establish peace with the Arab world, and I’ve been working toward that lofty goal for decades…. You may not know it, but I’ve been doing it all the time, in meetings that are publicized and in many that are not, in Washington, in the Middle East, in daylight and in night-time. In recent years under my leadership, Israel has made advancement in ties with Sudan, Oman, Bahrain, and other nations in the Gulf.” In return for the deal the Arab states are expecting state-of the art weaponry from the West particularly the US. But strategic analysts like Prof. Asmer Beg of Aligarh Muslim University believe that the state of Israel would prevent such advances tooth & nail. The Jewish state would never like its Arab neighbours challenging its hegemony in any future confrontation.

The timing of the deal is also important. US President Donald Trump called the accord “historic” and a breakthrough toward peace. He further said: “Now that the ice has been broken I expect more Arab and Muslim countries will follow the United Arab Emirates”. Trump administration is facing multiple crises in US like mishandling of the Coronavirus, slowing down of the economy, rising unemployment, etc. Thousands of Israelis are also protesting against Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel. They want him to step down for the Coronavirus crisis and the pending corruption charges. The victory of Joe Biden, a Democratic Presidential candidate, in November elections could reset US engagement with Iran. He had previously said: “What Iran is doing is dangerous, but still reversible. If Iran moves back into compliance with its nuclear obligations, I would re-enter the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action as a starting point to work alongside our allies in Europe and other world powers to extend the deal’s nuclear constraints”.

The changing scenario is emblematic of the transforming dynamic between the Gulf States and the Israel. These developments might almost amount to the abandonment of the Palestinian cause, increasingly making the two-state solution redundant. This might pave the way for further violence in the region. The gulf monarchies enjoy precarious support from the masses, a situation that has worsened due to economic stagnation during the pandemic. The potential backlash from the Arab street can increase political instability in the region. Resumption of construction of illegal settlements can change the public mood in the region and make any alliance with Israel difficult for these gulf Arab states. A just and acceptable two state solution would be better for long term peace and stability in the region.

The writers teach Political Science at GDC Women Anantnag