World News: The Abraham Accords: Diplomacy’s Second Wind in the Middle East

Nathan Biller, Staff Writer

It was an unprecedented sight. On September 15, President Donald J. Trump was joined on the South Lawn by Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel, Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed of the United Arab Emirates and Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al Zayani from the Kingdom of Bahrain. Not long ago it would be unthinkable that these three leaders would stand in the same spot, but here they were, shaking hands, preparing to sign historic peace treaties in front of the White House. 

Israel, from its conception, has long been isolated from its neighbors. To date, they only maintain full diplomatic relations with two of their Arab neighbors, Egypt and Jordan, both of whom Israel signed their only peace deals within their nation’s history in 1979 and 1994 respectively. Now, 26 years later, Israel added two more in a single day.

Israel’s relationship with its neighbors is not unique in that it is strained. Due to factors including, but not limited to, outside intervention, economic collapse and a plethora of extremist militias, much of the Middle East has been reduced to a state in which skirmishes if not outright war have become almost common occurrences.  Between Feb. 28 and March 5, for example, there was an exchange of air and drone strikes between Syria and Turkey claiming the lives of 33 Turks and, according to the Syrian Human Rights Observatory, 170 Syrians, receiving the bare minimum coverage in American media. And despite efforts of the Arab League to unify all of these nations, the region has deteriorated under its watch since its conception in 1945, and it has failed as a substitute for foreign assistance, with most nations relying on the protection of outside hegemons such as the United States and Russia for most forms of economic development and security. In terms of security alliances, the Middle East has none that have proven effective.

This divided state of the Middle East and their closely aligned Eastern European neighbors is not new, and such stories of violence have been the status quo of the region for decades. That’s why it was such a shock when the White House announced it had mediated two landmark peace deals, between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and the Kingdom of Bahrain, in which the latter two would recognize Israel and make a push towards normalization despite their longstanding protest against the clashes between Israel and Palestine.

What’s more, it was alleged by the White House that “five or six” more nations in the region expressed interest in joining pacts similar to the ones signed by the UAE and Bahrain. The specific names were not released, however, one nation in particular, perhaps the most surprising one possible, hinted at interest. King Salman of Saudi Arabia, five days after the signing of these treaties, spoke before the United Nations General Assembly. There he stated, we will spare no effort to work together towards achieving a bright future where peace, stability, prosperity and coexistence among all the region’s peoples prevail,” in what has largely been recognized as a reference to the recent peace deals. Saudi Arabia has since expressed that it will not sign onto any such deals until a resolution is reached in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; however, that these two historically rivalrous nations, one the home of Islam’s most sacred landmarks and the other the sole Jewish state in the world, would show a desire for normalized ties, even if conditional, are monumental. That any other nations at all would rally around a peace deal with such a deeply unpopular neighbor as Israel is monumental in and of itself.

With the effective destruction of the ISIS caliphate, a dramatic slowdown in the exchanges between Israel and Palestine and all nations prioritizing economic recovery during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Middle East is under unique circumstances in which geopolitical rivalries are taking the backburner, ceasefires are becoming more regular and nonviolent diplomacy has become a viable solution to an endless cycle of brutal conflict.

These recent successes also demonstrate the effectiveness of the United States as a peaceful mediator, as opposed to an intervening military power. In stark contrast to President Trump’s abrasive rhetoric, US foreign policy has taken a more populist, noninterventionist turn under his administration compared to his most recent predecessors. In line with his campaign promise of avoiding “endless wars,” he has continued to withdraw American troops from the Middle East by the thousands, and he is the first US president in four decades not to begin a new war.  For the Israel-UAE peace deal specifically, President Trump has received three Nobel Peace Prize nominations, from Christian Tybring-Gjedde, a four-term member of the Norwegian Parliament, Magnus Jacobsson, a member of Sweden’s national legislative assembly and from a group of four Australian law professors.