False Peace in the Absence of War: The Abraham Accords as a Tool of State Oppression, not Harmony

September 23, 2020 by Digital Editor

By: Hana Kassem

On September 15, President Donald Trump presided over a ceremony at the White House for the signing of a peace deal and establishment of diplomatic relations between the UAE, Bahrain, and Israel. The “Abraham Accords” were met with skepticism and doubt as to whether or not it could be considered a “peace deal” at all, considering the UAE and Bahrain were never in a state of war with Israel, and neither country had been established by the time Israel was declared a state nor when the Arab-Israeli wars were fought.

And for all the talk of peace, one massive piece in the deal’s framework was missing: the Palestinians. No mention of Palestine was present in any of the text, save for two vague, elusive references to the “Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” It is unclear how any sort of peace can be established in the region without any concessions negotiated for the Palestinian people, still under an illegal military occupation and besieged in the Gaza Strip. The UAE’s claim that they secured a suspension of Israel’s West Bank annexation plans in exchange for normalizing relations has been called out for the sham that it is: suspension does not mean termination, and simply postpones Israel’s annexation plans to a later date. It also ignores the reality on the ground, as the West Bank is already de facto annexed to Israel.

The UAE and Bahrain join Egypt and Jordan as the only Arab nations to have established diplomatic relations with Israel, contrary to the policy of Arab nations to refuse normalization with Israel until Palestinian national rights are recognized. Whereas the Jordan-Israel Peace Treaty signed in 1994 guaranteed the restoration of occupied Jordanian land, an equitable share of water from the Yarmouk and Jordan rivers, delimitation of international boundaries, and an article outlining a framework to address refugees and displaced persons, the Abraham Accords includes no concessions on behalf of Israel for “peace.” Instead, the agreement calls for “committing to continuing their efforts to achieve a just…enduring solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” with no substantive goals outlined for how to achieve that just solution.

Rather, the deal is a codification of the trade and backroom diplomacy that Israel has been quietly conducting with both the UAE and Bahrain for years. It emphasizes “cooperation” to “advance the cause of peace, stability, and prosperity throughout the Middle East,” through bilateral agreements in collaboration in finance and investment, technology, and energy, to name a few. The deal largely mirrors the agreement to establish economic relations between Kosovo and Serbia signed just days before at the White House, which promised the building of rail links and other infrastructure projects between the two states. The economic normalization agreement also included mutual recognition between Kosovo and Israel, with promises from Serbia and Kosovo to establish their embassies in Jerusalem.

These agreements are the latest in a series of efforts by the Trump Administration to advance Israel’s interests on the world stage. Jared Kushner was tasked with presenting a “deal of the century” for Palestinians and Israelis. After repeatedly failing to do so, these agreements were last-ditch attempts at touting a “success” at “peace in the Middle East” for the Trump Administration ahead of November elections.

However, Kushner’s “peace deal” accomplishes the consolidation of a pre-existing alliance in the Saudi-Iranian power struggle, and it fails to address human rights abuses in the region by extending the US’s tacit approval to further repress popular movements for rights and democracy. In exchange for signing the peace deal, the UAE was able to secure high-tech weaponry from the US, including F-35 stealth fighter jets, EA-18 electronic jets, and Reaper drones. Israel will likely  receive even more American arms to maintain its military advantage in the region.

While it is still unclear whether Bahrain received any concessions from the US or Israel in exchange for the agreement, the Kingdom’s reputation, stained by a terrible human rights record, stands to benefit from an alliance with Israel under the US sphere of influence. Bahrain seeks diplomatic license to continue their violations of human rights with the military backing of the world’s superpower. The Shia majority population is poor, disenfranchised, accused of being a tool of the Iranian government, and therefore treated as a threat to the ruling Sunni monarchy. Thus, the popular pro-democracy uprisings in the country in the context of the Arab Spring in 2011 were quelled with lethal force with the help of neighboring UAE and Saudi Arabia. Bahrain is also integral in the Saudi-led coalition war on Yemen – likewise framed as a fight to counter the Iran-aligned Shia Houthi rebels – creating the world’s worst humanitarian crisis and placing 10 million Yemenis at risk of famine, with US support.

The UAE’s and Bahrain’s alliance with Israel is important in light of Israel’s history of propping up repressive regimes, including the Apartheid regime in South Africa and the military-led junta government during the Salvadoran Civil War. Israel continues to have a reputation for exporting military weapons, surveillance technologies, and training military and police forces committing human rights abuses today, including US police departments. The US frequently guards Israel from criticism on the world stage for its human rights abuses, wielding its veto power at least 43 times to block UN resolutions condemning Israel’s actions. By entering into an alliance, the UAE and Bahrain are likely to benefit from US protection as well.

Nonetheless, Palestinians and Bahrainis alike recognize the false peace that Bahrain and the UAE have achieved with Israel on the world stage. #BahrainisAgainstNormalization began trending on twitter shortly after the deal to normalize relations was announced, because despite rulers’ efforts to marginalize the majority of Bahrainis, many recognize the Palestinian struggle for liberation as integral to Bahrainis’ fight for freedom under two linked repressive regimes.

Many have stated that the losers in this peace deal are the Palestinians – while this may be true, it cannot be overstated how detrimental this deal is to Bahrainis and other Arab populations fighting for representation and rights under repressive governments. The Palestinians have long recognized that their Arab neighbors ruling in the Gulf are no allies to their cause.  Indeed, the Abraham Accords were not a surprise, nor a scandal, but an expected disappointment after decades of betrayal that has, time and again, come at the cost of advancing the Palestinian struggle for the benefit of repressive regimes incentivized by the promise of weapons, aid, and better relations with the United States.

The truth is that this peace deal does not change reality for Palestinians. Public solidification of a betrayal by Arab states that has been years in the making does not change their status as a colonized and occupied people, nor does it undermine the Palestinian cause. Palestinian resistance is not defined by the diplomatic whims of tyrants in neighboring Gulf countries pandering to the policies of the Trump Administration. Pan-Arabism is long dead. Rather, Palestinian resistance is defined by their existence. Peace will only be made once Palestinian voices are no longer silenced, and instead brought to the front of any discussion on the future of the region. Every other “peace deal” any Arab country signs until that day is meaningless.

Hana Kassem is a 2L at Georgetown University Law Center. She is a Global Law Scholar and Human Rights Associate. She also serves as a staff editor on the Georgetown Journal of International Law. She graduated with a B.A. in international affairs and economics from the George Washington University. As a law student, she has worked at the Federal Trade Commission’s Office of International Affairs and as a research assistant tracking U.S. asylum policy changes under the Trump Administration.