This week, Bahrain appointed its first ever ambassador to Israel. Last month, the United Arab Emirates appointed its first ever ambassador to Israel. Historic occasions, indeed!
One would think that the United States of America – Israel’s best friend and the godfather of the “Abraham Accords” that launched Israel’s new peace agreements with Bahrain, the UAE, Sudan and Morocco – would celebrate these moments.
But not the new Biden administration. It has been doing everything it can to downplay the salience of Israel-Gulf ties. It responded laconically to appointment of the Bahraini and Emirati ambassadors: “Normalization between Arab capitals and Israel will open new horizons across the region. The United States will continue to help support these important arrangements.”
Notice the two words missing from Washington’s press release that was mouthed with gritted teeth by a low-level spokesman: “Abraham Accords.”
You see, the “Abraham Accords” are a brand name created by the Trump administration that signify something meta-historic, transformative, biblical, and even religious. It is branding no longer allowed by the Biden administration. Instead, the administration prefers the dry and deprecating vocabulary “these important arrangements.”
Indeed, the administration seems to be pouring cold water on the Abraham Accords, joining party-poopers on the Israeli Left and sourpusses on the left-wing of Diaspora Jewry who dissed the accords when they were first announced last summer.
At the time, these killjoys found it hard to say anything positive about the exciting developments. Instead, they took a curmudgeon approach, attaching sinister intentions to the great diplomatic achievement.
There were several reasons for the grumpy responses: Because neither then-president Donald Trump nor Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could do any good in the eyes of their political opponents; because the US promised diplomatic or defense “goodies” to each of the Arab countries involved – and this was said to be “underhanded”; because the accords distract from the supposed “urgent need” to give the Palestinians a state of their own; and because the accords proved that (as Netanyahu long has argued) only a strong and successful Israel will bring peace, not an Israel that bows its head and begs for peace with the Palestinians at any price.
To all this grumpiness, the Biden administration now has added one significant factor: Its passionate, even desperate, desire for renewal of former president Barack Obama’s nuclear accord with Iran. Therefore, anything that pisses off Iran – like the “Abraham Accords” – is verboten; or at least, to be diluted.
THE IRANIANS correctly understood the “Abraham Accords” as not only a gargantuan gain for everyone involved but as a regional alliance against a common American-Arab-Israeli enemy: Iran.
The Iranians correctly understood the “Abraham Accords” as lending religious legitimacy to Arab peace with Israel – by referencing the Abrahamic common heritage of Arabs and Jews – thus implicitly acknowledging that Jews are indigenous to the Land of Israel.
The Iranians correctly understood the “Abraham Accords” as demonstrable proof that Israel is a force for good, knowledge, prosperity and stability in the Middle East. After all, that is the reason the Arab countries began band-wagoning with Israel.
So, to entice the Iranians, the Biden administration has been pulling away from all these emphases. It steers clear of the “Abrahamic” moniker. It does not speak loudly about Iran as a strategic danger, nor does it openly promote regional alliances against Iran. The administration has not actively and intensely pursued additional Arab-Israeli peace agreements, as far as I can tell. (There is, for example, no special US envoy for this purpose; certainly, nothing on the level of a Jared Kushner).
Even more pointedly, the administration has suspended for “review” the goodies promised to Arab countries making peace with Israel, such as sale of F-35 jets to the Emirates and US recognition of the Western Sahara as sovereign Moroccan territory.
The US also has started beating up on Saudi Arabia and Egypt for their human rights records (while being silent on Iran’s more egregious human rights violations). It has ended US support for Saudi Arabia’s war against Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen (a war that has enormous strategic implications). It again has begun using the term “occupied territories” regarding the West Bank. (See annual State Department report on human rights worldwide, released this week).
All this, once again, to curry favor with Iran and signal Washington’s willingness to cut Tehran a soft deal as quickly as possible. (Fortunately for Israel and for the long-term security of the West, Iran is not jumping at the bait).
The Biden administration’s behavior casts a pall over the Abraham Accords, and engenders doubt that the “Abrahamic narrative” can grow beyond its current contours.
Why should the Saudis, for example, take another step toward Israel if Washington looks upon this with disfavor (again, because it would anger the Iranians)?
Why should the Omanis upgrade their relationship with Israel if Israeli leaders cannot help broker better ties for Muscat in Washington?
Why should the Indonesians make a breakthrough normalization agreement with Israel if the Biden administration is not truly on board enthusiastically?
And what will become of the genuine discourse of religious moderation and broad-mindedness that lies underneath the Emirati and Bahraini pursuit of peace with Israel?
How can it grow beyond these countries to other Arab states when the world’s leading promoter (supposedly) of democracy and religious tolerance places little premium on these values in its foreign policy, and instead seems to be running helter-skelter into another evil deal with the ayatollahs of radical Islamist and hegemonic Iran?
The author is vice president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security, jiss.org.il. His personal site is davidmweinberg.com.