Israel, the U.S. and Arab signatories celebrated the first anniversary of the Abraham Accords, the normalization agreements between Israel and several Arab countries brokered by the Trump Administration.
“A year ago, a region yearning for change, a region tired of war and conflict, and with endless untapped potential, was presented with an opportunity to change the course of its history,” said Gilad Erdan, Israeli Ambassador to the U.N., at an event Monday in Lower Manhattan. “Today we celebrate the landmark agreements and the critical role the United States played and continues to play in making them a success.”
Israel signed the Abraham Accords with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain on the South Lawn of the White House on September 15, 2020. Morocco signed on in December.
While none of the signatories had been at war with Israel prior to the accords, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict had led to strains between Israel and most Muslim nations and hindered relations. Previous U.S. administrations had focused their Mideast peace efforts on directly dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While the Trump administration sought to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, it also focused on getting Muslim nations to normalize relations with Israel without regard to the Palestinian issue.
Monday’s event was held at the Museum of Jewish Heritage – a Living Memorial to the Holocaust in Lower Manhattan, with speeches by the U.N. ambassadors from Bahrain, Israel, Morocco, the UAE and U.S. Dozens of other countries’ U.N. ambassadors were in attendance, including Egypt’s ambassador and Oman’s deputy ambassador.
Lana Nusseibeh, UAE Ambassador to the U.N., said the signing of the accord had led to a “warm peace” as well as some surprises.
“We anticipated the new investments, the academic partnerships, the joint research initiatives to foster renewable energy, water security and public health,” said Nusseibeh. “What we perhaps did not anticipate, and what we have been inspired to witness, is how the creativity and the curiosity of our people truly ignited once these political impediments were removed. Emiratis and Israelis have not lost any time in finding each other online, exploring and embracing our respective cultures, and booking a seat on those first El Al, Etihad and Emirates flights between our countries, with kosher meals served on board for the first time.”
Officials from both the Biden and Trump administrations will participate in a separate event commemorating the anniversary on Tuesday in Washington. According to Jewish Insider, the event will be hosted by the Abraham Accords Peace Institute, and feature Jared Kushner, the former senior advisor to Trump who created the AAPI and provided its initial funding; AAPI’s executive director, Robert Greenway, who served as senior director for the Middle East at the National Security Council under Trump; as well as the current Bahraini, Emirati and Israeli ambassadors to the U.S. (Erdan is presently Israeli ambassador to the both the U.S. and U.N.; he will soon be replaced in the former post by Michael Herzog.)
Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., said Monday that the U.S. “is committed to strengthening and expanding on these agreements. That means pushing for more headway among those who have already signed the agreements … and also reaching additional agreements with more Arab and Muslim countries to extend the circle of peace.”
But there has been some question as to how committed the Biden administration in fact is, particularly as compared to the Trump administration, which had made the Abraham Accords a centerpiece of its Mideast policy.
Since Biden took office, no new countries have been added to the Abraham Accords. In the waning days of the Trump Administration, Sudan quietly signed a deal with the U.S. to join the Accords, though a final accord has not been reached, partly owing to Sudan’s internal political issues. Sudan did not send a representative to Monday’s event. (Israel has also held an election, and had a change of government, since former Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu signed the Abraham Accords.)
Israeli business newspaper Globes reported in July that the Biden administration had indefinitely suspended the Abraham Fund, in which the U.S. was to spend money “to promote economic cooperation and to encourage prosperity in the Middle East and beyond.” The previous month, The Washington Free Beacon reported that Biden’s State Department discouraged its employees from using the Trump-era term “Abraham Accords,” preferring instead terms such as “normalization agreements.”
In her own comments Monday, U.S. Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield referred to “the accords,” “these agreements” and “normalization,” but never mentioned the term “Abraham Accords.” As Thomas-Greenfield was leaving Monday’s event, a Hamodia reporter asked why she had not used the term. The ambassador replied, “I didn’t recognize that I didn’t,” and that “it was not intentional.” When the reporter asked, “Has anyone asked you not to use the word Abraham Accords?” Thomas-Greenfield did not respond, and a member of her security team brushed the reporter aside.
The White House did not respond Monday to Hamodia’s request for comment on the freezing of the Abraham Fund, or its stance on use of the term “Abraham Accords.”
When asked by Hamodia to comment on Thomas-Greenfield’s omission of the phrase “Abraham Accords,” Israeli Ambassador Erdan responded, “I didn’t recognize. I think the fact that she was here and she praised the accords, and she said that they are committed to helping to expand them to other countries and make sure that they will be implemented, I think that’s fine with me.” As to whether he believed the Biden administration is as committed to the accords as the Trump administration, Erdan replied, “As an ambassador, I don’t intend to give grades to the administration.”
While the Abraham Accords — the first America-brokered peace agreements Israel signed with Arab nations since Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994 — represented a marked shift from past, Palestinian-focused Mideast policies, in their comments Monday some signatories expressed hope that a deal between Israel and the Palestinians will indeed be reached.
UAE Ambassador Nusseibeh said that “as we face this multitude of shared challenges in our region, it’s also our hope that the optimism the accords generated for the youth of our region can also lead to a lasting agreement between the Palestinians and the Israelis, who also deserve both to live in peace and security.”
U.S. Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield said that “as we continue to pursue normalization between Israel and neighboring countries, we remain committed to a two-state solution. We firmly believe Israelis and Palestinians deserve equal measures of freedom, dignity, security, and prosperity, and U.S. diplomacy will remain focused on practical steps to advance that vision in the immediate term. It is our hope that these agreements, which are important in and of themselves, also generate momentum between Israel and the Palestinians.”
But Erdan told a Times of Israel reporter on the sidelines of Monday’s event that “the current Israeli government thinks differently [regarding the two-state solution] and believes that it’s not currently achievable,” and that “even the Biden administration, when they speak with us, they recognize that it’s not something that currently can be achieved.”
However, in his speech Erdan expressed hope that a peace deal with the Palestinians could be achieved, stating, “I strongly believe that as others in the region see the fruits of our partnerships and feel this transformation, they will join our circle of peace. Perhaps even the Palestinians, as they see the benefits of our peace, and the prosperity it brings, will finally view these accords as an opportunity, and not a threat.”
The ambassadors from Morocco and Bahrain did not mention the Palestinians in their speeches.
Other countries viewed as potential future signatories to the Abraham Accords include Oman, and perhaps Saudi Arabia, the most powerful Sunni nation, which would help provide a bulwark against the Israelis’ and Sunnis’ common nemesis, the Islamic Republic of Iran.
“The moderate countries in the Middle East,” Erdan said, “must unite to tackle our shared challenges such as climate change, and form a regional alliance to control our shared threats — first and foremost, Iran. Such an alliance could share intelligence about different threats, and even collaborate on defensive capabilities. Can you imagine Israeli air defense systems like Iron Dome protecting the airspace of our new partners in the Gulf — maybe one day, even Saudi Arabia.”
Updated Monday, September 13, 2021 at 11:00 pm .