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The Abraham Accords’ implications for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

By Alon Ben-Meir - posted Wednesday, 13 July 2022

The Abraham Accords have been in the making for several years; what has ultimately brought them to fruition is the Arab states' national security interests. By no means though have the Arab states abandoned the Palestinian cause, which will continue to haunt them and Israel until an independent Palestinian state is established.

Righting the Wrong

There is a prevailing sense among Israelis that the Abraham Accords suggest that the Arab states have, for all intents and purposes, abandoned the Palestinian cause. To the Israelis, those Arab states have presumably concluded that they can benefit greatly on a number of spheres from normalization of relations with Israel, which override their concerns over the Palestinians' fate. This is just another fallacy that Israelis like to embrace. It suits their baseless contention that the occupation no longer presents an obstacle to normalizing relations with the Arab states, and Israel's long-standing resistance to the establishment of a Palestinian state is now accepted as a fait accompli.

That said, Israeli leaders still view the Abraham Accords as a historic breakthrough that will have major regional and national positive implications. They forget the fact that these Accords will remain hostage to the geopolitical winds that sweep the region as well as what the Palestinians might or might not do in the months and years to come.


A brief historical background

Since the introduction of the Arab Peace Initiative (API) in 2002, the Arab states, led by Saudi Arabia, have de facto recognized Israel's right to exist but conditioned normalization of relations with Israel upon "the acceptance of the establishment of a sovereign independent Palestinian state on the Palestinian territories occupied since June 4, 1967 in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital." Once these conditions are met by Israel, the API notes that the Arab states will "enter into a peace agreement with Israel, and provide security for all the states of the region….and establish normal relations with Israel in the context of this comprehensive peace."

From the time the API was introduced 20 years ago, however, the geopolitical environment in the Middle East has dramatically changed.

On the Israeli side, the eruption of the Second Intifada in 2002 on the heels of the API destroyed what was left of Israel's trust of the Palestinians, and the peace negotiations between the two sides in 2008-2009 and 2013-2014 ended in failure. In the interim, Israel has vastly expanded its settlements enterprise and annexed more Palestinian land, while the Israeli public was steadily moving to the right-of-center, making the prospect of establishing a Palestinian state ever more remote.

On the Palestinian side, extremism was on the rise, especially by Hamas and Islamic Jihad. The Palestinian Authority (PA) was plagued by internal rivalry, corruption, and stark polarization, especially between Hamas and the PA. Israel's harsh occupation further intensified the Palestinians' resistance, and violence between the two sides became more frequent. The PA's negotiating stance further hardened, afraid of being seen as betraying the Palestinian cause. Thus, little room was left for meaningful concessions to reach any agreement with Israel, especially under former PM Netanyahu's 13 consecutive years in power, who vowed not to allow the establishment of a Palestinian state under his watch.

Recognizing Israel's prowess

The growing Iranian threat against Israel and the Arab states, and Tehran's ambition to become the region's hegemon, provided a common national security cause between Israel and especially the Arab Gulf states to rally against Iran's threats and to disabuse Tehran from its regional ambitions. To that end, going back nearly two decades, Israel began to share intelligence and provide military-related advanced technology with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia in particular, who felt directly threatened by Iran.

Hence, the Gulf states began to view Israel as a strategic partner due to four critical factors: a) Israel's military prowess is second to none in the region and rivals even both Shiite Iran and Sunni Turkey; b) Israel's unmatched intelligence capability which the Gulf states have and continue to eagerly seek; c) Israel's world-renowned advanced technology which they badly needed to enhance their military machine and fighting capabilities among many other civilian uses; and finally, d) Israel is a nuclear power on which the Gulf states can rely, even more so than the US because Israel itself is existentially threatened by and is in the forefront to deter Iran.


The above four factors provided Israel with huge political leverage, and even though Israel continues to occupy Palestinian land, the regional geopolitical conditions and the Gulf states' desire to collaborate with Israel presented them with a challenge and a choice: to normalize relations with Israel now or stick to the API, which conditioned normalization with Israel upon settling the conflict with the Palestinians. The signatories to the Abraham Accords opted for the first option because what Israel has and continues to provide them is critically important and urgently needed to serve their national security. Moreover, the Abraham Accords put Iran on notice that the region was growing more united in its opposition to Tehran.

The Arab states' evolving position

Making that choice however, does not translate, as many Israelis believe, to the Arab states abandoning the Palestinian cause. To the contrary, they view the Abraham Accords as a means by which to serve their national interest on one hand, while changing the dynamic of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the other, and in so doing break the impasse between them that prevailed especially under Netanyahu's tenure.

It should be noted that the Abraham Accords clearly stipulates that the parties will "…[commit] to continuing their efforts to achieve a just, comprehensive, realistic and enduring solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict." In an interview, UAE Ambassador to the United States Yousef Al Otaiba reinforced that specific provision, stating that the normalization agreement was a result of the Emirates' efforts to stop further Israeli annexation of the West Bank. In fact, since the Accords were signed, Israel has not annexed another inch of Palestinian territory, albeit it continues planning for the future expansion of existing settlements.

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About the Author

Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies.

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