In a time of war, as Israel now finds itself after the brutal Hamas terrorist attacks—the worst slaughter of Jews since the Holocaust—it is hard to think beyond the current conflict. At a moment when the Jewish state finds itself in a day-to-day existential fight that could still spin out of control, the future can seem an abstract concept and discussing it an intellectual luxury Israeli leaders can ill afford. But it is imperative Israel and her allies, including the United States, look over the horizon, because if recent events have taught us anything, it is that the future of Israel is not a forgone conclusion. Israel is not a certainty.
As an American Jew, I am thinking about the future of the Abraham Accords, the series of diplomatic breakthroughs in which five Arab and Muslim majority states—the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco, Kosovo, and Sudan—joined Egypt and Jordan to recognize and establish diplomatic and economic relations with the State of Israel. It took decades to achieve the level of external recognition and security that came with the Accords. In one fell swoop, Israel went from being a democratic orphan in a sea of hostility to part of a partially stable, largely friendly regional community.
For the moment, the Accords remain “status quo ante.” But they could prove a useful bargaining chip or provide domestic political leverage to regional leaders like Morocco’s King Mohammed VI, who is facing the largest street protests since normalization, and Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, where large throngs have protested in front of the Israeli Embassy in Manama—over Israel’s war to destroy Hamas.
Thus far, President Biden’s diplomacy has been deft. He has put Iran on notice that any intervention—whether directly or through their proxies—will be met by U.S. military and economic force. As a hedge, the President has worked with regional allies such as Qatar to freeze $6 billion in Iranian oil revenues that was part of a controversial prisoner swap. He has deployed 900 military personnel to the region and sent two aircraft carrier groups to the Eastern Mediterranean to help contain the conflict and hopefully deter any attacks on Israel by the Lebanon-based terrorist organization Hezbollah.
Still, pressure is building among Arab populations to condemn and punish Israel for its aggressive defense. The Abraham Accords could be in the crosshairs for some regional leaders wishing to appease protestors, assuage outrage among civil society organizations, and ease governmental tensions. Their acquiescence would undermine decades of careful diplomacy that resulted in an unprecedented circle of peace for Israel.
Just as important, the Accords have proved to be a boon for its Arab participants. According to the Abraham Accords Peace Institute, total trade between Israel and the Abraham Accords countries increased from $593 million in 2019 to $3.47 billion in 2022. Israel imported $2.57 billion worth of goods and services from these countries last year, up from $378.3 three years earlier, and exported $903.9 million in goods and services, up from $224.8. million.
Following the Accords, some 5,200 tourists entered Israel from the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco, Kosovo, and Sudan in 2022 (up from 3,500 in 2019), as compared with 470,700 Israeli tourists visiting those same countries in 2022 (up from 39,900 in the earlier period).
Indeed, the region as a whole has benefitted from the relative peace and growing prosperity the Accords ushered in. The Accords also had the important effect of establishing a bulwark against the regional menace of Iran (in fact, there is reasonable conjecture that Hamas timed its assault on Israel to scuttle Saudi Arabia’s establishment of formal ties with Israel, the final piece of the Iranian containment puzzle). Still the agreements could be the next domino to drop, should there be an escalation of the conflict or should domestic public pressure on stability-minded regional rulers build.
President Biden must help keep the Accords on track. Over time, he can appoint a high-level emissary to urgently shore up Abraham Accord signatories. He can develop high-level commercial missions to these countries to expedite new, trilateral trade and investment agreements that deliver on the economic promise of the Accords. He can contribute to a counter narrative in regional media that explains the advantages that the circle of peace has brought to the region’s people.
The fact that Israel still faces an existential threat during the age of the Abraham Accords is tragic. My fervent hope is that the spirit of friendship and peace embodied in the Accords holds. Because Israel will undoubtedly win the war. But winning the peace is just as crucial to Israel’s—and the region’s—future.