The Abraham Accords have proven to be an important achievement: positively linking a number of Arab countries with Israel. It has now been embraced by the Biden Administration and Prime Minister Yair Lapid has urged the Palestinian Authority (PA) to join. The paradoxical problem is that as the Accords find increasing success and endorsement, anti-Israel forces are doubling-down on hostile reactions, trying desperately to weaken support for Israel.
The idea that Israel could gain relationships with the Arab world, without resolving the Palestinian situation, was denigrated by the Democratic Party foreign policy community. In 2016, then Secretary of State John Kerry said, “There will be no advance and separate peace with the Arab world without the Palestinian process and Palestinian peace. Everybody needs to understand that. That is a hard reality.”
Kerry’s approach signaled to the PA that it had no need to compromise. It could sustain its maximalist demands, including the “right of return,” without any penalty. This approach has been aided by the United Nations which has singled out the ability of descendants of the original displaced Palestinians to maintain refugee status through a separate agency, UNWRA. It has created more than five million Palestinians with permanent refugee status, less than 10 percent of whom ever lived within Israel’s 1948 boundaries.
What Kerry did not recognize is that the Arab world was impatient with the PA’s stance. As the conflict with Iran grew and the economic benefits with Israel became clearer, many Arab states decided their national interests would no longer be held hostage. They would pursue a wide range of relationships with Israel: trade, tourism, as well as military arrangements.
Simultaneously, the new Israeli government, that for the first time included an Arab party in its ruling coalition, aggressively embraced a strategy “Shrinking the Conflict:” not allowing small flashpoints to fuel larger conflicts. To the chagrin of rightwing Zionists, this strategy has included policies to improve the Palestinian economy: loans to the PA, providing more flexibility to Palestinian businesses, allowing more Palestinians to work within Israel, expanding permits for Palestinian housing, and an unwillingness to evict Bedouin communities from strategic West Bank locations. Within Israel, it has meant seeking compromises on evictions in East Jerusalem and Bedouin areas; and passage of Knesset legislation that would dramatically improve Israel Arab communities, including three new Bedouin towns.
This has followed a decade of government affirmative action programs that substantially weaved Israeli Arabs into the nation’s fabric, especially in hi-tech, medical areas and even Israel’s security forces. As a result of these improvements, Israeli Arabs have an increasingly positive attitude toward the Israeli state. Indeed, a 2022 poll of East Jerusalem found that 48% of its Palestinian residents say that, if they had to make a choice, they would prefer to become citizens of Israel rather than of a Palestinian state.
Rather than focusing on these positives, following Amnesty International’s statement, 29 left-wing US organizations demanding that the US reject the Abraham Accords and “end support for Israel’s violation of Palestinian rights and apartheid rule.” These forces have successfully brought into the mainstream the notion that Israel is a “colonial settler” state.
This narrative denies the long continuous presence of Jews. It also downplays migration of many Arabs into what became the Israeli state during the British mandate period. In response to increased economic opportunities over 10 percent of the 1931 Arab population in Jewish-populated districts had migrated from other Palestinian districts in the previous decade. This internal response to economic opportunities provides strong circumstantial evidence that illegal Arab immigration into Palestine was of consequence as well. Consistent with this thesis, the Arab population in Palestine doubled between 1922 and 1947 compared to only increasing by 40 percent over the previous 32 years. This suggests that a significant share of families displaced in 1948 cannot trace their roots in the Israeli portion of Palestine back more than one or two generations.
Sadly, even the pro-Israel J Street organization has been unwilling to embrace the Abraham Accords. It claimed that they might have “tangible benefits for Israel and some in the region,” but warned they also “provide cover for the Israeli right’s intention to permanently rule out Palestinian independence.” J Street’s obsession that Israel holds the keys to a two-state solution is misguided. It ignores the PA’s undemocratic rule and an its increasing inability to control militant forces, including Hamas. These liberal critics also refuse to address the demand for a right of return for the descendants of the displaced Palestinians.
Many of these refugees have been living for three generations in squalor conditions, often trapped in refugee camps. In Lebanon, having permanent refugee status, Palestinians are excluded from the UN mandate to gain naturalization there. Senior researcher Mai Abu Moghli reported, Palestinians face persistent discrimination and isolation, and are deprived from ownership of property and the right to work in a number of professions. The ghettoized communities in which they live are, in many cases, surrounded by walls and Lebanese army checkpoints. Given the intergenerational hardships refugees face, it is impossible for the PA to compromise on the “right of return.”
This doubling down on anti-Israel narratives and actions has also been reflected in pro-Palestinian efforts in the Middle East. Within Israel, the Arab Joint List chose to support Palestinian solidarity rather than pursuing benefits for Israeli Arabs. Instead of keeping the Lapid-Bennett government afloat, it publicly called for Israel Arabs officers to put down their arms rather than policing in East Jerusalem. Hezbollah has also ramped up its anti-Israel posture, using drones to pepper Israel at the border and hoping to exploit a conflict over natural gas rights in the Mediterranean. However, the most dangerous responses are coming from the West Bank.
As “Shrinking the Conflict” policies have reduced tensions, hundreds of gunmen, many associated with Islamic Jihad (IJ) have stepped up their attacks on settlers and IDF soldiers and installations. “There is a feeling that the Palestinian Authority is no longer in control,” said a Palestinian academic from Ramallah. “There are too many armed men and thugs who are acting as if they are in charge.” In the first two weeks of July, at least 23 Palestinians were injured in several shooting incidents in the Jenin and Nablus areas, including former deputy prime minister Nasser al Shaer.
President Mahmoud Abbas is afraid that these men will turn against him if he orders a crackdown on them. As a result, it is left to Israeli forces to counter these militants. Indeed, resulting armed conflicts are likely to escalate as the militants hope that Israeli actions will be a catalyst to the beginning of a Third Intifada. Indeed, the Israeli West Bank capture of a senior IJ commander led to another Gaza war: with Israelis preemptively attacking IJ fortifications and senior officials followed by almost 600 missiles fired in reprisal at Israeli communities.
Pro-Palestinian forces immediately seized on the unfortunate death of a 6-year-old. What was ignored, however, was that many Palestinian civilians were killed, including a number of children, when one-quarter of the IJ missiles fell in Gaza. Most telling, however, this military engagement did not result in any significant anti-Israeli demonstrations in East Jerusalem or the West Bank, forcing IJ to accept a quick ceasefire and military defeat. For many, this verifies how the “Shrinking the Conflict” strategy has created an unwillingness among Palestinians to risk its benefits, weakening, at least for the moment, the likelihood of a Third Intifada.