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The Arab World Reacts to The Abraham Accords

Running Numbers by Renee Perper
Cole Keister
Israeli flag with landscape in the background

The Abraham Accords didn't provoke a reaction among many Arab states. Why?

An Arab Issue or a Palestinian Issue?

This September, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain normalized diplomatic relations with Israel, moves which represent a new twist to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The September 15 agreements, also referred to as “The Abraham Accords,” made the UAE and Bahrain the third and fourth Arab states to normalize relations with Israel following Egypt in 1979 with the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty and Jordan in 1994 with the Wadi Araba Treaty.

In contrast to the significant criticism Jordan and Egypt received for normalizing relations with Israel, many Arab states were noticeably quiet on the Abraham Accords. This may represent a growing divide between the opinions of the some Arab state apparatuses and the opinions of Arab publics. For instance, though Jordan’s leaders declared peace with Israel, peace remains unpopular with most Jordanian citizens. Nearly 60 percent of Jordanians are against Arab States normalizing relations with Israel according to a June 28-July 2 Zogby Research Services online poll of 301 Jordanians. (The online panel was skewed toward younger, more male, and better-educated Jordanians. For more see the methodology in the link provided).

The high number of Palestinians in Jordan makes Israel an unpopular ally. Recent opinion polling data by the University of Jordan’s Center for Strategic Studies suggests that most Jordanian experts (63 percent) consider Israel to constitute the most prominent and important external threat facing Jordan. An additional 15 percent of Jordanian experts further clarified that the Palestinian issue, the Abraham Accords, and the annexation of lands from the Jordan Valley to be the most pressing external threats to Jordan; however, there may be some overlap between Jordanians who consider Israel a threat and those who consider Israeli aggression to be a threat, due to the way the University of Jordan posed the original question. Thus, between their thoughts on Israel and issues relating to Palestine, Jordanians are likely to be skeptical at best of the Accords’ shaky provision that Israel will halt the annexation of Palestinian lands.

Even within Jordan’s leadership, there is conflict. When the half-brother of Jordanian King Abdullah II, Prince Ali bin Hussein, shared an article which criticized the accords, he “reportedly caused a diplomatic stir” between the UAE and Jordanian leadership. Reportedly, King Abdullah reached out personally to Prince Hussein to ask Hussein to delete the tweet. King Abdullah’s actions likely reflects Jordanian leadership’s concern for the thousands of Jordanian citizens working in the Emirates, whose temporary worker status could be threatened if the Jordanian state criticized the Accords. Thus, even those against normalization in the Jordanian government may feel pressure to stay silent.

Most noticeably silent on the passage of the Abraham Accords was Saudi Arabia, the region’s largest hegemon. In fact, Riyadh implicitly praised the deal by allowing Saudi journalists to write op-eds in support of the UAE and Bahrain. Some analysts even argued that “the recent deals would not have happened without [Saudi Arabia’s] support.” Such moves have led to speculation that Saudi Arabia may soon follow suit of Bahrain and the UAE, though Saudi Arabia has since denied such rumors.

While some may be surprised that there was a lack of condemnation, Atlantic editor-in-chief, Jeffrey Goldberg, cites bin Salman’s own championing of the two-state solution as a Saudi concession to Israel. Continuing with Goldberg’s logic, it is possible that many Gulf Arabs no longer see rejection of Israel as fundamental to the Arab identity. As such, the lack of Arab condemnation of the UAE and Bahrain is unsurprising; Arab states (like Egypt and Jordan) have begun to see the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a Palestinian issue, rather than a pan-Arab issue.

Overall, there seems to be two major trends occurring. First, is the disconnect between Jordanian state leaders’ statements and Jordanian public opinion. Jordanian citizens are far more likely to be against the normalization agreements than members of the Jordanian government. Second, is an overall distancing of Gulf citizens from the Palestinian issue. Both Gulf state citizens and Gulf State leadership favor normalization deals with Israel.

Palestinians Left out in the Cold

Despite the political dynamics between Arab nations, the Arab population most disparaged by the agreement is the Palestinians. While Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan al-Saudi, claimed that Saudi Arabia will only normalize peace with Israel after Israelis and Palestinians make a “permanent and full peace deal,” recent news suggests a softening of that stance. In initial reports, Israeli government sources confirmed that Netanyahu visited Prince Faisal on November 22nd, though Prince Faisal has since denied such claims via Twitter. If such a meeting did occur, the timing cannot be ignored.

Palestinians certainly have a reason to fear that Saudi Arabia and Israel’s relationship is warming, despite the absence of Palestinian-Israeli peace. According to a poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, 80 percent of Palestinians “describe their feelings towards [the Abraham Accords] as: treason, abandonment, and insult.”  Neglected by the Emiratis in their quests for arms, the Saudis in their desires for regional security, and the other Gulf states in their indifference to the Palestinian cause, the Palestinians and their pursuit of independence have been dealt yet another blow in the form of the Abraham Accords.