Abraham Accords Advance Stage of Injustice
By Ghassan Michel Rubeiz
In my previous article The Abraham Accords undermined much needed peace with Palestinians the key concept is “deception”. The Accords are marketed as a peace plan, but what is really happening is escalation of tension in 2021 and beyond. The insertion of the name “Abraham” seductively implies the promotion of reconciliation between religious communities. In reality, the Accords reinforce Shiite-Sunnite rivalry and widen social distance between Jews and Arabs, especially at the grassroots level.
The basic rationale of the Accords is too simplistic: Iran is portrayed as the main source of instability in the region. But the Islamic Republic in Tehran is not alone in destabilizing the Middle East: Israel, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Russia and the US are equally responsible for the ongoing turmoil. Israel indeed stands out as a factor of instability, since it is the first state which introduced a nuclear defense strategy to the region in the 1970s. https://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-buzz/the-inside-story-how-israel-built-nuclear-weapons-25210
Israel acquired the nuclear bomb to preserve an occupation and continue a process of uprooting native Palestinian populations. And now, it is crying wolf that Iran is about to have its first nuclear bomb. It is not willing to admit that Tel-Aviv has quite a large nuclear warfare arsenal.
One goal of the Accords is to distract the attention of the world community from Israel’s occupation of Arab land, by shifting the international focus on Iran’s interference in Arab and Israeli affairs. No one would have imagined that a significant number of Arab countries would suddenly ignore the Saudi-led 2001 Arab Peace plan, which conditioned reconciliation with Israel on withdrawal from the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. In the four years of Trump’s rule, the Arab Gulf states were seduced to tie their future recklessly with Tel-Aviv and Washington.
Now, that the new US administration has switched direction away from the Trump policy on almost every major domestic and global issue, one would think that President Biden will address the damage the Abraham Accords have caused the Palestinians, if not also US strategic interests. The simple answer is “No, too costly to political capital”. For US policy, the Jewish state has always been an exception; what is decided in Washington pertaining to the Middle East, is often contingent on Tel-Aviv’s consent.
To be clear, Biden is improving relations with the Palestinians, but his efforts are largely symbolic or too timid. Re-established US economic assistance is palliative. There are no concrete efforts for the resolution of the conflict. There are vague promises of a future “two-state solution”, accompanied by “caution against unilateral action from either side”. Secretary of State Blinken hesitantly cautions Israel against additional land grab but he ignores land snatched in the past. He unfairly warns Palestinians against protesting to the internationally recognized instruments of justice and human rights: the ICC, ICJ and the United Nations Human Rights Commission. It is disheartening to ignore injustice, but to deny the victim the right to protest is simply cruel. https://www.aljazeera.com/opinions/2020/12/22/what-can-israel-expect-from-the-biden-administration
For the US State Department, it is the Israeli occupation that has been normalized: there is no longer any reference to “Occupied Palestinian Territories”. Instead, there is recognition of “Disputed Territories” between Arabs and Jews. Some say Biden is “too burdened” with domestic issues to prioritize Palestine or to challenge Israel’s hard line supporters in Congress. Others quote Biden having in the past declared: “I am a Zionist”. Alright, there is no reason to blame any American for identifying with Zionism, provided some room is left for a victimized Palestine.
However, not all is utterly gloomy. The US team assigned to the region has some new promising senior staff. It is encouraging to see Hady Omar (an experienced Palestinian American) and Robert Malley (a talented, politically balanced Jewish American, with solid Arab roots) assigned, respectively, to Palestine and Iran. But Omar is not a key decision maker and Malley has his hands tied by a regressive political climate. Malley reports to Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, who has strong emotional commitment to Tel- Aviv. On other issues Blinken seems balanced and multilateral in perspective.
If Biden is not a game changer, do we expect any change in the quality of Israeli leadership to emerge from the coming elections of March 23rd? This fourth round of repetitive elections will not change the character of the state or its leadership. With or without Netanyahu, the Palestinian problem is no longer a central issue in Israeli politics. Settlements continue to expand on Palestinian land, blurring the line between “occupation” and a biblically-assigned Israeli sovereignty. The Abraham Accords emboldens the occupation, not limit it, as purported.
What about the newly revolving Palestinian role? Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas rushes for elections, scheduled for May 22 (legislators) and July 31 (president). If they do take place, the elections seem to be more for show: not serving unity or leading to new leadership. Palestine’s divided leadership has failed to unite. There is mounting anger toward Abbas. His call for elections came ten years after the expiration of his term and the term of the legislative council. https://www.middleeasteye.net/opinion/palestine-elections-hamas-and-fatah-unity
Palestinians are now the majority population between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. While Palestinians live in apartheid, Israelis feel that the status quo is moving in their favor. No one knows how the occupation will end, but Israelis act with a feeling that the right moment will come to escape from an existential crisis with some luck.
There is talk about a Mandela-like figure in the presidential candidacy of Marwan Barghouti. But Barghouti is in an Israeli jail, serving five life sentences. If this popular leader wins he could be a game-changer. But as president, he would be too threatening for both Netanyahu and Abbas. The phenomenon of a Mandela in Palestine requires a counterpart, a Willem de Klerk in Israel. Barghouti is a peacemaker; he is convinced that civil resistance, massively backed up by international solidarity, can enable his people to end the occupation.
As for the Persian factor in the Palestine question, Iran is emboldened as the US role in the region declines and consider Israel’s artificial embrace of shaky Arab regimes as a temporary phenomenon. There is serious talk for the US to return to the Iranian nuclear deal. But neither Washington, nor Tehran, has yet come up with a formula of simultaneously ending sanctions and returning to acceptable levels of uranium enrichment. This potentially explosive issue is evolving rapidly. https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/world/iran-rejects-offer-of-direct-us-nuclear-talks/ar-BB1e5Oj4
Any progress on US-Iran relations will positively affect the Palestine question. Since the Accords were signed, Israel’s role in the preparation for possible negotiations with Tehran has declined. Netanyahu is gradually losing status in a Democrat leaning Biden regime. Ironically, now, the perceived threat from Iran to the US pales in comparison to the threat of domestic terrorism.
As for the Saudis, Riyadh is not in a position to join the Abraham Accords any time soon. The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is back on the scene as a reunited regional body. There are some GCC gestures of reconciliation with Iran; Iran is also anxious for dialogue with the GCC. This track of diplomacy has great potential for regional stability and for the Palestine question, but it has not been sufficiently pursued. A Tehran-Riyadh reconciliation is the low hanging fruit for regional conflict resolution, but it takes clear vision to spot real peace possibilities. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/1/7/what-will-reduced-tensions-within-the-gcc-mean-for-iran
In the short run, there seems to be little signs of hope to stabilize the region. The Abraham Accords are clever in taking a regional approach to peace making, but they have missed the two most central components in the resolution of conflict: Palestine and Saudi-Iranian relations. US Policy in the region has to change to deal with the Middle East as an integrated unit. Patchwork diplomacy with isolated accords- peace here and war there- will not work. And Palestinians may one day start working more closely with liberal Jewish partners to liberate Israel and Palestine simultaneously.
In myriad of ways, the world is rapidly changing, and not for the better. Recurring worldwide spread of pandemics, global warming, water shortage, nuclear power, cyber terrorism, and uncontrolled social media- all these twenty-first century scary trends, point in one direction: the need to respond to problems collectively and across borders.
The Abraham Accords advance the stage of injustice: now, Israelis look Palestinians in the eye and say: dare you protest.