The Abraham Accords are bilateral agreements on Arab–Israeli normalization signed between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Israel and Bahrain on September 15, 2020.[1][2] Mediated by the United States, the announcement of August 13, 2020, concerned Israel and the United Arab Emirates before the subsequent announcement of an agreement between Israel and Bahrain on September 11, 2020. On September 15, 2020, the signing of the agreements was hosted by U.S. president Trump on the Truman Balcony of the White House amid elaborate staging intended to evoke the signings of historic formal peace treaties in prior administrations.[3][4][5]

Abraham Accords
Representatives (left-to-right):
TypeNormalization treaty
ContextArab–Israeli conflict
SignedSeptember 15, 2020
LocationWashington, D.C., United States
Negotiators United States
Signatories Israel
September 15, 2020:December 22, 2020:January 6, 2021:
Languages
  • English
  • Arabic
  • Hebrew

As part of the two agreements, both the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain recognized Israel's sovereignty, enabling the establishment of full diplomatic relations. Israel's initial agreement with the United Arab Emirates marked the first instance of Israel establishing diplomatic relations with an Arab country since 1994, when the Israel–Jordan peace treaty came into effect.[6] The agreements were named "Abraham Accords" to highlight the common belief of Judaism and Islam in the prophet Abraham.[7][8]

On October 23, 2020, Israel and Sudan agreed to normalize ties; the agreement is unratified as of 2024.[9] As part of the agreement, the U.S. removed Sudan from its list of state sponsors of terrorism and giving it a US$1.2 billion loan.[10] On January 6, 2021, the government of Sudan signed the "Abraham Accords Declaration" in Khartoum.[11] On December 22, 2020, the Israel–Morocco normalization agreement was signed. In exchange for Morocco's recognition of Israeli sovereignty, the United States recognized Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara.[12]

Background

The Israeli–Palestinian peace process was advanced with the Oslo Accords in 1993 and 1995 but later collapsed with the start of the Second Intifada and the ending of committed peace broker Bill Clinton's term as U.S. president. Israel increased settlement construction in the West Bank and withdrew from Gaza in 2005. After Hamas came to power in Gaza in the 2006 election,[13] Israel began to tighten the Gaza blockade, with Egypt's assistance from 2008 onward.[14] A rapprochement between Israel and Sunni Arab states took place in the 2010s due to their shared fear of Shiite Iran and its nuclear program. By 2017, unofficial cooperation with Saudi Arabia had been ongoing for at least 5 years, with intelligence services from both countries assisting each other and officials regularly sharing intelligence.[15] By 2016, summits and conferences between high-ranking Israeli—Palestinian and Israeli—Arab politicians and direct contacts between their security and intelligence services had not only become routine but were openly discussed in major Arab media.[16]

In 2018, the Omani foreign minister visited Jerusalem, and Netanyahu, accompanied by his national security advisor and the head of Mossad, visited Oman in October "to advance the peace process in the Middle East as well as several matters of joint interest regarding the achievement of peace and stability in the Middle East", according to a joint statement.[17] Also in October 2018, the Israeli sports minister attended the 2018 Judo Grand Slam Abu Dhabi.[17] Two Israeli judokas won gold medals, and Israel's national anthem was played during the award ceremonies, a first at Gulf state sporting events.[18] In August 2019, Israel's foreign minister announced military cooperation with the UAE amidst rising tensions with Iran.[19]

The February 2019 Warsaw Conference was proposed by the U.S. with the intent to build up a coalition against Iran. Due to West European states opposing withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal and resumption of economic sanctions against Iran, host Poland played down the anti-Iranian aspects of the two-day conference, and the closing Polish-U.S. statement did not mention Iran.[20][21] Among the representatives of the 70 nations in attendance were a number of Arab officials, creating the first situation since the Madrid Peace Conference in 1991 where an Israeli leader and senior Arab officials were all in attendance at the same international conference focused on the Middle East. The Madrid Conference at the time set the stage for the Oslo Accords. Among those with whom Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met was the Omani Foreign Minister Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah—whose country he had visited in October 2018. Two days after Netanyahu's visit at the time, bin Alawi suggested while at a conference in Bahrain that it was time for Israel to be treated like the other states in the Middle East, and the officials of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia did not disagree.[22]

In January 2020, Trump announced the Trump peace plan for the Middle East in a joint press conference with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The plan provided for a unified Jerusalem as Israel's capital and Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and the principal Jewish settlements in the West Bank, amounting to annexation of roughly 30% of the territory. The Palestinians would get some desert areas near the Egyptian border, limited sovereignty, and a non-contiguous state with numerous Israeli enclaves.[23][24][25] The New York Times wrote that "[r]ather than viewing it as a serious blueprint for peace, analysts called it a political document by a president in the middle of an impeachment trial working in tandem with Mr. Netanyahu, a prime minister under criminal indictment who is about to face his third election in a year".[26]

History

Agreements between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain

 
Signatory nations of the September 15, 2020 agreements
  Israel

When Netanyahu took office in May 2020, he hinted that his cabinet would begin discussing annexation of parts of the West Bank, as envisioned in the Trump peace plan, in July.[27][28][25] On June 12, 2020, Emirati ambassador to the U.S. Yousef Al Otaiba authored an op-ed addressed to the Israeli public that was published on the front page of Yedioth Ahronoth. He warned that Israel's planned annexation of West Bank territory would put a stop to any normalization of relations with the UAE and other Arab states.[29][30]

At the end of June, Al Otaiba told Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, and his assistant, Avi Berkowitz, that the United Arab Emirates "would agree to normalization with Israel in return for an Israeli announcement that West Bank annexation was off the table". The White House also had reservations about annexation, which Berkowitz had discussed with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over three days of meetings in June 2020. Berkowitz then told Netanyahu of Al Otaiba's offer of the UAE alternative to annexation.[31] On July 2, 2020, Al Otaiba met with Berkowitz to further discuss the plan.[32] Along with a mutual opposition to Iran, the concerns detailed by Al Otaiba's op-ed and planning with Kushner and Berkowitz helped bring vested parties to the negotiating table to identify an alternative solution that ultimately resulted in a normalization agreement reached in August 2020.[32][2] As a result of the deal, annexation was postponed.[31]

Hours after the August 13 announcement of the agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, senior Bahraini officials called Kushner and Berkowitz with the message "We want to be next.”[33] Over the next 29 days, Kushner and Berkowitz negotiated with and traveled to Bahrain before closing the deal on September 11, 2020, in a call between Trump, Netanyahu, and the king of Bahrain.[33]

Israeli prime minister Netanyahu, Emirati foreign minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and Bahraini foreign minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani signed the agreements on September 15, 2020, on the Truman Balcony overlooking the South Lawn of the White House. The elaborate ceremony was staged to suggest the grandeur of significant treaties of the past. According to the Washington Post, Trump's political backers saw the staging as a way to bolster Trump's "standing as a statesman".[4][6][34][3][31]

Developments after Israel-Hamas War

On November 2, 2023, in view of the ongoing Israel–Hamas war, Bahrain said that it had recalled its ambassador to Israel and that the Israeli ambassador had left Bahrain. Israel said that its relations with Bahrain were stable.[35]

Sudan

On October 23, 2020, Israel and Sudan agreed to normalize ties in an agreement mediated by Trump administration officials.[36] As part of the agreement, the U.S. removed Sudan from its list of state sponsors of terrorism and gave it a US$1.2 billion loan to help the Sudanese government clear the country's debts to the World Bank.[11][10] Sudan agreed to pay US$335 million in compensation to American victims of terror, but denied any wrongdoing.[37] On January 6, 2021, the government of Sudan signed the "Abraham Accords Declaration" in Khartoum.[11]

On February 2, 2023, Israel and Sudan announced they had finalized an agreement to normalize relations, with the signing to take place after the establishment of a civilian government in Sudan.[38] Normalization is widely opposed in Sudan, and fighting between rival military factions has delayed the signing.[9]

Agreement between Israel and Morocco

On December 10, 2020, President Trump announced that Israel and the Kingdom of Morocco had agreed to establish full diplomatic relations.[39] The agreement was negotiated by Trump senior adviser Jared Kushner and Middle East envoy Avi Berkowitz and marked Kushner and Berkowitz's fourth normalization agreement in as many months.[40] As a component of the deal, the United States agreed to recognize Moroccan sovereignty over the Western Sahara.[41]

Documents

 
Abraham Accords Declaration

The documents related to the Abraham Accords are as follows:

Name Official name Date Signatories Full text
Declaration The Abraham Accords Declaration 15 September 2020 United States, Israel, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain [42]
Israel–UAE Agreement Abraham Accords Peace Agreement: Treaty of Peace, Diplomatic Relations and Full Normalization Between the United Arab Emirates and the State of Israel 15 September 2020 Israel, United Arab Emirates, United States (witness) [43]
Bahrain–Israel Agreement Abraham Accords: Declaration of Peace, Cooperation, and Constructive Diplomatic and Friendly Relations 15 September 2020 Bahrain, Israel, United States (witness) [44]

Aftermath

Protests and violence

After Trump left office, in February 2021, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said that "the United States will continue to urge other countries to normalize relations with Israel" and that normalization is "not a substitute for Israeli-Palestinian peace... We hope that Israel and other countries in the region join together in a common effort to build bridges and... contribute to tangible progress towards the goal of advancing a negotiated peace between Israelis and Palestinians."[45] Axios reported in March 2021 that the Biden administration supports widening the normalization process to other countries and that it prefers the term "normalization process" to "Abraham Accords".[46][47] In March 2021, a group of 18 U.S. senators introduced a bill to aid the State Department in developing an appropriate strategy “to strengthen and expand the Abraham Accords and other related normalization agreements with Israel.”[48]

The normalization agreements were critized by citizens of the four Arab states that signed the accords as well as many citizens of other Arab countries, especially because they failed to make progress resolving the Palestinian conflict. The criticism increased in May 2021 after violent protests erupted in Jerusalem, Hamas fired rockets into Israel, and Israel retaliated with airstrikes on Gaza.[49][50] A Fatah Central Committee member said the Abraham Accords, were "one of the reasons" for the October 7, 2023, attack by Hamas on Israel.[51]

United Arab Emirates (UAE)

In August 2020, the UAE for the first time established telephone links to Israel by unblocking direct dialing to Israel's +972 country code.[52]

A 2021 paper analyzing the UAE-Israel normalization argues that it results from pressures at the domestic and systemic levels, but the dynamics at play in the Middle East regional security complex[clarification needed] are ultimately more important factors in explaining normalization.[53]

Morocco

In August 2021, the agreement was cited by Algeria as one of the reasons for unilaterally cutting relations with Morocco.[54]

In November 2021, the Israeli minister of defense, Benny Gantz, signed a joint security understandings agreement with Moroccan defense minister Abdellatif Loudiyi, the first time that Israel openly signed such an agreement openly with an Arab state. The agreement formalized the defense ties between the two countries, allowing for smoother cooperation between their defense establishments.[55]

Oman

Oman postponed a decision to normalize ties with Israel until after the U.S. presidential election on November 3, 2020.[56] In February 2021, Foreign Minister Badr al-Busaidi said that Oman would keep their level of "relations and dialogue" with Israel, involving the "appropriate channels of communication", and that Oman was "committed to peace between Israel and the Palestinians based on a two-state solution."[57]

Abraham Fund

The Abraham Fund was a program established by the U.S. Government that was supposed to raise $3 billion to boost trade and agriculture in the region, facilitate access to clean water and affordable electricity, and "enable strategic infrastructure projects".[58][59] The fund was to be overseen by the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation. Its first projects were reported to be the upgrading of checkpoints between Israel and Palestinian territories and a gas pipeline to be built between the Red Sea and the Mediterranean. Despite numerous visits by Kushner and U.S. secretary of the treasury Steven Mnuchin with rulers in the region in the last months of the Trump presidency, the fund never received any money, and no projects were ever begun.[60] Following the transition to the Biden administration and the resignation of its Trump-appointed manager, the future of the fund was thrown into question.[59][61]

Jordan solar power plant

In November 2021, Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and Jordan signed a letter of intent for the sale of 600 MW of electricity to Israel annually, produced by solar farms in Jordan to be built by the UAE government-owned Masdar, while Israel would sell 200 million cubic meters of desalinated water to Jordan each year.[62] A renewed memorandum of understanding was signed in November 2022.[63] The purchase agreements were scheduled to be signed in November 2023 at the COP28 climate change conference in Dubai but were removed from the agenda because of the Israel–Hamas war.[64]

Expansion to non-Arab Muslim-majority states

As of March 2023, Israeli foreign minister Eli Cohen and U.S. State Department officials were reportedly working on normalizing Israel's relations with Indonesia, Niger, Mauritania, and Somalia.[65]

In June 2023, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned Israel that rising tensions with the Palestinians, including through advancing settlement activity, threatened the expansion of normalization agreements with Arab nations, particularly Saudi Arabia. Speaking alongside Blinken earlier in June, the Saudi Foreign Minister had stated that "without finding a pathway to peace for the Palestinian people ... any normalization will have limited benefits."[66]

Economic impact

 
Israeli President Isaac Herzog with UAE's President Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan in Abu Dhabi, January 2022

While Israel and the UAE had long-maintained de facto recognition in areas of business including the diamond trade,[67] and high tech industries including artificial intelligence[68] and defense,[69] the accord opened the door to a much wider range of economic cooperation, including formal investments. In November 2021, OurCrowd Arabia became the first Israeli venture capital firm to receive a license from the Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM),[70] and in November 2022, OurCrowd launched Integrated Data Intelligence Ltd. (IDI), offering artificial intelligence for business, in Abu Dhabi as part of a $60 million joint investment with the Abu Dhabi Investment Office.[71] Together with OurCrowd, in November 2022, fintech company Liquidity Group opened an office as part of a $545 million government incentive program.[72]

A host of Israeli and UAE law enterprises including law firms and healthcare providers announced collaborations.[73][74][75] Lishot, an Israeli water quality testing company was among the first Israeli firms making direct deliveries to Dubai.[76] A number of kosher restaurants were opened in the UAE to cater to Jewish visitors.[77] Abu Dhabi Investment Office opened its first overseas branch in Israel.[78] UAE businesses and individuals began acquiring stakes in Israeli assets, such as Beitar Jerusalem football team,[79] Haifa Port Company,[80] and Israir Airlines.[81]

According to Israel's Ministry of Defense, the value of Israeli defense exports to countries with which it normalized relations in 2020 reached $791 million.[82]

Trump's envoy Jared Kushner, his Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, and his Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, now have ownership stakes in funds receiving billions of dollars of investments directly from the governments of Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Qatar, raising complaints about conflicts of interest.[51][83]

Environmental impact

On 14 August 2021, the Associated Press reported that a secret oil deal between Israel and the United Arab Emirates struck in 2020 as part of the Abraham Accords, has turned the Israeli resort town of Eilat into a waypoint for Emirati oil headed for Western markets. It was expected to endanger the Red Sea reefs, which host some of the greatest coral diversity on the planet. As Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia also share the gulf's waters, an ecological disaster was likely to impact their ecosystems.[84]

Collaborative efforts

In mid-December 2020, a delegation from the UAE and Bahrain visited Israel, the occupied Golan Heights and Jerusalem with the aim of cultural exchange as part of the normalization process. The delegations held a meeting with Israel President Reuven Rivlin.[85] In January 2021, a collaborative event was organized by Tel Aviv International Salon, Sharaka, and OurCrowd to attain the 'business of peace' between Persian Gulf countries and the state of Israel.[86][87]

From March 23–25, 2021, a virtual hackathon event was organized by Israel-is, which gathered participants from the UAE, Bahrain, and Morocco, as well as Israel.[88] Then on 27 March 2021, an event was organized to commemorate International Holocaust Memorial Day, which again saw participation from the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco, as well as Saudi Arabia.[89][90]

March 2021 also saw the Israel and UAE national rugby teams play their first-ever match, in honor of the Abraham Accords.[91] In June 2021, influencers from UAE, Bahrain, Morocco, and Egypt visited Magen David Adom, Israel's ambulance service, focused on Magen David Adom's "lifesaving work and its technological expertise". The visit was filmed for "Finding Abraham", a film that was premiered at the UN on the anniversary of the signing of the Abraham Accords in September 2021.[92]

Opinion polling

Surveys show that in Arab countries that have signed normalization agreements with Israel, the majority of citizens view the Abraham Accords negatively.[93]

In November 2022, 76% of Saudi respondents said they had negative views of the Abraham Accords.[94] According to the poll conducted by The Washington Institute for Near East Policy between 14 November and 6 December 2023, 96% of Saudi participants believed that Arab nations should cut ties with Israel, and only 16% of Saudis said Hamas should accept a two-state solution.[95]

See also

References

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