If You Can’t Win the Game, Change the RulesTuesday 23/02/2021

“There will be no advance and separate peace with the Arab world without the Palestinian process and Palestinian peace” – Former US Secretary of State John Kerry, (04/12/16)[1]

In the following piece we will explain how the validity of the above outdated perception has diminished. There has been an on-going shift in Israel’s long-established paradigm concerning peacemaking in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A major milestone in this shift was the signing of the Abrahamic Accords in September, 2020 and the following peace agreements with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

In the past decade or so, Israel has been actively changing the pre-existing concept that claimed that for the country to have diplomatic relations with the Arab world, it must first reach peace with the Palestinians. The new paradigm demonstrates­­ that Israel does not have to establish a lasting agreement with the Palestinians to broker relations with the rest of the Arab world. Even more so, Israel is in a position of strength when approaching the negotiation table with the Palestinians, while being backed by the moderate Arab states.

Since the founding of the modern State of Israel, the Arab world had refused to grant it any form of recognition. The first Arab state to break away from this consensus was Egypt which signed a peace treaty with Israel in March, 1979. The only other Arab country to follow Egypt’s example, until recent years, was Jordan in October, 1994. Yet, there have been a number of Arab states that have formed some level of diplomatic relations with Israel without signing a peace treaty: Morocco between 1994 and 2000,[2] Tunisia between 1996 and 2000,[3] and Oman between 1996 and 2000 as well.[4] These diplomatic ties were severed upon the eruption of the Second Intifada.

The Second Intifada (Palestinian armed uprising) started as an outcome of the failure of the 2000 Camp David Summit, during which the Israeli representatives went to great lengths to accommodate Palestinian demands. There have been additional efforts at brokering peace with the Palestinians since then, e.g. former Israeli Prime Minister Olmert’s peace plan presented in 2008, but each one has been met with increasing opposition.

The great leap towards peace from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) has been led by the UAE and Bahrain who both signed peace treaties with Israel on the 15th of September, 2020 together with the Abrahamic Accords.[5] The undisclosed relations between the UAE and Israel during the past 20 years were led by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs which helped broker economic agreements between Israeli and Emirati companies.[6] At the same time, the countries had secret security relations in an effort to contain Iran’s aggression in the region. Israel and the UAE share two main enemies: on the one hand, Iran and its axis of resistance in the region, and on the other, the Muslim Brotherhood and Sunni extremism. Strategically, the UAE have been anxious since the alleged Iranian attack in Saudi Arabia in September, 2019 and threats released by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen to launch missiles on the UAE.[7]

It is interesting to look at the polarized Palestinian and Arab League’s reactions to the different peace agreements. The Palestinian Authority announced on the 18th of August, 2020, following the joint Israeli-UAE announcement on normalizing relations, that they consider it a “stab in the back” and they totally reject it. Shortly afterward, the Palestinians recalled their ambassadors to the UAE and Bahrain.[8] The Arab League in turn refused to accept the addition of a statement condemning the peace agreements, as requested by the Palestinians, at the Arab League Summit on the 9th of September, 2020.[9] Palestinian leaders have realized that the Arab world is rather accepting of the idea of normalizing relations with Israel. This realization led the Palestinian government sending their ambassadors back to the UAE and Bahrain on the 18th of November, 2020.[10] We are seeing the beginning of the ripple effect of the new diplomatic strategy.

Following the Abrahamic Accords, Israel and Sudan announced normalization of relations between them on the 23rd of October, 2020. This was another major milestone because in contrast to the UAE and Bahrain who were never in real conflict with Israel, Sudan actually took part in fighting against Israel in the 1948 War of Independence and the Six-Day war in 1967.[11] The peace with Sudan is also very symbolic because it was at the Arab League Summit in Khartoum, shortly after the Six-Day War, that the Arab States agreed on the famous three No’s: No to recognizing Israel, No to negotiating with Israel and No to peace with Israel.

The latest development in the region is the US-brokered peace agreement between Israel and Morocco which was made possible after the US announced that it “recognizes Moroccan sovereignty over the entire Western Sahara territory.”[12] These renewed relations are another attempt at gathering regional support for the US-Israel backed opposition to the Iranian regime. Also, the new Israeli-Moroccan alliance was only made possible thanks to the Arab Gulf states’ embrace of Israel. The Palestinian government for the first time, changed their approach and did not release a statement of condemnation as they had done in previous cases.

“No Arab state, no moderate Sunni state, no one will have open relations with Israel…as long as the Palestinian problem isn’t solved.” – Former PM of Israel Ehud Olmert, (22/01/20)[13]

Olmert, who has led peace talks with the Palestinians as mentioned earlier, could not have been more wrong in this statement. Four Arab states have formalized open relations with Israel, and we expect this trend to continue.

We hope these peace treaties will bring about real peace, economic prosperity and friendship between the citizens of Israel and the people of the moderate Arab states.


[1] https://2009-2017.state.gov/secretary/remarks/2016/12/264824.htm

[2] https://mitvim.org.il/en/publication/israel-the-second-largest-moroccan-diaspora-in-the-world/

[3] https://www.regthink.org/articles/normalization-between-israel-and-tunisia

[4] https://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Israels-renewed-affair-with-Oman-57141

[5] https://www.inss.org.il/publication/abraham-accord-behind-the-scenes/

[6] https://www.haaretz.co.il/news/politics/.premium-1.9083879

[7] https://www.ynet.co.il/article/ryObszQMw#autoplay

[8] https://www.ynet.co.il/news/article/SJqcIkmqv

[9] https://www.haaretz.co.il/news/politics/1.9142202

[10] https://www.ynet.co.il/news/article/SJqcIkmqv

[11] https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/new-atlanticist/experts-react-sudan-and-israel-reach-historic-peace-agreement/

[12] https://edition.cnn.com/2020/12/10/politics/trump-israel-morocco/index.html

[13] https://www.inn.co.il/news/447227

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