A Peace Process in the Making

The Abraham Accords

by Lena Voelk

When Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed announced the establishment of a fund of 10 billion US dollars for joint Emirati-Israeli economic endeavours in March 2021, he aimed to foster cooperation with the State of Israel in the strategic sector, e.g., tourism and infrastructural projects. This move saw the beginning of a joint undertaking with a state that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) had not even recognised prior to the signing of the Abraham Accords in August 2020 and underlined how gravely perceptions and interactions between the two countries had changed within the past year. As the Arab-Israeli peace process reached unexpected heights, with more and more countries signing peace and trade agreements with the former enemy state Israel, geopolitics in the Middle East seem to have taken a turn for good.

The Abraham Accords constitute a new era for Middle Eastern politics as the series of peace deals signed between Israel on the one hand and the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco on the other hand show new possibilities of peaceful coexistence and cooperation in the region.

What is especially striking about these latest deals is that its driving forces considerably differ from those of the Israeli-Egyptian Peace Agreement of 1979 or the Israeli-Jordanian Peace Deal of 1994. These deals between direct neighbouring states were mainly focussed on an exchange of territory and agreement on peace and ceasefire rather than actually fostering cooperation. The Abraham Accords primarily ignore the Palestinian question and are mainly based on security issues posed by Iran as well as economic and strategic interests between the respective signatories. Nevertheless, the Abraham Accords are a step into a new future for the region’s geopolitics: While they may not necessarily forward the peace process on Israel’s home turf – as they largely ignore the Palestinian issue – they provide Israel with strategic and economic access to the Arabian Peninsula and the Persian Gulf.

Yet, some argue that the Abraham Accords could possibly become a problem in the long term and prove to be risky for state leaders of the Arab world since they were, in most states, concluded against the will of the population or, at least, without their consent due to the mostly non-democratic remiges. Thus, Sudan, for example, saw major demonstrations and public outcry after engaging in talks with Jerusalem. Having been a self-declared enemy of Israel since the establishment of the Jewish state, a shift of foreign policy this severe is hard to understand for some state leaders and citizens alike.

The shift in rhetoric may be found particularly confusing by the citizens of Arab states now warming to Israel: For decades, Israel was portrayed as the sole enemy and occupying power of what for many Arab populations constitutes a Palestinian state. When portraying an enemy, language can play an important role in marking the identity of a group from the outside. The community of Arab states had been coming together over the fight against Israel – rhetorically and militarily – for decades. In this context, the use of language can be highly political. Change and development in different policy fields are of high importance for states and their governments. However, adapting to new circumstances and the advancement of new relations and possibilities is a pervasive quality of the foreign policy. Especially in democracies, the need to discuss and justify one’s actions is high. Nevertheless, the Arab countries severe shift in policy towards Israel had to be justified in front of the international community by giving explanations in front of the international organisations. This has been witnessed and explained by political scientist like Charles Frazer Hermann: “Changes that mark a reversal or, at least, a profound redirection of a country’s foreign policy are of special interest because of the demands their adoption poses on the initiating government and its domestic constituents and because of their potentially powerful consequences for other countries.”

In conclusion, the Abraham Accords are a step in the right direction, however, it may take some time for Arab countries to change their aversive rhetoric towards Israel and in front of international organisations. Though, when exemplarily looking at the rhetoric of the UAE towards their former enemy state one can see how it slowly became more respectful over the years. Therefore, if the current respectful tone of diplomatic conduct of the UAE towards Israel continues, the groundwork for possible cooperation between the states could act as an incentive for other Arab states to try and delve into diplomatic relations with Israel. This, in return, is likely to lead to further cooperation and future peace deals between Israel and Muslim-majority states of the Middle East and beyond.