ISRAEL & ARAB COUNTRIES
Restarting the conversation between the Israelis and Palestinians using the Clinton Parameters is a worthwhile endeavor…especially now, when it appears the strategy employed by the Trump administration seems to have faltered.
Commonly referred to as the Abraham Accords, the Trump administration worked to establish formal diplomatic relations between Israel and several Arab countries including the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan. These countries join Jordan (1994) and Egypt (1979) in normalizing relations with Israel.
This was certainly not a bad idea, but the administration’s blind spot was Palestine. The entire strategy behind the Abraham Accords seems to be built around three thoughts: 1) the notion that Palestine is so weakened and marginalized that Israel could just bypass the conflict altogether, 2) the United States could weaken Palestine even further by withdrawing all of our humanitarian funding, which Donald Trump did in 2018 when he cut over $200 million in direct aid to Palestine as well as funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), a UN body that supports over 5 million Palestinian refugees, and 3) the Sunni Arab leaders in the region are sick and tired of Palestinian leadership and, despite the suffering of the Palestinian people, are ready to do things differently.
In fact, Jared Kushner, Donald Trump’s son-in-law, former adviser, and main cheerleader behind the Abraham Accords, said as much in The Wall Street Journal when he wrote, “One of the reasons the Arab-Israeli conflict persisted for so long was the myth that it could be solved only after Israel and the Palestinians resolved their differences. That was never true. The Abraham Accords exposed the conflict as nothing more than a real-estate dispute between Israelis and Palestinians that need not hold up Israel’s relations with the broader Arab world.”
Well, not exactly, Jared – as the viscous fighting in May 2021 reminded us. Not long after the bombs, shells and missiles started raining down – which ultimately killed 248 Palestinians, including 66 children, and 12 Israelis, including 2 children – many of these Arab countries quickly condemned Israel’s role in the attacks.
It probably didn’t help that these Arab governments witnessed the Israelis attack the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, one of Islam’s most sacred sites. During their holy month of Ramadan, no less.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) Foreign Ministry issued a statement criticizing “acts of violence committed by right-wing extremist groups in the occupied East Jerusalem” and called on Israeli leadership to “assume responsibility toward de-escalation and putting an end to all aggressions and practices that perpetuate tension and hostility.” The statement ended with the UAE. urging “maximum self-restraint to avoid the region slipping into new levels of instability in a way that threatens peace.”
Bahrain and others shared similar concerns, with the Saudi Arabia Foreign Ministry condemning “in the strongest terms the Israeli occupation’s blatant assaults on the sanctity of the holy Aqsa Mosque, and on the security and safety of worshipers.” They also called on leaders around the world to “hold the Israeli occupation responsible for this escalation, and to immediately stop its escalatory actions, which violate all international norms and laws.”
An opinion piece by political science lecturer Talal Bannan, published in the Saudi newspaper Okaz, went way further, calling Israel a “racist, hateful entity” that exists only “through aggression, racism and raping of land.” Bannan went on to say that any Arab country that enters into an agreement with Israel “acquiesces to Israel’s aggressive behavior.” This wouldn’t seem like a big deal except that nothing gets printed in Saudi Arabia without the approval of the highest leaders in the kingdom.
So, what exactly are these Abraham Accords and where do they stand? It all started with the United Arab Emirates. Although Israel and the UAE had been secretly doing business together for years, the fact that both countries formally acknowledged the relationship marked a historic shift in Middle East geopolitics.
For one, it put Iran and all its buddies – Syria, Yemen, Turkey, Hezbollah, Hamas, Iraqi militias, ISIS and other terror organizations – on notice. While economic and safety issues helped propel the agreements between Israel and Arab countries, joining together to face down Iran was on the top of the list.
Unsurprisingly, the Palestinian Authority – believing these new relationships give Israel the advantages of peace without them having to deal with the Israeli/Palestinian standoff – condemned the UAE agreement as a betrayal.
But that’s unfair. In truth, the UAE refused to enter into the agreement without a concession from Israel that it would suspend the annexation of parts of the West Bank. This is a huge deal because annexation would kill any chance of a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians.
This seems like positive progress, but there are two things we need to watch very carefully. The first involves something that should come as no surprise: Weapons. As the normalization negotiations with the UAE progressed, the Trump administration simultaneously worked on a plan to sell them F-35 stealth fighters as well as MQ-9B Reaper drones, munitions, and possibly an EA-18G Growler, which is an electronic warfare plane.
These types of parallel agreements are nothing new. Egypt received advanced weaponry from the United States after President Anwar Sadat made peace with Israel, and Jordan received F-16s after King Hussein did the same. But for some reason, this particular one feels a bit shady, almost like a bribe.
Eventually, Congress had to get involved because, per American law, the United States cannot sell weapons to countries that can weaken Israel’s military dominance in the Middle East. Nevertheless, Congress was ready to sign on the dotted line and, even though Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu strongly denies giving his blessing for the weapons sale, several people involved confirmed that he did.
In the end, however, it wasn’t Congress that stopped the $23 billion arms sale to the United Arab Emirates, it was a lawsuit filed against the State Department by a nonprofit think tank. The lawsuit alleged that the sale violated the Administrative Procedure Act, which requires that notices be publicly published so the public has a chance to comment.
The second thing to watch for are the unintended consequences that will surely arise from these agreements. #TheButterflyEffect
For example, to entice Morocco to come aboard, the Trump administration agreed to formally recognize Morocco’s annexation of Western Sahara, something that has been widely rejected by the United Nations, the World Court, and practically everyone else in the world because Morocco gained the territory of Western Sahara by force, which is a violation of international law.
In fact, the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), who Morocco took the land from, currently governs around one-quarter of Western Saharan territory and around 40 percent of the population and is recognized as an independent state by most countries and is a full member state of the African Union.
Since the land grab in 1975, the United States has never recognized Morocco’s claim as legitimate, sticking to our commitment to self-determination. That all changed when the Trump administration formally recognized Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara, thereby condoning the takeover of one legally recognized African state by another.
There are several problems with this. For one, it sets a terrible precedent and could embolden other countries to attempt territorial expansion by force.
Also, this acknowledgment will surely complicate our relations with Algeria, an important U.S. strategic partner. Algeria fully supports Western Sahara’s right to self-determination, and most of the population that the SADR governs live in refugee camps in western Algeria.
Finally, this move may eventually instigate violence in North Africa, ignited by a conflict between Morocco and Algeria. Plus, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and other terrorist groups will unquestionably try their best to exploit the growing tensions in the region.