Four ways the Abraham Accords dismantle the anti-Israel camp’s narrative

Dr. Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani, Minister of Foreign Affairs for the Kingdom of Bahrain, Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of the State of Israel, U.S. President Donald J. Trump and Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the United Arab Emirates sign papers during the Abraham Accords Signing Ceremony at The White House on September 15, 2020, in Washington, DC. (Oliver Contreras/SIPA USA via Jewish News)
Dr. Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani, Minister of Foreign Affairs for the Kingdom of Bahrain, Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of the State of Israel, U.S. President Donald J. Trump and Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the United Arab Emirates sign papers during the Abraham Accords Signing Ceremony at The White House on September 15, 2020, in Washington, DC. (Oliver Contreras/SIPA USA via Jewish News)

I don’t think many people engaged in the debate about Israel and the Palestinians have really absorbed yet the full significance of the Abraham Accords, the peace deal struck in Washington DC between Israel, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain on 15 September.

On the ground in the Middle East, where it most matters, the deal is a new kind of people-to-people peace that builds coexistence between the societies, not the rather hollow model of a purely state-to-state “cold peace” with Israel pursued by Egypt and Jordan, where the governments have good practical diplomatic and security relations with Israel but this does not trickle down to the cultural and educational spheres and does not penetrate public discourse. The UAE and Israel are making a big effort to promote grassroots civil society links between businesses, NGOs, universities and cultural institutions. The Abraham Accords are about Israel and Arab countries building peace together because it gives them the opportunity to improve prosperity and everyday life for everyone in the region.

But in terms of the debate here in the UK, once people begin to digest the significance of the deal it will become apparent that it has driven a coach and horses through four of the key parts of the ideological narrative of the anti-Israel camp.

First, the Abraham Accords sound the death knell for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign. BDS was built on the foundations and legacy of the Arab Boycott of Israel, initiated as a boycott of the pre-state Yishuv by the Arab League in 1945. With key Arab states now formally embracing trade and diplomatic deals with Israel, it looks ridiculous and out of touch with the reality of the region or Arab opinion for radicals in Europe and North America to continue to pursue a boycott policy.

Secondly, the Abraham Accords demolish the narrative that Israel is engaged in a race-based and hence racist oppression of the Palestinians, and hence the apartheid smear and the BDS policies that flow from the false comparison with apartheid South Africa. Emiratis and Bahrainis are the same ethnicity as the Palestinians: Arab. If Israel is able to have normalised and mutually beneficial relations with other Arab states it stands to reason that the occupation is down to a political impasse with the Palestinians, not a race-based desire to subjugate them.

Thirdly, the Abraham Accords destroy the narrative that the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is based on an inevitable religious clash between Jews and Muslims. The UAE and Bahrain are predominantly Muslim societies just like Palestinian society. If anything, they are more monolithically Muslim than Palestinian society is. This deal proves Israel can have good relationships with Muslim countries. The way in which the deal uses language about the mutual heritage of the three Abrahamic religions acknowledges that Jews are indigenous to the Middle East.

This last point links to the fourth aspect, which is that the Abraham Accords draw a line under historic Arab delegitimisation of Israel and the narrative that saw it as a temporary, colonialist imposition that could be destroyed. The deal shows the rest of the Arab world is growing impatient with Palestinian intransigence, and has moved to seeing Israel in pragmatic rather than ideological terms, as a permanent feature in the region that doesn’t just have to be accepted but can actually be a useful trading partner and security ally against Iran and its proxies. The contrast between practical steps by other Arab nations and the Palestinian Authority’s history of rejecting Israeli offers, even when its people would be the main beneficiary, is very stark.

As well as opening the door to a better life for many people in the region, the Accords have just made it a lot easier for all of us who have always proudly defended Israel here in the UK to win the ideological arguments with the delegitimisers, who increasingly find themselves on the opposite side to much of the Arab World, let alone Israel and its traditional allies.

About the Author
Luke Akehurst has been the Director of We Believe in Israel since 2011. We Believe in Israel is a broad coalition of over 19,000 supporters of Israel. Outside of work he was a Councillor in Hackney in East London for 12 years, has stood for Parliament twice and served on the Labour Party National Executive Committee. He was previously an award-winning Director at global PR company Weber Shandwick.
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