Abraham Accord: Background, Features, Significance, Effects

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Israel and the UAE have struck a peace deal to normalise the bilateral ties, with Israel agreeing to suspend its plans to annex West Bank temporarily. This historic agreement is slammed for not addressing the Israel-Palestine issue. However, it created a major geostrategic shift in the Middle East, benefiting countries like India and the US.

abraham accords mindmap
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Why is there a conflict between Arab countries and Israel?

  • Following the end of the First World War, Ottoman-ruled territories in West Asia came under the rule of Western powers.
  • In 1917, the then British PM Arthur Balfour pledged to create a homeland for the Jewish community in Palestine, where Jerusalem, the holy city of the Jewish faith is located.
  • Later, the UK ruled over Palestine under a ‘mandate’ from the League of Nations, the forerunner of the UN. During this time, there increase in the number of Jews settling in Palestine.
  • The UN formed a Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) to make recommendations regarding the future of Palestine and the UNSCOP advocated for the creation of two separate states for the Jewish community and the Arabs in Palestine, with Jerusalem as an international city.
  • This plan did not come to fruition as Arab countries consistently backed the ‘One State Solution’.
  • On the eve of the British forces’ withdrawal, Israel declared independence on May 15, 1948.
  • This led to the first Arab-Israeli War of 1948-49. It was later followed by the 1967 and 1973 wars.
  • Amid these wars and diplomatic tensions, Arab nations did not recognise Israel’s existence because of the Palestine issue and territorial disputes.

abraham accords background

What is Abraham Accord?

  • Abraham Accord is a peace deal between Israel and the United Arab Emirates that aims to normalise bilateral ties.
  • It was signed by both the countries on August 13, 2020
  • Brokered by the US, the agreement seeks to improve business relations, tourism, direct flights, scientific cooperation, and ultimately a full diplomatic relationship at the ambassador level.
  • The peace deal is part of the Trump Middle East Peace Plan.
  • This agreement makes the UAE the first Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member to establish ties with the Jewish state and the third Arab nation to recognise Israel.

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What is required under Abraham Accord?

  • The bilateral agreement aims to establish normalised ties between the two countries.
  • Yet, Emirates is unlikely to locate its embassy in Jerusalem.
  • An important aspect of this peace deal, though not explicitly spelled out, involves enhanced security cooperation against regional threats, especially from Iran and its proxies.
  • This agreement also requires Israel to suspend annexing parts of the West Bank so as to enable the Jewish state and Palestine to renew negotiations to end their conflict.
  • The term ‘suspend’ signifies that Israel does not leave out the annexation option so as to appease the pro-annexation factions in the country.
  • A joint statement after the signing of the agreement mentioned the two countries’ intention to forge closer people-to-people relations.
  • It also stated that Israel will focus its effort on expanding ties with other countries in the Arab and Muslim world and the US and UAE will be assisting in these efforts.

Why is it significant?

  • This move is significant because, except for Egypt and Jordon, Israel does not have diplomatic relations with the Gulf Arab countries due to the long-standing conflict with the Palestinians.
  • Israel signed a peace agreement with Egypt in 1979 and with Jordon in 1994.

Why have Israel and the UAE signed the peace deal?

  • Arab states, especially Gulf monarchies, have been increasingly engaging with Israel in recent years due to common threats plaguing these countries like Iran’s unofficial military interactions.
  • There have been numerous official and unofficial interactions between Israel and Arab countries, including security cooperation.
  • The UAE is no different, with its priority being the preservation of the ‘nation-state’ and its current political structure.
  • For the past decade, the UAE has been following an increasingly individualised foreign policy and a push for normalised bilateral ties with Israel is not a surprise.
  • The UAE’s greatest threat is the political Islam – both the Shia variety adopted by Iran, with its influence extending to Iraq, Lebanon, and Yemen, as well as the Sunni variety espoused by the Muslim Brotherhood, groups patronised by Turkey and Qatar.
  • ISIS, whose ideology is rooted in political Islam, is also posing a threat to the Arab nation.
  • These are the reasons behind the UAE’s participation in wars in Yemen, and Libya and its clear intention to diversify its strategic partnerships.
  • The agreement allows the UAE to develop commercial, diplomatic, and security ties with the Jewish state while temporarily halting Israel’s intention to annex West Bank.
  • The Arab state also gains access to the previously off-limits US weaponry, such as advanced drones, just like how Egypt was able to secure better American arms after its peace deal with Israel.
  • Israel seems attractive to rich Gulf countries like the UAE because of its role in countering Iran’s growing influence in Syria.
  • It took roles that Arab countries failed to achieve, creating a military balance in the region.
  • Thus, the Jewish state became an integral part of the region’s security.
  • As the US presence in the region wanes and new players like China enter the fray, Israel and the Gulf monarchies have the perfect opportunity to carve out regional security architecture.
  • For Israel, Iran and their proxies, the Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Hamas and Islamic extremist groups in Gaza, remain a significant threat.
  • Thus, both countries have a common cause to expand ties.
  • In 2015, Israel opened a diplomatic office in Abu Dhabi tied to International Renewable Energy Agency.
  • Senior Israeli officials have visited Abu Dhabi and Israeli athletes participated in regional competitions in the UAE.
  • Israel is set to participate in Dubai’s World Expo 2020, which is now scheduled to be held in October 2021.
  • Normalised relations with Arab nations have long been a strategic goal of Israel as it signifies a greater acceptance in the Middle East and a potential for more commercial ties for the country that has until now conducted very little business in its own region.

How will it affect the Middle East?

  • The agreement was opposed by Iran and its proxies and Turkey.
  • It should be noted that Turkey is opposing this step despite it having diplomatic ties with Israel for decades. It is currently seeking a leadership role in the Muslim world. The recent conversion of Hagia Sophia from a Museum to a mosque signifies the path it has chosen.
  • If other Arab states follow suit in creating peaceful relations with Israel, it would bring all Sunni nations in the region in an anti-Iran alliance with Israel.
  • Iran, its proxies, and allies in Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq have been weakened and broken by wars and extremist groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda.
  • Hezbollah, which is considered by Israel as its primary adversary after Iran, is facing backlash in Lebanon after the explosion that destroyed Beirut.

How does it affect India?

  • India has welcomed this outcome as it is in favourable relations with both countries.
  • It is wary about the growing China-Iran ties and Pakistan-Iran ties.
  • Pakistan is currently having a tense relationship with the Arab nations because of the Kashmir issue.
  • Arab countries are not enthusiastic about taking sides with Pakistan in this aspect.
  • Saudi Arabia and the UAE are more concerned about Tehran’s influence in the region, leading to them moving closer to the US.
  • The US has made use of this opportunity to bring its close ally, Israel, into the equation, with the ultimate objective of putting more pressure on Iran.
  • On the other hand, Turkey and Iran have willingly involved the Pakistan-favoured rhetoric.
  • Thus, Islamabad is currently moving away from the Arab countries and is having a closer relationship with Iran and Turkey.
  • India, taking this and the possibility of closer Iran-China ties into consideration must readjust its own ties with the Arab world.
  • However, it should be noted that India has a closer relationship with Shia-majority Iran.
  • Therefore, it can take proactive initiatives to improve ties with Tehran.

What are the challenges?

  • The Trump administration claims a part of this successful outcome.
  • However, it should be noted that it was this government that recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, further escalating the tensions within the region in the past.
  • The US shifting its embassy to the holy city and the Netanyahu government’s subsequent plan to annex several parts of the West Bank did not help improve Arab-Israel ties.
  • The deal does not provide for a definite stop to the likelihood of Israel’s annexation of the West Bank, creating a possibility of escalation of the conflict.
  • Right-wing political motivations from the US and Israel create a possibility of escalating tensions just to appease the voters.
  • For Israel, the threat of annexation is a necessary advantage, as it remains a pressure point on the Palestinians and Arab countries.
  • The agreement does not take into consideration the Israel-Palestine issue, though it does provide for an avenue of peace talks by temporarily suspending Israel’s annexation plans.

How will the agreement come into effect?

  • All relations between the two sides, which were previously done behind the scenes, will from now on be done with the public view.
  • This is significant as the security cooperation will be made public, the Israeli companies can now open up firms in the UAE, and Israeli passports will be recognised at the borders of the UAE.
  • In the coming weeks, delegations from Israel and the UAE will meet to set in motion the bilateral ties in investment, tourism, direct flights, security, telecommunications, technology, energy, healthcare, culture, environment, etc.
  • On priority, both countries will collaborate to find a treatment and vaccine for COVID-19.
  • The connection of phone services between the UAE and Israel is the first concrete sign of the peace deal is implemented
  • Later, the head of Israel’s Mossad, the foreign intelligence service, visited the UAE for security talks, marking the first visit by an Israeli official just days after the signing of the Abraham Accord.
  • After this deal, the UAE-based APEX National Investment and Israel’s TeraGroup signed an agreement to collaborate in the research of COVID-19.

What is the way ahead?

  • There is a possibility that other Gulf Nations will be following suit in establishing formal diplomatic relations with Israel.
  • However, statehood for Palestinians seems impossible in the near future.
  • Among the Gulf countries, Bahrain is most likely to follow the UAE’s precedent.
  • It has allowed steps towards normalisation, including allowing the Israeli officials to attend regional security meetings in the country. Foreign ministers of both countries met several times.
  • Oman is another possible candidate for normalisation as Netanyahu met with the late Sultan Qaboos bin Said in Muscat in late 2018. However, Sultan Haitham bin Taiq, who came to power in January 2020 may act with precaution as he consolidates his power.
  • Kuwait, Morocco and Sudan are also likely to seek normalised diplomatic relations with the Jewish state.
  • Saudi Arabia has remained consciously silent over this peace deal. However, officials revealed that Riyadh is unlikely to follow the UAE’s example despite the pressure from the US.
  • However, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman acknowledged Israel’s right to exist.
  • Israel Haj pilgrims and businessmen are permitted to travel to the Kingdom.
  • In a first, Saudi Arabia allowed Air India to fly over its airspace to Tel Aviv.
  • From this, a major strategic shift in the Middle East is evident, mostly because of common threats within the region.

Conclusion:

Improving Arab-Israel ties will ensure much-needed peace in the region. With the signing of the Abraham Accord, a new strategic shift in West Asia is evident. However, this provides a little possibility of peace due to obvious division because of Iran and extremist threats in the region.

Practice question for mains:

Abraham Accord has created an opportunity for the balance of power in West Asia. How does this affect India’s foreign policy objectives? (250 words)

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