expanding peace

‘Tangible results’ needed to demonstrate Abraham Accords ‘peace dividend’ to other nations: State Dept official

A senior diplomat told JI the Biden administration is working to expand the normalization agreements

Alex Brandon/AP Photo

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan and Bahrain Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, stand on the Blue Room Balcony during the Abraham Accords signing ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House, Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020, in Washington.

Two years after former President Donald Trump signed the Abraham Accords with the leaders of the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, a top Biden administration foreign policy official pledged to continue to promote and build on the normalization agreements. 

“I can attest to the fact that it remains a priority, of working on this every single day,” a senior State Department official told Jewish Insider on Wednesday. The official requested anonymity to speak freely. “We feel very strongly that we need to deliver tangible results. It’s very important that, basically, the peace dividend is demonstrated.” The official pointed to growing trade, tourism and defense ties as examples of those results.

Since President Joe Biden took office last year, no additional Muslim-majority nations have joined the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan in normalizing ties with Israel. On Biden’s trip to the Middle East in July, he announced that Saudi Arabia had agreed to open its airspace to all civilian carriers, including flights to and from Israel.

Earlier this week, Jared Kushner, a leading architect of the Abraham Accords, claimed the Biden administration has avoided growing the Accords because of animosity toward Trump — “Trump derangement syndrome,” he called it — a narrative that the State Department official asserted was “incorrect.” 

“This administration has been a strong supporter of the Abraham Accords from day one,” the official said. “Our focus has been on the substance of efforts to expand peace and normalization agreements between Israel and Arab and Muslim-majority countries, and we’re going to continue to work on that. I can tell you personally, I’m working very, very hard on that with the full backing of the secretary of state and the president.” 

The official declined to share specifics about any countries with whom the U.S. is negotiating, saying that having a diplomatic process play out in the press is “the kiss of death.” 

“The key is just persistent advocacy, engagement and trying to move the ball forward, which this administration is doing,” the official said, pointing to progress in efforts to build a new “regional architecture.”  

The official said that six working groups created in the wake of the Negev Forum — the March meeting hosted by Secretary of State Tony Blinken with foreign ministers from Israel, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Morocco and Bahrain — will meet for the first time this fall to try to expand a multilateral framework between Israel and the Arab nations with which it has relations, in addition to separate bilateral ties with each country. 

Washington is hopeful that the working groups will create projects designed to benefit Palestinians, too. “They need to find ways to tangibly improve Palestinian lives, and they need to do Palestinian-focused initiatives,” the official said. 

This would be good for the Palestinians, the official said, but it could also show skeptical Muslim nations that they do not need to choose between supporting the Palestinians and having a relationship with Israel.

“I think that there’s still a lot of skepticism in the region about the Accords and about this process, and there’s a lot of history. There’s a lot of water under the bridge,” the official said, not to mention an uncertain situation in the West Bank that may muddy the waters for other nations. “I think that right now is a difficult moment. You’re seeing tensions and violence in the West Bank, and I think that can complicate the equation for other countries.” 

Instead, the Biden administration hopes to see normalization “leveraged to enhance progress on the Israeli-Palestinian track, and I know that our Arab partners would very much like to see that as well,” said the official. 

The official declined to share whether the Palestinians would take part in any of the Negev Forum working groups.