In 2020, the Abraham Accords emerged as a beacon of hope for a new era in the Middle East. Initiated by the United States, these agreements sought to normalise diplomatic relations between Israel and four Arab countries: the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco. 

The Accords aimed at enhancing economic ties, promoting religious tolerance, and securing peace across the region. The key factor of undercutting common threats and maintaining mutual security (namely regarding Iran) is still paramount. Political shockwaves resulting from Israel’s war in Gaza, triggered by the Hamas attack which killed 1,139 Israelis on October 7 last year, have permeated throughout society, from parliaments to university campuses alike, but the signatories of the Accords have remained steadfast. 

Why, then, are the Abraham Accords proving so resilient?

In the UAE and Bahrain, there has been a noticeable shift in public sentiment and government rhetoric towards Israel and the Abraham Accords following the October 7 attacks. Criticisms have emerged over Israel’s response to the attacks, with some viewing it as disproportionate and a catalyst for further violence.  Anwar Gargash, diplomatic advisor to the president of the UAE, has raised how responses were complicating the path to peace

Yet despite social wavering regarding opinions on Israel,  King Hamad of Bahrain has remained steadfast in maintaining support. The attacks and Israel’s subsequent actions have somewhat strained the warm ties that were being fostered under the Accords, as these countries balance their new diplomatic relationships with Israel against their traditional support for the Palestinian cause and public opinion at home. 

Similarly, Oman and Qatar have maintained practical relations with Israel, indicating a willingness among Gulf states to engage with Israel under certain conditions.

 In particular, there have been calls from both Emirati and Bahraini experts and officials for an immediate ceasefire and a shift towards a diplomatic process leading to a two-state solution, emphasising the necessity to quell rising radicalisation and prevent regional spillover of the conflict This has not so far been congruent with Netanyahu’s policies, deeply entrenched in his own views as well as his promises to factions of his government, demonstrating the effect of domestic Israeli politics. 

Netanyahu’s binding to more hardline partners does not however eliminate the barrier of Hamas, consistently refusing full hostage releases in the guise of unrealistic expectation post 07/10, with Gazan Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar devoted to the erosion of the Israeli state.

Normalisation talks between Saudi Arabia and Israel, significantly influenced by the U.S., have encountered similar complexities. Before October 7, it seemed that Saudi Arabia and Israel were on the verge of normalisation, driven not by the immediate prospect of a Palestinian state, but by a U.S. security guarantee to Saudi Arabia aimed at countering Iranian influence. 

This underscores the strategic motivations behind the normalisation efforts, particularly the shared concerns about Iran’s regional ambitions. This is not to say the Palestinian issue is secondary: rather, these nations have consistently and increasingly prioritised a cooperative political relationship to resolve generational issues. However, the escalation of conflict between Israel and Hamas prompted Saudi Arabia to pause its efforts, highlighting a rapid revaluation of foreign policy priorities. This pause also reflects Saudi Arabia’s cautious diplomacy and commitment to Palestinian rights and statehood.

This stance underscores the kingdom’s firm commitment to the Palestinian cause and sets preconditions that align with broader Arab and Muslim sentiment regarding the conflict. Despite disruptions, this sentiment is not at all incongruous with Israeli normalisation. Saudi Arabian ambassador Prince Khalid bin Bandar reiterated the kingdom remains ‘absolutely’ interested in normalisation.

It is speculated that Mohammed bin Salman and other moderate Arab leaders, like those in Egypt, are fairly pleased with the diminishing role of Hamas in governing Gaza. This is surely linked with anti-Iranian-regime stances, in the face of their discouragement of Saudi plans. This presents a picture of a ‘pause’ being simultaneously supplemented by a recalibration of Saudi Arabia’s approach to normalisations. Whilst each state faces unique obligations and hurdles, one clearly recognises the tenacious pursuit of Saudi-Israeli relations. And so, framing this as a rapid reassessment of foreign policy becomes hyperbolic. Saudi, as the leaders of the non-Iranian Arab bloc, must be pragmatic for the sake of their own strategic battle with Iran – not to mention their diplomacy with other Arab states.

The Abraham Accords opened new avenues for defence and security cooperation among Israel, the UAE, and Bahrain, particularly in response to shared security threats. The Negev Forum, which includes Egypt, has expanded this coalition, focusing on shared interests such as energy, health, and food security. However, tangible improvements in the Israeli-Palestinian situation remain elusive, underscoring the need for continued efforts to address this core issue for lasting peace and normalisation in the region

One interesting point in this landscape also has to do with Egypt. Egyptian leader El-Sisi has kept borders firmly shut, and recently accepted an EU deal to curb migration into Europe. El-Sisi’s interests are not furthered by taking in Palestinian citizens as they are more ardently religious and do match his politics. 

Radicalisation is a threat and reality, being rooted in the Egyptian Coup in 2013 with El-Sisi’s overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood. Such begrudging realities show the complications of intra-Middle-Eastern/North-African issues, demonstrating on multiple fronts why the Accords are still on track.

 Interestingly, despite prominent aid to Egypt, the US has not explored dialogues through this avenue. Equally, along with Egypt, signatories of the Abraham Accords, partly due to public statements and other diplomatic handlings, have not come under scrutiny by local populations nor indeed by the masses of people in the West publicly critiquing Israel. 

There is a basic pragmatic primacy of one’s own state regardless of sympathies and sentiments: this base aversion is historically exacerbated in this context when considering previous refugee intakes in Jordan, Lebanon and Tunisia resulting in severe impediments. 

Likewise, the overarching Sunni and Shi’a tensions and warfare in the last 50 years (including Accord countries) also lack a presence in mainstream (especially student/campus-based) discourses. This highlights and intensifies how intricacies in diplomacy are being largely ignored with Israel receiving disproportionate criticism.

Vulnerabilities have certainly been exposed to external shocks and internal pressures. They remind us that peace is not merely the absence of conflict but requires a sustained, collective effort towards understanding, tolerance, and mutual respect. Positively speaking, these shocks have not been enough to dissolve the powerful bedrock of powerful reasons for pursuing normalisation. 

Looking forward, the Abraham Accords hope to act as stepping stones towards a broader, more inclusive peace in an historically volatile region. The future of these agreements, and indeed of the region, will depend significantly on the ability of all parties to transcend and duly address immediate crises to devise enduring solutions addressing the root causes of conflict.

Blerton Gerguri is a Policy Fellow of The Pinsker Centre, a campus-based foreign policy think tank, which focuses on Israel and the Middle East. The views in this article are his own. 

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