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With the Abraham Accords (the Accords), President Trump and his team provided the first genuine glimpses of what peace in the Middle East could look like in my lifetime. More importantly, they demonstrated how to accomplish it. Much like he insisted American domestic and foreign policy center on Americans’ safety, prosperity, and security, his team’s approach to the Middle East encouraged Arab leaders to do the same for their citizens.
This premise is how the Accords were explained to me by Joseph Levine. Levine is a localization specialist and author who lives outside Tel-Aviv in Israel. He works with the Israeli government and military on various contracts and is one of a handful of people I have met on social media that I consider both a friend and a mentor. Levine has been a guest on various podcasts that I have had since 2015 and enriched my view about the on-the-ground realities in the Middle East.
When I began talking with Levine, the Obama administration was barreling towards the Iran Deal. At the time, his perspective was that this approach to Middle East politics would reduce the United States’ influence in the region. Obviously, this a vacuum that Russia could fill since they already have a significant presence. The Trump administration reversed this trend by being as pro-Israel as any in my lifetime.
The U.S. isolating the Iranian regime economically and politically reinforced Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu’s willingness to speak out fiercely against the Iran Deal during the Obama administration. In some ways, the Obama administration’s approach to the region had consolidated the feeling among the Sunni Arab nations that Iran was a more significant existential threat than Israel.
When the Accords were signed, Levine provided insight into the attractiveness of economic and technological exchange in the region. Appealing to economic ties and going around the Palestinians was a different approach but not unheard of in global politics. The European Union was formed partly as a mechanism to prioritize economic cooperation and prosperity rather than the regional and political differences that had led to two world wars. One of the most effective barriers to war and revolution is a prosperous and content middle class.
Israel has highly sophisticated water desalination technology that Bahrain needs to provide a reliable, clean water supply. Likewise, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has been turning towards the future, and technology exchange was a highly attractive idea. Dubai is a modern, international city, and expectations among its citizens are increasing. Even Saudi Arabia, though not a party to the Accords, had to confront the idea that in the future, reliance on an oil-based economy is not realistic. America became a net exporter of energy, and cleaner forms of power are on the horizon. At the time, Joseph predicted if Trump won reelection, the Saudis would eventually join the Accords. They were widely viewed as having given a tacit nod to the other Arab countries moving first.
During the recent military conflict between Israel and Hamas, Levine joined me on a special edition of a podcast I sometimes join called The Red Whine. During our hour-long conversation, he provided insight and information that indicate the Abraham Accords are durable and relations between the Arab nations and the Palestinians are changing.
Levine noted that condemnation and reprisals are predictable anytime Israel and Hamas have an armed conflict. This time he said, it was strangely quiet. While there was some criticism, direct statements against Israel did not come out of the leadership in Dubai or even Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Prominent Emirati in the UAE even condemned Hamas as terrorists. At least one also confirmed the durability of the Accords:
The agreements have propelled tourism, investment and cooperation in fields from energy to technology. A UAE investment fund has plans to purchase a stake in an Israeli gas field and Dubai’s port operator is bidding for Haifa Port.
“The Abraham Accords are an irreversible process,” said prominent Emirati commentator Abdulkhaleq Abdulla. “It was very clear that it was in keeping with the UAE’s national priorities and strategic interests so there is no going back.”
There is also a notable shift in Arab Israeli voting patterns according to Levine:
“There have been some overtures made by Bibi to Arab-Israeli citizens who, like we were talking about with the UAE and Saudi Arabia, they’ve become more self-interested. They are not interested in any kind of nationalistic conflict. They just want jobs and opportunities to go to college and to raise their families, et cetera.
And having successfully made peace with the UAE and with Bahrain, Bibi was sort of able to bridge some political issues and that yielded a surprising amount for Likud and other non-Arab candidates during the last election. And that is a very frightening reality for Hamas.”
Arab countries are also increasingly distrustful of just sending money to the Palestinians. After sending billions and seeing no benefit to the citizens of Gaza and the West Bank, they are making different demands:
“Their (the Palestinians) only influx of money now is from Biden. It’s not that they are not getting any more funds from the Arab world, it’s that they’ve become much more restrictive about how they give them that money.
So, for example, there have been some donations made by the UAE, but they demand very, very strict accountability. Now if they donate, let’s say concrete, they want observers on the ground making sure that concrete is being used to build apartment buildings and to build bomb shelters and things of the sort rather than used for military purposes.
Saudi Arabia did the same thing. They donated money recently for the poor in Gaza. but they demanded to see proof it was going to the poor and not lining to pockets of those 10 or 15 multi-billionaire families in Gaza. So, things are changing, and the attitude is changing. I do think that is one of the reasons why Hamas overreacted like this.
There is real fear that a large portion of the Israeli-Arab population is just no longer interested in conflict. They don’t need it and don’t want it. You have an entire generation that has gone to college and have degrees in engineering. For example, I will tell you one field the Arabs happen to really excel in here in Israel is anything related to medicine.”
In another donation, the UAE sent medical supplies and equipment rather than money to address the crisis in GAZA created by the pandemic. In some cases, the country sends in its own contractors to oversee projects they are funding to ensure the appropriate use of supplies.
Joe Biden and his administration had a choice, and as is typical of every other foreign policy position the president has taken in the last 50 years, they chose wrong. The United States could have remained energy independent and encouraged Saudi Arabia to move closer to joining the Accords. Instead, they ceded that leverage. Biden could have resisted the anti-Trump flex and realized the Iranian regime was on an unstable footing. Increased freedom and prosperity could be on the horizon for the Iranian people. Instead, he and his de facto Secretary of State, John Kerry, went right back to appeasing the mullahs.
The administration could also have taken a closer look at the reality on the ground. Sunni leaders in the region prioritize security and prosperity for their citizens, thereby increasing the preference for peace. Inside Israel, an increasingly educated and successful Arab community is becoming content with the freedom and opportunity that living in the region’s only democratic state affords them. As they evolve to view their Jewish neighbors as having common interests, the appetite for conflict decreases.
In reality, Biden could take a clue from the Sunni Arab leaders. Providing security and prosperity for Americans would significantly decrease the chaos in our cities. This fact is obvious and worked quite well pre-pandemic. There really is no choice but to believe that policies designed to create dependence are intentional to keep the radical left’s revolution progressing apace.