Abraham Accords: Getting a win-win for Israelis and Palestinians

One of the strengths of the Abraham Accords is that the four agreements demonstrate that the Palestinians do not hold a veto over regional progress.

ARTIES TO the Abraham Accords stand beside former president Donald Trump at the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC, on September 15.  (photo credit: TOM BRENNER/REUTERS)
ARTIES TO the Abraham Accords stand beside former president Donald Trump at the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC, on September 15.
(photo credit: TOM BRENNER/REUTERS)
The recent normalization agreements between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan have fundamentally altered the strategic dynamic of the Middle East for the better and delivered win-win outcomes for each of the parties. For the first time in decades, zero-sum politics gave way to enlightened policies boosted by the enthusiasm of millions of Israelis and Arabs thirsty for a brighter future. The signing of the Abraham Accords immediately instigated joint business enterprises, a rush of tourism despite the pandemic, scientific partnerships, open political cooperation and more. The challenge now is to complete the circle and deliver a win-win for Israelis and Palestinians, too.
The Biden administration has set sober expectations for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Knowing that a final-status accord is likely out of reach for the time being, the administration is focused on bottom-up peace-building to improve the lives of Israelis and Palestinians while preserving the possibility of a negotiated two-state solution. As it goes about seeding the ground for progress, the administration has made clear that it wishes to build upon the Abraham Accords and help further Israel’s integration into the region.
One of the strengths of the Abraham Accords is that the four agreements demonstrate that the Palestinians do not hold a veto over regional progress. Possibly the most glaring weakness of the accords, though, is the perception that they operate as an alternative to advancing the cause of Israeli-Palestinian peace. While the normalization deals did not come about through a traditional peace process, they were not divorced from it. Top UAE officials made clear to the Israeli public that only by suspending annexation of the West Bank was the normalization agreement with the UAE possible.
The question facing the Biden team is how to further deepen Israel’s ties to the region in a manner that enhances the potential for peace between Israel and the Palestinians rather than ignoring it. It is here where Congress has provided the administration a vital tool.
AT THE END of 2020, as part of the omnibus spending package, Congress enacted the Nita M. Lowey Middle East Partnership for Peace Act (MEPPA) with bipartisan support. MEPPA authorized a five-year, $250 million people-to-people peace-building fund and an investment initiative to give the bandwidth and budget to answer the question, “What are we doing to ensure the next generation of Israelis and Palestinians don’t hate one another?” Often an afterthought, MEPPA gives the administration a coordinated way to think about peace-building, not as a series of programs, but as an integrated policy tool.
Congress, wanting to leverage the groundbreaking American investment as well as maximize its efficacy, baked into MEPPA a multilateral element encouraging international donors. In doing so, Congress intended to harness the added legitimacy gained from multilateral endorsement of MEPPA in the eyes of Israelis and Palestinians and ensure equitable burden-sharing.
The Biden administration can use MEPPA to gather additional commitments from both the region and European allies to address incitement, dehumanization and economic disparity between Israelis and Palestinians. In doing so, the administration can utilize MEPPA to further the Abraham Accords, institutionalize new regional dynamics while providing needed economic stimulus to the Palestinian private sector, and deal head-on with adult and youth attitudes that must change if progress will be possible.
The advantages that the Abraham Accords have created should not be quarantined to just the fight against a nuclear Iran. MEPPA offers the ideal way to capture the new regional spirit to elevate aspirations for a just, sustainable and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
MEPPA sets in motion long-term grassroots peace-building combined with joint Israeli-Palestinian economic development projects to support future diplomacy. It also enables an early opportunity for the US to repair relations with the Palestinians, cultivate a foundation of trust between Israelis and Palestinians, rebuild trust with European partners, and capitalize on the regional normalization dynamic in a way that prioritizes Israeli-Palestinian peace. MEPPA can show once again how US taxpayers can amplify and solidify their investment and impact through engaging allies, and how US leadership and innovation is still the indispensable ingredient for meaningful international cooperation.

The writer is the president of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace and served as a member of Congress from Florida (1997-2010).