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Making Abraham Process Peaceful

Feb 21, 2024
  • Jin Liangxiang

    Senior Research Fellow, Shanghai Institute of Int'l Studies

Despite the continuation of the conflict between Israel and Palestine, the idea of revival of the Abraham Process has been mentioned frequently in U.S. and Israeli media and academia. An opinion published in the Jerusalem Post on Dec. 15 — “How can the U.S. use the Gaza war to expand the Abraham Accords?” — was one such example.

The Abraham Process used to be regarded as a signature achievement of U.S. Middle East policy under Donald Trump and Joe Biden. But the latest tensions suggest that the process is not peaceful. The process by nature is not inclusive but exclusive. It will go nowhere in the future if it disregards the foundational principles of regional peace. To make it functional, the United States will have to make it inclusive.

During Trump’s presidency, the U.S. strengthened its efforts to push Arab countries to establish diplomatic relations with Israel. This ultimately resulted in several Arab countries, including UAE, Bahrain and Morocco, normalizing diplomatic relations with Israel in the autumn of 2020. These diplomatic moves marked another round of Israeli success in relations with Arab countries. Egypt and Jordan had already normalized their relations with Israel — in the late 1970s and in 1994, respectively.

The Biden administration picked up the effort, despite its differences with Trump in many other areas. Based on developments, it even proposed at last year’s G20 summit 2023 a big project: building an economic corridor from India to Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Israel and Europe — the IMEC. The project was based on the assumption of normalization of relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia.

There is little argument that normalization of relations between Israel and Arab countries is inevitable. United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181, which was passed in 1947, legitimized the existence of Israel as a nation. And Israel, as a member of the UN, was recognized by about 160 members. As a neighbor living in the Middle East, Israel will be recognized by its Arab neighbors sooner or later. And normalization of relations between Israel and Arab countries should serve to maintain peace and stability in the region.

However, the Abraham Process promoted by the United States carries too much geopolitical calculation while disregarding some foundational historical realities of the region. Therefore, the process is detrimental to regional stability and will ultimately fail.

First, the Abraham Process undermined the foundation of the Middle East peace process. The realization of Palestine’s legitimate cause to become a nation-state depends on Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, but it also depends on the joint efforts of the international community — primarily Arab countries. Arab countries identify with the cause of their Arab brothers in Palestine and the holy Al Aqsa Mosque as well. The support of Arab countries is particularly relevant for achieving a Palestinian state because Palestine cannot deliver this on its own strength in a world of power politics.

Shortly after the six-day war in September 1967, Arab countries issued the Khartoum Resolution with “three nos” — namely no peace with Israel, no negotiation with Israel and no recognition of Israel. The resolution prescribed the realization of Palestine’s legitimate cause of nationhood, which had long been a foundation of peace in the Middle East. The approach could be interpreted as Israel’s returning the territories occupied by war and allowing for a Palestinian nation-state as a precondition for Arab countries diplomatic recognition of Israel.

But, unfortunately, the U.S. and Israel tried to push for normalization of diplomatic relations between Israel and Arab countries while disregarding the Palestine issue and other territorial matters. Though they did achieve something following the signing of the Abraham Accords by the UAE and Bahrain, yet progress proved to be fragile. Palestinians living in inhumane occupation and under siege have become desperate, fearing their legitimate cause is being abandoned by their Arab brothers under pressure from the United States and Israel.

Desperation explains the Oct. 7 incident, which triggered the recent ferocity in the Gaza Strip. The latest developments in the region suggest that the absence of justice and absence of sufficient considerations for Palestine’s legitimate cause could result in not only tensions between Israel and Palestine but also in spillover across the region from the Red Sea to Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and even the Strait of Hormuz. Peace and stability have been seriously undermined.

Second, the Abraham Process undermined the necessary inclusive approach to build regional security. The history of the Middle East and other regions has frequently demonstrated that people and countries of a particular region should be their own masters when it comes to security issues. Peace and stability will finally depend on whether regional actors can create an inclusive security framework. Any Middle East security framework will be one that includes Iran, since Iran is a great civilization and great regional power.

However, for decades, the U.S. had tried to create a regional security paradigm either without Iran or with Iran as a containment target. The Abraham Process, though its name sounds reasonable, has not changed the essence of U.S. strategy in the region. Through the Abraham Process, the U.S. intends first to normalize relations between Arab countries and Israel and then to create an alliance between them to confront Iran. This is actually manifested in U.S. National Security Report of October 2022.

A confrontational mentality will always lead to confrontations. Intentionally creating alliances against another party that is a great region power, rather than pushing for detente, will only create more security problems, not solve them. Confrontation and containment, not to mention sanctions, will add new dissatisfaction to Iran’s sentiments and lead to tensions, as the recent spillover of the Israel-Palestine conflict manifested. It will render relations between countries across the Persian Gulf hostile and fragile.

All in all, the Abraham Process, albeit a beautiful name symbolizing the unity of three religions, is not peaceful by nature. Normalization of relations between Israel and Arab countries should continue, but the U.S. should be aware that no successful process can emerge without a resolution of Palestine question, which is at the core of the regional agenda. The process itself should not be employed as geopolitical instrument to contain a third party. Otherwise, it is destined to fail.

Unfortunately, it seems the U.S. is not yet ready to make the Abraham Process a peaceful one, as it has not focused on a reasonable solution of the Palestine question. Recent moves of the U.S. in the region are telling.

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