The Abraham Accord: No details, no devil – analysis

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Unlike the treaties with Egypt and Jordan that had to devolve into minute details about boundaries and timetables, these documents were much more general.

L to R: United Arab Emirates (UAE) Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed, Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al Zayani, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump stand together after signing of the Abraham Accords. September 15, 2020. (photo credit: REUTERS/TOM BRENNER)

L to R: United Arab Emirates (UAE) Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed, Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al Zayani, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump stand together after signing of the Abraham Accords. September 15, 2020.

(photo credit: REUTERS/TOM BRENNER)

The Israel-Egypt peace deal signed at the White House on March 26, 1979, spanned dozens of pages and included letters, annexes, detailed maps and agreed minutes.

So it goes when two sides that fought four bloody wars decide to terminate their state of war and disentangle. There were no-go zones in the Sinai to delineate, timelines of withdrawal from oil fields to spell out, and an international boundary to set.
That takes a lot of ink.

The same is true of the Israel-Jordan peace treaty, signed on October 26, 1994, in the Arava. That document, which put to end the state of war that existed between two countries that had fought each other three times, included a preamble, 30 articles, five annexes and agreed minutes.

Contrast that with the relatively brief documents signed Tuesday on the White House lawn.

There were three documents in all: the Abraham Accords declaration; the Declaration of Peace, Cooperation, and Constructive Diplomatic and Friendly Relations Between the Kingdom of Bahrain and the State of Israel; and the Treaty of Peace, Diplomatic Relations and Full Normalization Between the United Arab Emirates and the State of Israel. The first document was 210 words, the second about 460, and the peace treaty with the UAE spread over nine pages.

Why so short? Because unlike the treaties with Egypt and Jordan that had to devolve into minute details about boundaries and timetables, these documents were much more general.

Much ado was made in the run-up to Tuesday’s signing that no one in Israel – outside of the prime minister, his advisers, and officials involved in drawing up the documents  – had any idea what was in them.

Would they spell out an Israeli promise not to extend sovereignty to parts of the West Bank? Would they explicitly refer to a future Palestinian state? Would there be any mention of a US commitment to sell F-35s to the UAE?

That the Prime Minister’s Office was so tight-lipped about the contents of the documents fueled speculation that they contained something explosive.

They didn’t.

The Abraham Accords declaration reads like a John Lennon song and declares that the signatories – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US President Donald Trump, UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed, and Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid al Zayani – “recognize the importance of maintaining and strengthening peace in the Middle East and around the world based on mutual understanding and coexistence, as well as respect for human dignity and freedom, including religious freedom.”

This declaration seems like a public service announcement declaring that those who signed it had boarded a “peace train,” in the hopes that this announcement in itself will entice others to do the same.

The peace treaty with the UAE, however, is written in standard diplomatic style – dry and legalistic, not declaratory.

Whereas the Egyptian-Israeli accords included a letter from Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat to president Jimmy Carter committing themselves to negotiations toward Palestinian autonomy in the West Bank and Gaza – negotiations that ultimately went nowhere – the Palestinian issue merited no more than 100 words in the Israel-UAE agreement. The two sides referred to their commitment to “continuing their efforts to achieve a just, comprehensive, realistic and enduring solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” And to “working together to realize a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that meets the legitimate needs and aspirations of both peoples, and to advance comprehensive middle east peace, stability and prosperity.”

That’s it, and that is about as vague as one could ask for. There is no mention there of a Palestinian state or Jerusalem or possible Israeli annexation.

But, then again, why should there be?

This is a treaty between Israel and the UAE, not between Israel and the Palestinians. The rather perfunctory manner in which the Palestinian issue appears here, as it similarly appears in the peace declaration between Israel and Bahrain, leaves the impression that it was raised so that the UAE and Bahrain could say they did not abandon the Palestinian cause.

That the drafters of the documents decided not to mention any of the contentious issues on the Palestinian track – two states, Jerusalem, refugees, annexation, settlements – underlines the degree to which the UAE, Bahrain and Israel do not want the Palestinian issue to derail their agreements.

This language makes it clear that the sides are not giving the Palestinians any leverage at all over their relationship. For if the agreements had said that the hope was for a two-state solution, then if a Palestinian state would not come into being in the foreseeable future, could that be grounds upon which to annul the documents?

Better not go there at all. The less detail on this issue for both sides, the better, because that way neither side can say down the road that the other is not living up to the deal.

If the devil is in the details, then one way to keep the devil at bay is simply not to get into details, and that seems to have been the philosophy that guided the drafters of these accords. There is nothing in the documents regarding the Palestinians that could be used to break up the new relationships.

The document with Bahrain ends with a paragraph thanking Trump for, among other things, his “pragmatic” approach to furthering the cause of peace. That the Palestinian issue was barely mentioned demonstrates that pragmatism, because if one wants these agreements to last and bear fruit, it is common sense to leave out as many bones of contention as possible.

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