The so-called Abraham Accords, signed in the White House on Tuesday by the UAE, Bahrain and Israel, under U.S. President Donald Trump’s mediation, clearly mark a new beginning in the relations between the Sunni-ruled Gulf kingdoms and the Jewish state. Under the agreement, the UAE and Bahrain would normalise ties with Israel, heralding better economic, political and security engagement. More Arab countries are expected to follow suit, say U.S. and Israeli officials. The agreements have the backing of Saudi Arabia, arguably the most influential Arab power and a close ally of the UAE and Bahrain. The ailing, octogenarian ruler of the Kingdom, Salman bin Abdulaziz, is treading cautiously for now, but Riyadh has opened its airspace for commercial flights between the UAE and Israel. The accords, the first between Israel and Arab countries since the 1994 Jordan-Israel peace treaty, also offer a rare diplomatic win to Mr. Trump, whose other foreign policy bets, be it Iran or North Korea, were either disastrous or stagnant. With less than 50 days to go before his re-election bid, he has called the agreements “the new dawn of a new Middle East”.
Though of historical and geopolitical significance, it is too early to say whether the accords will have any meaningful impact on West Asia’s myriad conflicts. Unlike Egypt and Jordan, which signed peace treaties with Israel in 1979 and 1994, respectively, the Gulf countries are not frontline states in the Arab-Israeli conflict. They had established backroom contacts with Israel years ago; what is happening now is their normalisation. Second, the agreements leave the Palestinian question largely unaddressed. With Arab countries signing diplomatic agreements with Israel bilaterally, the Arab collective support for the Palestinian movement for nationhood, which has been the basis of the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, is crumbling. But it does not mean that the Palestinian question would fade away. The vacuum left by the retreat of the Arab powers from the Israel-Palestine conflict is being filled by the non-Arab Muslim powers — Iran, Turkey and their allies. The geopolitical sands may be shifting but the core issue concerning Israel is unresolved. Three, the UAE-Bahrain agreements are in fact endorsing the region’s emerging order. With the U.S. in retreat and Turkey and Iran pursuing more aggressive foreign policies, there is a three-way contest taking shape, in which Sunni-ruled Arab kingdoms, all American allies, are realigning their geopolitical interests with Israel. The Abraham Accords are likely to sharpen this contest. If Mr. Trump and the signatories to the accords want to bring peace here as they have claimed, they should address the more structural issues, which include the unresolved question of Palestine.
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