By Patricio Ramos Cervero
In a world where journalism seems jump at any chance to publish optimistic news, there is a strange silence over what might just be the seed that grows into the tree of peace in the Middle East – The Abraham Accords. Whether this lack of attention is due to a surge in violence and instability in other regions, or the media’s rancour towards the architects of this framework, it does not take away from the fact that the Accords have brought, and will continue to bring, stability and economic growth to a region that so desperately needs it.
The Abraham Accords are the recognition of Israel’s sovereignty by the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco, and Sudan – countries that, up until now, rejected the legitimacy of the Jewish State even 75 years after its birth. While almost completely symbolic, the signing of the Accords allowed these countries to establish formal diplomatic relations – something not possible between countries that are de jure in war with one another.
Although the treaty might not seem significant beyond the confines of the Middle East, it might just be the diplomatic miracle of the century. US negotiators Jared Kushner and Avrahm Berkowitz managed to bridge the gap between collectives with a deep mistrust of each other, and a history plagued with violent episodes. The Accords marked the first case of Arab-Israeli normalization in almost three decades, with unprecedented instances such as the visit of a Rabbi to the UAE.
While certain niche industries such as the diamond trade or private intelligence have joined Israel and the UAE obliquely, the Accords paved the road for all forms economic exchange between both countries. Governments and firms no longer had to resort to third party private companies and shady intermediaries to conduct business amongst them. Trade has already seen a 13 per cent annual growth since the deal was signed; water companies, restaurants, and investment firms have all started opening offices, securing deals, and expanding operations in markets that seemed impenetrable just a few months before.
A STRATEGIC ALLIANCE?
The alignment of economic interest, while a crucial tenet of the accords, were not the sole cornerstone of this diplomatic breakthrough. Instead, common goals and threats, with Iran being the gravest, have been fundamental in bringing these unlikely allies together. Different interpretations over Islam and aspirations of leading the Islamic world antagonize Shiite Iran and Sunni Bahrain and UAE, with the former orchestrating attacks through proxies and terrorist organizations. Faced with small and erratic attacks, the Gulf states turned to Israel, recognized as the world leader in ballistic system technology, whose expertise is unmatched when dealing with such threats. Both Bahrain and the UAE have signed major defence deals with the Jewish state, increasing resilience to shared threats and bolstering the military front aimed at thwarting Iran’s expansionary dreams. Morocco, a country plagued with cybersecurity threats, has also tentatively turned to Israeli expertise in its efforts to build a safe cyber infrastructure. One can only expect other Muslim countries to follow suit in establishing formal relations with Israel. Seeing how their Middle Eastern peers benefit from the Accords’ framework, and fears of missing out on much needed economic growth, will certainly convince other states to take a more moderate stand towards Israel and its allies.
The US might not get the international recognition it deserved as architect of this historic treaty, but it will quietly reap the rewards of a united ally front in the Middle East. Increased stability and cohesion between Israel, the UAE, and Bahrain, will make foreign diplomacy simpler and more effective at neutralising common threats. In addition, the Abraham Accords will allow the US to maintain its influence over the region while withdrawing troops from certain areas, a vision widely supported by the American electorate. Indeed, while there are no doubts towards America´s ironclad commitment to maintaining security and fostering stability in the region, it has signalled its desire to perhaps take a secondary role when it comes to conducting certain operation in the Middle East. Outsourcing peacekeeping operations to a coalition of willing allies would enable them to shift military capabilities to other, equally geopolitically unstable world theatres, such as the Pacific and Eastern Europe.
As long-standing US ally, with a highly capable and seasoned military, Israel would be the logical agent destined to fill some of the power vacuums left by America´s withdrawal. It has already made moves aimed at expanding its power, showing a willingness for higher responsibility, and was the first one to make the leap towards formalising peace. With Benjamin Netanyahu taking the reins of Israel once again, diplomatic ties between countries in the accords are only set to strengthen. He will undoubtedly further his vision of normalising relations with Arab countries, while looking for possible additions to the treaty. Access to new markets and bolstering of defence exports will propel Israel, already a centre of global innovation, to the forefront of leadership in the region. Gulf states within the diplomatic framework would also experience economic buoyancy, and perhaps an acceleration of the already present trend towards more transparent institutions in a bid to get closer to Europe.
This trend towards stability and cooperation between Israel and Arab countries will grow in future years, with only underlying issues related to the Palestinian cause capable of turning relationships sour. Countries within the Abraham Accords have, for the time being, placed territorial disputes regarding the West Bank to the side, and have made hints at possible peaceful negotiation to look for a definite solution to this perennial problem. But not all members of the Arab League are willing to shift what they see as a pillar of their existence, with some reasserting their commitment towards the Palestinian cause in a summit this November.
The Abraham accords, seen as an aberration by some members of the league, have further exposed fissures in what seemed like a monolithic block not too long ago. The split in stances towards the existence of the West Bank, and its increase of attacks towards Israelis, were not directly addressed at the conference, but some members see this openness to conduct business with Jews, and cease of violent rhetoric against them, as some sort of treason. Notwithstanding these different stands over Palestine, Arab countries such as Algeria and Morocco were already at daggers drawn, in their case over the political status of Western Sahara, which already signalled a rise in tensions within some Muslim countries.
Despite this opposition, however, it seems likely the ties made between some Muslim countries and Israel will be long lasting. This will undoubtedly bring about prosperity and stability to the region, which will hopefully use this opportunity to focus on solving other internal problems and escape the all too frequent chaos that seem to be characteristic of the region.
Image Source: Shealah Craighead/White House