And now for some good news.
A group of eight US lawmakers – four Democrats and four Republicans, half from the Senate and half from the House – announced this week the creation of a bipartisan Abraham Accords Caucus to work toward strengthening the existing agreements and expanding them to other Muslim countries.
Why is this good news? Because it demonstrates bipartisan support for Israel in Washington – something always good for everyone to see, especially at a time when anti-Israel Democratic progressives are frequently in the news – and because it could give a push toward getting other countries to join the accords.
The accords, brokered by the Trump administration, were signed in September 2020 between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. Sudan and Morocco followed shortly thereafter, and initially there was expectation that several other countries would normalize ties with Israel and join this framework.
But then US president Donald Trump lost the 2020 election, and a new president – Joe Biden – came into office. Biden seemed from the very beginning less intent than Trump on inducing countries to join the framework – such as by selling F-35s to the UAE, recognizing Morocco’s claims over Western Sahara, and taking Sudan off its list of countries supporting terrorism.
Furthermore, with COVID surging, inflation rising, massive domestic legislation pending, Iran talks calling and tensions with Russia and China growing, this was not an issue near the top of the Biden administration’s agenda.
For the first eight months of his first year in office, Biden and other administration officials balked at even using the Trump administration-coined term for the agreements, the “Abraham Accords” – as if to do so would acknowledge that Trump got anything right.
This, however, is no longer the case, and in a Zoom meeting with diplomats from Israel, the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco on the anniversary of the accords last September, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said “this administration will continue to build on the successful efforts of the last administration to keep normalization marching forward.”
This is where the new caucus can come into play. It can remind both the White House and the State Department that this is an issue that they need to keep an eye on and actively promote. As Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Lankford said, “I don’t want this getting lost in the State Department.”
The caucus’s eight co-founders include senators Lankford, Jacky Rosen (D-Nevada), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Cory Booker (D-New Jersey), and representatives Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Washington), David Trone (D-Maryland), Ann Wagner (R-Missouri) and Brad Schneider (D-Illinois). The bipartisan composition is not an everyday occurrence in the wildly partisan atmosphere in Washington and is a pleasant throwback to days when Israel was one issue that both parties could agree on.
“The caucus will provide an opportunity to strengthen the Abraham Accords by encouraging partnerships among the existing Abraham Accords countries and expanding the agreements to include countries that do not currently have diplomatic relations with Israel,” the group said in a statement after its launch.
For countries on the fence, wondering whether it’s in their interest to take the leap and normalize ties with Israel, the existence of a bipartisan caucus may give them confidence that if they do make the move, they will have earned goodwill points with American lawmakers, something that could serve their countries in good stead in the future.
Among the countries that have been mentioned as next in line to join the process are the Comoros, Maldives, Indonesia, Tunisia and Oman. Saudi Arabia is the biggest prize, but unlikely to make the move anytime soon, or at least not until Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman takes over from his father, King Salman.
While the relations between Israel and the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco are developing nicely and have already brought about significant changes in the Mideast, ties with Sudan are stuck because of the volatile domestic situation there, and the Abraham Accords “peace train” has stalled before reaching its next station.
We hope this caucus will inject new momentum into this process by convincing the White House and State Department to incentivize other countries to join a framework that holds out so much promise for the region.