The Abraham Accord: UAE, Israeli and Bahrain Peace Deal

National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat elbow bumps with an Emirati official ahead of boarding the plane before leaving Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, September 1, 2020. (Nir Elias/Pool/AFP)

Representatives of the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Israel, and United States governments converged in Washington, DC and signed a historic normalization accord between the Gulf nations and Israel, the US President called it an Abraham Accord.

The UAE agreement, announced in August and since dubbed the “Abraham Accords” by White House officials, makes the UAE the third Arab country and first in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to agree to establish relations with Israel.

Peace Deals

The Israel-Egypt peace deal signed at the White House on March 26, 1979, spanned dozens of pages and included letters, annexes, detailed maps and agreed minutes.

Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, American President Jimmy Carter and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin signed Camp David Accords in 1978

The same is true of the Israel-Jordan peace treaty, signed on October 26, 1994, in the Arava. That document, which put to end the state of war that existed between two countries that had fought each other three times, included a preamble, 30 articles, five annexes and agreed minutes.

The Abraham Accords declaration reads like a John Lennon song and declares that the signatories – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US President Donald Trump, UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed, and Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid al Zayani – “recognize the importance of maintaining and strengthening peace in the Middle East and around the world based on mutual understanding and coexistence, as well as respect for human dignity and freedom, including religious freedom.”

Arms sales

William Hartung, director of the Arms and Security Program at the DC-based Center for International Policy, told arms sales were an “important factor” in the agreements.

The UAE has long wanted F-35 fighter jets, Hartung said, and larger drones, which the US was unable to sell because of its commitment to Israel’s military advantage.

But Trump often touts arms sales and was likely to view the UAE as another client as a positive, Hartung said.

The US ramped up its arms sales by 42 percent globally in 2019, an increase of almost $70bn, according to figures from the Forum on the Arms Trade (FAT) from the US Foreign Military Sales programme. 

But the Middle East and North Africa region far outpaced the global growth rate, going from $11.8bn in 2018 to more than $25bn in 2019, or a 118 percent increase. Morocco leads the pack in purchasing US arms, with almost $12bn sold to Rabat.

Nations in the GCC accounted for much of the rest. The UAE spent more than $4.7bn on US arms in 2019, FAT recorded, with Bahrain spending $3.37bn, Qatar spending about $3bn and Saudi Arabia at roughly $2.7bn.

Hartung said Bahrain may have agreed to normalisation to access to advanced weaponry and the Saudis could potentially follow.

A handout picture released by Bahrain's official news agency (BNA) on August 26, 2020, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (C-L) meeting with Bahrain's Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa (
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, centre-left, meeting with Bahrain’s Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, centre-right, in the capital Manama [Bahrain News Agency/AFP]

“Bahrain certainly benefitted from US transfers after Trump lifted the hold on F-16s … so they may feel somewhat beholden to him on that front”, Hartung said, citing a 2017 decision to sell the jets to Bahrain without conditions on human rights.

L to R: United Arab Emirates (UAE) Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed, Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al Zayani, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump stand together after signing of the Abraham Accords. September 15, 2020.
(photo credit: REUTERS/TOM BRENNER)

However, US officials confirmed the foreign military sale of 35 F-35 to the UAE, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces criticism from his right-wing base as his political fortunes fall.

The move may “also be perceived as a move to further contain Iran”, a target of ire from the Trump administration’s and a regional foe for the UAE, Bahrain and Israel, though Hartung said he did not see it as a benefit.

Traditional diplomacy

Jon Alterman, senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), told Al Jazeera while Gulf countries normalising relations with Israel raises new questions, it is “an uncharacteristic dedication to traditional diplomacy on the part of the Trump administration”.

Alterman said the deal with the UAE showed the Trump administration was capable of diplomatic manoeuvres outside of doing “things quickly with presidential involvement”. 

However, concerns remain regarding the Israel-Palestinian peace process, Alterman said. The normalisation agreement could pave the way for other major Arab states to normalise ties with Israel without addressing the underlying issues of the conflict.

While much of the focus is on the regional implications for Arab states, Alterman wrote for CSIS it could provide a “more robust and inclusive regional dialogue could be a constructive way to reduce tensions” between Israel, Turkey and Iran, three of the region’s most powerful – and non-Arab – countries. 

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