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Once glitzy and very public, Abraham Accords unfolding more quietly after Oct. 7

“Israel, as a state, has been focused on maintaining more strategic ties,” said Asher Fredman, Israel director at the Abraham Accords Peace Institute.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Al Ula, Saudi Arabia, on Jan. 8, 2024. Credit: Chuck Kennedy/U.S. State Department.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Al Ula, Saudi Arabia, on Jan. 8, 2024. Credit: Chuck Kennedy/U.S. State Department.

Even though the COVID-19 pandemic was still limiting public events, the Abraham Accords began in the summer of 2020 with pomp and circumstance. The first few years of normalization between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kosovo, Sudan and Morocco under the accords were punctuated by glitzy conferences, ceremonies marking milestones and press releases about new initiatives.

That all changed on Oct. 7.

In more recent months, the Abraham Accords have played out in a much quieter, more private grind, according to those who are closely involved on the ground level.

Asher Fredman, Israel director at the Abraham Accords Peace Institute, a nonprofit that supports the expansion of the accords, told JNS that Emirati and Bahraini leaders have made important statements about their intentions to continue the ties forged under the accords.

“It’s a strategic decision,” he said.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog and Emirati President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan’s public meeting in Dubai in December was a “statement” about the strength of the pact between the countries, according to Fredman.

But the United Arab Emirates has also criticized Israel, including testifying against the Jewish state at the International Court of Justice, the principal United Nations judicial arm in The Hague.

“They’ve also been balancing criticism with the affirmation that ties with Israel will continue,” Fredman said. “Particular organizations or particular initiatives that were planned that were canceled. That’s unfortunate.”

“I think Israel, as a state, has been focused on maintaining more strategic ties,” he said.

Strong ties

Israeli diplomatic sources indicated that delegations from the Jewish state that returned to Israel from the Bahraini capital Manama and the Moroccan capital Rabat after Israel began its military operation in Gaza have yet to return to their postings.

The Israeli diplomats were pulled both for their safety and as a way for their host countries to distance themselves from what had become an even less popular bilateral relationship on the street level, per Israeli diplomatic sources.

The Israeli-Emirati relationship seems to be the strongest of the Abraham Accords, with diplomats from the Jewish states remaining in the Emirates, allowing the continuation of direct dialogue even as Abu Dhabi opposed Israel in international forums.

“They look forward. They do not look back,” an Israeli diplomatic source told JNS about the Emirati position on advancing the Abraham Accords after Oct. 7.

The UAE has been the only Arab country to condemn Hamas’s massacre explicitly and to speak about the plight of the hostages whom Hamas holds in Gaza.

“The dominant media in the Arab world and Abraham Accords countries has not changed significantly, and didn’t really follow the warming of relations,” Fredman told JNS.

“The populations in these countries are being exposed to overwhelmingly negative images of Israel in the context of the war,” he added.

Allowing Israeli diplomats to remain in Abu Dhabi and Dubai and ensuring their protection is “a vote of confidence and declaration of intent in a very quiet way,” the first Israeli diplomatic source said.

Not only have diplomats remained in the UAE, but a source familiar with the Emirati environment says that Israeli tourists returned to the Emirates for vacations after Passover. Hebrew is once again heard on Emirati streets, and the new Jewish community there feels safe and cared for by the government, per the source.

But, the UAE seems to be unique in that stance.

JNS has learned that there is no target date for the Israeli delegation to return to Bahrain, though there is still a general commitment to the accords in Manama. Everything that was achieved there before Oct. 7 remains in effect, JNS is told.

Relationships and trust-building take a long time in the Arab world and the breathing space in the post-Oct. 7 climate may allow for trust to build without expectations of milestones along the way, a second diplomatic source told JNS.

The Israeli public’s attention is also focused elsewhere since the Hamas terror attack.

“If you look at Israel since Oct. 7, how much of a mental free space have we had for anything?” the second diplomatic source said.

A core of the Abraham Accords was trade and economics, which often steers clear of political issues of the day.

“Businesses will renew connections. Businesses are interest-based and like any other country that was hostile to Israel, they have to shift modes now,” the second diplomatic source said.

Fredman told JNS that business and trade ties are continuing largely.

“Obviously, the tourism has taken a hit, given that Morocco and Bahrain have canceled flights” after Oct. 7, he said.

Both diplomatic sources indicated to JNS that Washington—which brokered the accords under the Trump administration and has sought to push for Israeli-Saudi Arabian normalization in the Biden White House—continues to support and advance the bilateral and multilateral relationships in the post-Oct. 7 environment.

According to Fredman, there may be a shift in the near future to regional projects—such as the I2U2 group of India, Israel, the UAE and the United States and the planned “economic corridor” from India to East Europe which passes through UAE, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Israel—before the progress of the Abraham Accords can be revived after the war against Hamas in Gaza. 

“You have a host of international actors all participating, and that leads to greater integration because they need to cooperate to enjoy the fruits and the benefits,” Fredman said. 

“I think that’s probably the way that regional integration is going to progress in the near future—on the multilateral track, rather than the bilateral track,” he said.

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