And Just Like that History was Created: US-Brokered Abraham Peace Accord and What it Entails

 By Dr. Manjari Singh
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Just when the world thought 2020 was all about the 2Cs – COVID-19 and China; Israel and UAE through US intervention decided to have a fully normalised diplomatic relations on 13 August 2020 which for many years has been otherwise cold. The peace deal, named symbolically as Abraham Accord[1], presupposes that Israel under the leadership of Benjamin Netanyahu will suspend its annexation plans in parts of West Bank. However, the actual language used in the agreement reads that “Israel will suspend [emphasis added] declaring sovereignty over areas outlined in President’s [Trump Peace Plan] Vision of Peace”.[2]

It is noteworthy that this peace accord is a historical deal in the region. Interestingly, after the ‘deal of the century’ proposed by President Trump went into controversy and in the docks; this news on full normalisation of Israel-UAE relations is definitely a ‘deal of the decades’ if not of the century! Notably, this is the third peace accord that Israel has signed with an Arab country that too after more than two and a half decades.[3] In doing so, the UAE will be the first Gulf Arab country to have full formal relations with Israel.

While the accord is historical, its timing and the secretive planning is something that cannot be missed out. One, this news came three days after six Gulf Arab countries came together and endorsed an extension of a United Nations arms embargo on Iran which was to expire in two months[4]; two, as part of the deal Israel is to suspend its annexation plans in parts of West Bank. This move was domestically applauded in Israel across the political spectrum except for proponents of settler leadership and will definitely elevate and beautify Prime Minister Netanyahu’s sinking and unpopular stature in the country. However, some analysts raise doubt if Israel was ever going to act on the annexations and if it was only a bluff to divert the attention of Middle East watchers, Israel bashers and regional and international media while the country was busy planning the accord. The accord acting as an invisibility cloak to hide the annexation goof-up cannot be ruled out either. Three, given that the US presidential elections are due in November this year, this accord will not only elevate President Trump’s stature as a peacemaker in the most volatile region but also help him in securing more votes. The peace deal will certainly have a huge impact on US elections and has the capability of turning the tides in President Trump’s favour. Four, the statement on the peace process comes a month after a comprehensive strategic partnership agreement statement between Iran and China was released in July this year.

China’s growing beyond economic footprint in the Middle East is a matter of concern to the Arabs, Israelis alike; it is irritating for the US. While China, for long, has been engaged with the region because of economic and energy considerations; this is the first time when military aspect is added to the comprehensive strategic agreement and that concerns the US.[5] By brokering this ‘peace deal’, the US has slyly reasserted that it still plays a decisive role in the Middle East and that it might not withdraw its engagement from the region. This could be a message to China and Iran as well.

While Iran-China beyond economic factor may be the first time concerning the countries in the region and outside; Iran has been a major concern behind the warming up of Israel-Arab relations since past few years. On several occasions before this, the Arabs had given leverage to Israel to counter growing Iranian clout and proxies in the region. Notable moments were the ministerial level February 2019 Warsaw Summit in which for the first time several Arab and Gulf Arab countries formally participated along with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu[6]; Manama Summit of May 2019 wherein the controversial ‘deal of the century’ was discussed; Saudi Crown Prince MBS’s acknowledgement to Israel’s right to exist and provision of Saudi airspace to Tel Aviv bound Air India flight; Qatar’s sports diplomacy with Israel; many clandestine visits to Arab countries by Israeli leaders; and 29 June announcement by Israeli PM on collaborating with UAE to fight against COVID-19 and in developing vaccines.[7] All of these developments were indicative that formalisation of relations was nearing and that countering Iran has superseded Palestinian issue. This is the reason why Palestinians have rejected and condemned this move. However, since the US tag is already stamped and for the larger peace and stability of the region, this accord as of now seems to be promising. More so, as other Gulf monarchies like Bahrain and Oman have signalled signing similar accords with Israel.

While the peace accord is globally applauded, it is definitely good news for India as it shares cordial relations with all the partners in the deal. However, following Gandhian Principles, India is generally not a proponent of reactive diplomacy. In the present context, this has come out very clearly! Despite growing Iran-China bonhomie through the declaration of comprehensive strategic partnership and soon after Iran’s decision to move ahead with the Chahbahar rail link project by itself; India officially refrained from giving any statement and did not join the Iran bashing bandwagon. All it gave was clarifications. India’s non-prescriptive and non-interventionist policy in the Middle East has always been appreciated in the region across the spectrum.

India shares cordial relations with Iran as well, a country that does not gel well with the Arab countries and with Israel. In these circumstances, New Delhi is expected to behave with maturity and that is what it did! Given the changing dynamics and if India believed in reactive diplomacy it would have outrightly seized the opportunity to celebrate the peace accord. However, it took more than 22 hours for Ministry of External Affairs to release an official yet diplomatic statement on the peace deal congratulating the two countries for their efforts to bring peace, stability and development in the region.[8]

The statement released by the Official Spokesperson during a virtual weekly media briefing added that “India continues its traditional support for the Palestinian cause. We hope to see early resumption of direct negotiations to find an acceptable two-state solution”.[9] No special media briefing in this regard was organised. The statement was released after Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar held a telephonic conversation with his Emirati counterpart Al Nahyan and discussed the accord at length.[10] By taking its time, India has yet again shown the mark of a mature nation that does not take impulsive decisions.

However, this is also the time when India should not miss the bus given that it has excellent cordial relations with the trio – the US, Israel and the UAE. Coming together of its two friends will increase India’s diplomatic clout in the region. The mantra for India will be to actively join the bandwagon as already Bahrain and Oman are next in line to formalising their relations with Israel. Missing this opportunity will cost India heavily. Exchange of pleasantries and congratulatory messages are taken seriously in foreign affairs and India should not shy away from doing so publicly. Even though, it is obvious that Prime Minister Narendra Modi must have called the leaders of the two countries congratulating them on the historic agreement. Nevertheless, deviating from the normal, it missed media attention which is suggestive that it was kept low key! Optics matter in International Relations and as of now by not outrightly indulging publicly with the historic news what message is India trying to deliver and what is its game plan is yet to be seen.

Full normalisation of diplomatic relations between Israel and UAE, as per the statement released jointly by the three countries, entails the probable signing of bilateral agreements in three weeks regarding investment, tourism, direct flights to and fro, security cooperation and establishment of reciprocal embassies. Notwithstanding normalisation, UAE has signalled already that it will not open its embassy in the disputed Jerusalem until Palestine-Israel agreement is reached.[11] This suggests that the Emirati embassy will open in Tel Aviv where all the other embassies are located.

As reflective in India’s official statement, the coming together of both the countries and diplomatic engagements in the region will certainly bring in peace, stability and tranquillity in the region. UAE has emitted its leadership skills at various occasions when it became the torchbearers for the Arab countries. It was not only the first country in the region to favour India’s abrogation of Article 370 on Kashmir but also promised to invest in the newly carved state of Kashmir. With its modern developmental approach and Vision, its collaboration with tech-savvy Israel will give way to major collaborative developmental projects in the Middle East. India should seize the opportunity to increase its diplomatic clout in the region without neglecting Iran.

Endnotes

[1] Theologically speaking, Abraham or Ibrahim (in Islam) is the father of Isaac and Ishma’il, wherein Isaac is a Jew and Ishma’l is an Arab Muslim. Therefore, Abraham is a father figure to both Arabs Muslims as also to the Jews. Naming the accord after Abraham symbolises that both Israel and UAE through this normalisation will be accepting each others as brothers. Blood relations and family in this part of the world is part of the close knit social fabric.

[2] @realDonaldTrump (2020), From President Donald Trump’s Tweet on 13 August at 8:20 PM, Available at: https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1293922803419353088.

[3]Until now, Israel has had diplomatic relations with only two Arab countries, Egypt (1979) and Jordan (1994). By that standard, UAE is the third Arab country to have such relations with Israel.

[4] Jon Gambrell (2020), “6 Gulf Arab Countries Back Extending UN Arms Embargo on Iran”, The Washington Post, 10 August, Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/the_americas/6-gulf-arab-countries-back-extending-un-arms-embargo-on-iran/2020/08/09/5ff92184-daad-11ea-b4f1-25b762cdbbf4_story.html, Accessed on 14 August 2020.

[5] Alam Saleh and Zakiyeh Yazdanshenas (2020), “Iran’s Pact with China is a Bad news for the West”, Foreign Policy, 9 August, Available at: https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/08/09/irans-pact-with-china-is-bad-news-for-the-west/, Accessed on 14 August 2020.

[6] Manjari Singh (2019), “Israel in Warsaw 2.0: An A+ in Netanyahu’s Report Card?”, CLAWS Focus, 23 April, Available at: https://www.claws.in/israel-in-warsaw-2-0-an-a-in-netanyahus-report-card/, Accessed on 14 August 2020.

[7] Anil Trigunayat (2020), “Israel-UAE Treaty: The Abraham Accords and Challenging Contours”, The Financial Express, 14 August, Available at: https://www.financialexpress.com/defence/israel-uae-treaty-the-abraham-accords-and-challenging-contours/2055092/, Accessed on 14 August 2020.

[8] @MEAIndia (2020), From Anurag Srivastava’s (MEA Official Spokesperson) Twitter handle on full normalisation of relations and release of India’s statement on 14 August at 6:56 PM, Available at: https://twitter.com/MEAIndia/status/1294264036737970177, Accessed on 14 August 2020.

[9] Ministry of External Affairs (2020), “Statement by the Official Spokesperson on the Full Normalisation of Relations between UAE and Israel, during the Virtual Weekly Media Briefing on 14 August 2020”, Available at: https://www.mea.gov.in/media-briefings.htm?dtl/32892/Statement_by_the_Official_Spokesperson_on_the_full_normalisation_of_relations_between_UAE_and_Israel_during_the_virtual_weekly_media_briefing_on_14_Au.

[10] @DrSJaishankar (2020), From Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar’s Twitter Handle on 14 August, Available at: https://twitter.com/DrSJaishankar/status/1294210530702327810, Accessed on 14 August 2020.

[11] Anil Trigunayat (2020), “Israel-UAE Treaty: The Abraham Accords and Challenging Contours”, The Financial Express, 14 August, Available at: https://www.financialexpress.com/defence/israel-uae-treaty-the-abraham-accords-and-challenging-contours/2055092/, Accessed on 14 August 2020.


 

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Dr. Manjari Singh is an Associate Fellow at Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS) and she obtained her doctorate from the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi for her thesis on Sustainable Development in Jordan: A Study of Social, Economic and Environmental Dimensions. Dr. Singh is a Ryoichi Sasakawa Young Leaders Fellowship Fund (SYLFF) Fellow and is specializes in sustainable development and the Middle East. Her research papers have appeared in international journals such as Contemporary Review of the Middle East, Mediterranean Quarterly, and Migration and Development. She has co-authored Persian Gulf 2018: India’s Relations with the Region (Singapore: Palgrave Macmillan) and has co-edited Islamic Movements in the Middle East: Ideologies, Practices and Political Participation (New Delhi: Knowledge World) and Challenges to National Security: Young Scholars Perspective (New Delhi: Pentagon Press)She also serves as Assistant Editor of Contemporary Review of the Middle East (Sage Publications) and Managing Editor of CLAWS Journal (KW Publishers).