German facilitation of the first meeting between the Israeli and Emirati foreign ministers on October 6 is a welcome change in the European attitude toward the Abraham Accords, which are viewed very differently in Europe than in the Middle East. In the region, supporters and antagonists alike view the accords between and the as a meaningful development that revises the rules of engagement for and .
However, in Europe, the agreement is often downplayed as being yet another PR stunt designed for the mutual electoral interests ofand US President Donald Trump. Others dismiss this step as symbolic — a mere formalization of the relations that have existed below the surface between the parties for years now.
The UAE’s Deal With Israel Is a Sham
Improving US election on November 3 are among the main motivations behind this initiative. Nevertheless, they do not reduce the potential impact of the accords as a challenge to the status quo.’s declining approval ratings and boosting Trump’s image as a statesman before the
The Abraham Accords set in motion new regional dynamics at a time of new regional needs. The lesson learned from previous rounds of conflict and peace in the Middle East — from Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem in 1977 toAriel Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount in 2000 — is that when the timing is right, symbolic steps can become the catalyst for major political developments.
The accords break a long-standing taboo in Arab Peace Initiative of 2002 — was that normalization would be granted to in return for making meaningful political compromises vis-à-vis the .. The prevailing formula — as outlined by the
The accords have shattered this formula, as they replace the equation of “peace for land” with the-coined “peace for peace” approach, in which normalization is given almost unconditionally. Moreover, the accords reframe the role of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict within the framework of Arab-Israeli relations.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been downgraded to yet another topic alongside other standing issues. The need to counter Iran’s regional ambitions or utilize economic opportunities have all become alternative frames of reference to Israeli-Arab relations. Prevention of annexation notwithstanding, Israeli policies in the occupiedhave hardly served as main motives for the and to normalize relations with . This process of disassociating Arab-Israeli relations from the conflict may create a domino effect, in which other that are not involved in direct confrontation with will follow suit.
Shifting Regional Priorities
The potential of the Abraham Accords to change regional realities relies on its extraordinary timing. As the COVID-19 crisis takes its toll, national priorities — from Khartoum to Kuwait City — are partially shifting from traditional political considerations to urgent economic needs. The decline in oil prices and the expected decline in growth of more than 7% in Gulf Cooperation Council countries in 2020 have turned general goals such as diversifying the Gulf economies and utilizing new global business opportunities into immediate necessities.
In this nexus, normalization withprovides an undeniable opportunity. ’s status as a leading hi-tech hub presents a viable platform for joint cooperation in multiple fields, from agriculture to health. For other regional actors, such as Sudan, US endorsement of the normalization process offers the opportunity to mend relations in the hope of lifting sanctions and receiving financial aid.
From an international perspective, the potential of the accords to influence the– political stalemate remains a key question. On the one hand, the accords serve as yet another disincentive for to reengage with the Palestinian issue. They demonstrate that Israel’s acceptance in the region does not necessitate paying the price of tough compromises on the Palestinian front.
The Israeli public’s sense of urgency for dealing with topics such as theor settlements in the occupied will decrease even further, as the accords enhance the comfortable illusion that the events shaping Israel’s future in the Middle East are taking place in Abu Dhabi and Muscat instead of in Gaza and Kalandia.
Nevertheless, the accords reintroduced the terms “peace” and “normalization” into Israeli public discourse after a decade of absence. The violence affiliated with the Arab Spring in 2011 enhanced the country as a “villa in the jungle.” These events had turned their perception of normalization with from a token concern into an outdated distraction. Now, and for the first time in decades, public polls indicate a change in the public mindset regarding normalization, both on the political and economic levels, reinstating it as a matter of value.’ self-perception of their
Reengage With the Palestinian Issue
The Abraham Accords invite European leaders to rethink their policy approach regarding the Arab-conflict. In the last two decades, the European Union’s approach has been to compartmentalize between the and from the regional context and focus on bilateral relations. The accords offer new opportunities to leverage the broader regional context as a basis to reengage with the core conflict.
Europe’s involvement in enhancing’s regional normalization is not a withdrawal from the two-state solution. On the contrary, it should become a factor in reconnecting the normalization process with efforts to influence Israeli policies in the occupied and Gaza. The converging interests between the moderate regional forces and Europe have already been demonstrated in the campaign against annexation.
At present, leveraging the accords to constructively influence theconflict sounds highly unlikely, as the actors involved either aim to cement the separation between the topics ( ) or under-prioritize the need to engage with it (Trump). Nevertheless, possible changes to the political leadership in the near future in , the United States and the Authority — combined with growing public pressure on the normalizing countries to address the issue — might present an opportunity to harness regional influence to impact policies.
Instead of observing from afar, Europe should be at the forefront of the effort to promote this regional dynamic as a conciliatory vector. After all, who can speak better for regionalism as a basis for peace than the EU?
*[This article was originally published by the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), which advises the German government and Bundestag on all questions relating to foreign and security policy.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.
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