Abraham Accord is also known as the Abraham Accords Peace Agreement. It is Trump-facilitated agreement between Israel and two Gulf countries from the Middle East, namely, Bahrain and United Arab Emirates (UAE). Abraham Accord is said to be the real game changer because it points to the fact that “peace” in the Middle East, that was the centre of the Abrahamic faiths, is no achievable. An interesting element of the deal is that the mediator between the countries is none other than United States; the Accord was signed on Tuesday, 15th September 2020, at the White House. The Accord signals a strategic shift in the Middle East politics. It is the first Arab-Israeli peace deal in 26 years. It is not a peace treaty because Israel has not been at war with either of the two Gulf Arab states. In fact, for years now, it has quietly been conducting trade and backroom diplomacy with both. However, “normalized relations” which the accord establishes, mark a huge step forward to the creation of embassies, commercial air routes, tourism, security and intelligence ties, and access to Israel’s high-technology products and marketplace. There were the only two peace deals between Israel and the Arab States in more than a quarter of a century; Egypt was the first Arab State to sign a peace deal with Israel in 1979. Later, Jordan signed a peace pact in 1994.
The Abraham Accord was signed between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister of the United Arab Emirates Abdullah bin Zayed and Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al Zayani. The Arab Accord despite being an essentially bilateral agreements with Israel does not mention the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Prime Minister Netanyahu described the accord as a “pivot of history”, foreshadowing a new dawn. “For thousands of years the Jewish people have prayed for peace. For decades, the Jewish state has prayed for peace and this is why today we are filled with such profound gratitude,” he said.
The three countries “recognize the importance of maintaining and strengthening peace in the Middle East and around the world based on mutual understanding and coexistence, as well as respect for human dignity and freedom, including religious freedom”, states the Abraham Accords Declaration. In the meantime, since Unites States is the mediator the US President Donald Trump thanks the great courage of the leaders of these three countries, and that they are taking a “major stride toward a future” where people of all faiths and backgrounds, including religion, live together in “peace and prosperity. The ongoing efforts, of consolidation and expanding such friendly relations based on “shared interests and a shared commitment” to a better future, are encouraging for the Middle East.
The signing of the Accord also signals that the status quo – the existing state of affairs, particularly in regard to the social & political issues – is no longer an option, and that they must find pursue bolder initiatives for the restoration of peace and security to the region. The centre of the Abrahamic religion – Muslims, Jews, and Christians – has suffering from within and is “bleeding like a wounded heart”. Jews, Muslims and Christians across the world are now being challenged by this accord to be agents for peace. The old “misgivings and mistrusts” between the Abrahamic religions must become things of the past.
“The Abraham Accords also open the door for Muslims around the world to visit the historic sites in Israel and to peacefully pray at Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, the third holiest site in Islam,” said American President Trump. He added “together these agreements will serve as the foundation for comprehensive peace across the entire region.”
The Accord had its own significances. The agreement shows how the Arab countries are slowly dissociating themselves from the Palestine question. Palestine was among former Ottoman territories placed under UK administration by the League of Nations in 1922. All of these territories eventually became fully independent States, except Palestine; which is why Palestine finds this agreement as an instrument to pave for them to become a nation. Complete diplomatic ties will be established between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain which will have an optimistic influence on the entire region. The deal buys UAE a lot of friendliness in the US, where its image has been stained by its preoccupation in the Yemen war. In South Asia, it will put Pakistan in a predicament, whether to follow UAE’s steps which will be seen as giving up Islamic cause of Palestine, or not to follow the UAE since Pakistan is already in feud with the Saudis over not taking up the Kashmir case, it cannot afford another hostile Islamic Country. In the forthcoming presidential election in the United States, the accord may perhaps help surge support among pro-Israel Christian fervent voters, an important part of recent President’s political base. It is said that other gulf states in the region like Oman could follow suit and sign similar agreements with Israel. One of the biggest Gulf Arab powers, Saudi Arabia could follow suit as well.
There are certain areas of concerns in the Accord, 2 major concerns are – the Palestinian issue and the Shia-Sunni conflict between Saudi and Iran. The Palestinians have not embraced the USA’s vision. Majority of the Palestinians believe the normalization agreement with the UAE serves only Israel’s interests and not their own. There is a possibility that the Palestine quest may be further ignored. There are chances that the Shia-Sunni rifts in the region may get extensive and ferocious. Saudi Arabia (Sunni) and Iran (representing Shia) have had a long history of animosity. For decades, one of the main sources of uncertainty in West Asia has been the cold war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The Sunni-Shia split may also provoke violence between Muslims in places such as Pakistan, Nigeria and Indonesia.
The good old years of petroleum-based wealth are definitely over for the Gulf countries. With the sweeping fall in the oil prises and the devastating effect of the COVID-19 pandemic has had on Middle Eastern economies, change was inevitable. The new Palestinian advantage here is that this Accord has not only put a halt to the Israelis’ planned invasion of disputed territories but it is dependent upon Israel to forge a fair and reasonable resolution to ends its conflict with the Palestinians. In the meantime, Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian President, issued instructions to the Palestinians “not to make any statement or take any action that may jeopardize the accord” knowing well that any kind of uprising against this agreement will end all hopes of Palestine ever becoming a nation. There is an Iranian hurdle in the way, Iran is one of the major powers in the Middle East, and it has stated that it is firmly against the accord. Iran’s rhetoric on the Sunni-Shia divide is purely politically driven. It knows well that if gains control over the guardianship of the Islamic holy city of Mecca, it cannot only legitimize its supremacy over Muslims in the region, but also across the world. It is power, and not the spirituality of Islam that the current Iranian government aspire.
The Russian case is different, as long as the Russians can be assured that the new Middle East will not jeopardise their security, there is no real reason for them to be against the accord. And with China’s Belt and Road Initiative modelled after the ancient Silk Road that connected the East to the West, there is no real incentive for China to be working against the restoration of peace and prosperity in the region. This means that the Accord has support from Palestine, Russia and China. Both Egypt and Jordan have already established diplomatic ties with Israel. With the US, the UAE and Israel now firmly behind the accord, while Saudi Arabia has agreed to open up its airspace to Israeli flights and Bahrain joining it, the Abraham accords have the potential to become a decisive game changer for the Middle East. With more Arab nations expected to join the accord while international support for it is likely to increase over time, the road to peace for a new Middle East is finally a work on progress.
The Ministry of External Affairs in a press briefing on 18th September, welcomed US-brokered agreements between UAE, Bahrain and Israel signed in Washington for the “normalization” of sides while saying that India continues its traditional support to Palestinian cause. Welcoming the Abraham Accord, India said that it always supported peace and stability in West Asia. Meanwhile, the MEA extended its support to Palestine and said that it hoped for an early resumption of direct negotiations for an acceptable two-state solution. MEA also advises China to work for disengagement at Line of Actual Control (LAC).
With differences aside, here comes a big question mark “?”, what does India get from all this? India gets an amazing opportunity to build up 2 things: Defence and Security, & Economy and Market; India should use this unexpected opportunity to give itself a bigger role in a region. The first step should be to upgrade its defence and security relations with UAE since Israel is already a very close defence partner. And another advantage that India has is the economy and market being open up, India should grab this opportunity to stimulate its economy for a bigger opening in this region. Prominently, India can use its good offices to ensure that any future deal on a regional security framework gives acceptable space to Iran, which may be frail at the moment but not so weak that it cannot be a hugely troublesome power if it chooses so.
Way forward it is notable that a balance between Shia and Sunni, between Iran and Arab, is key to any sustainable peace. Also, the US may be a pre-eminent power in the Middle East, but Russia has made a space for itself, spending a lot less money. In recent years, China has indicated its willingness to play a larger role in this region, and is close to both UAE and Israel and, increasingly, Saudi Arabia. Now its high-time that India should make its moves before this market and this extended neighbourhood come under the Chinese sphere of influence. If played right, this deal could open the doors for a changed geopolitical arrangement in the Middle East which means that this region would have a stronger Indian footprint.
I would conclude this with a quote from Slate’s ‘War Stories’. There are misunderstandings, conflicts, wars and disagreements but “One thing is for sure: We have not yet reached the day when lambs lie down with lions. The ‘Accord’ may mark the dawn of something, but it’s still the Middle East.”
By Ifra Burhan
Kirori Mal College, University of Delhi