Abraham Accords Cause for Celebration, Skepticism, Diplomats Say
Former Israeli envoys to Washington dissect Tuesday’s White House hoopla
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu departed Washington early Wednesday morning, concluding a successful trip in which he signed historic agreements to normalize relations with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. The Media Line spoke with former Israeli ambassadors to the United States about Netanyahu’s accomplishments and slipups throughout Tuesday’s White House ceremony.
The fact that the content of the agreements has not been made public is absolutely out of the ordinary
“The fact that the content of the agreements has not been made public is absolutely out of the ordinary,” Prof. Itamar Rabinovich, who was ambassador to Washington under prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, told The Media Line.
The substance of the Abraham Accords signed Tuesday, specifically the pact signed between Israel and the UAE, has remained hidden from the public. While Israeli law demands that all treaties be ratified by the cabinet and legislature, the prime minister has so far avoided revealing the contract’s details, raising questions among both his supporters and detractors.
“Sure, agreements sometimes have appendixes or verbal add-ons, and the paper signed doesn’t always encompass everything that was agreed upon,” Rabinovich explained. “But the level of secrecy surrounding this document, especially considering claims about Israeli concessions regarding weapons deals or its presence in the West Bank, naturally raises many an eyebrow.”
I assume it stems from political needs, both Netanyahu’s and [US President Donald] Trump’s. Perhaps there are clauses that wouldn’t be to the liking of the president’s evangelical supporters, or [Netanyahu’s] right-wing constituents
Danny Ayalon, who served as Israel’s deputy foreign minister and as ambassador to the US during the early 2000s, agrees.
“It’s certainly unusual,” Ayalon told The Media Line. “I assume it stems from political needs, both Netanyahu’s and [US President Donald] Trump’s. Perhaps there are clauses that wouldn’t be to the liking of the president’s evangelical supporters, or [Netanyahu’s] right-wing constituents.”
Netanyahu, UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani joined Trump on the White House steps Tuesday for the celebratory ceremony, marking the first time since the 1994 Israel-Jordan peace treaty that Arab countries signed such pacts with the Jewish state.
The fact that Netanyahu chose to represent his country himself and leave his foreign minister behind, while both Gulf nations elected to send their top diplomats to the occasion, caused some in Israel to question the prime minister’s motives.
“Netanyahu didn’t come there for the Emirati or Bahraini representatives. Trump wanted to be the belle of the ball, and Netanyahu wanted to honor him,” Rabinovich said. “The Emiratis and Bahrainis know their step [to normalize relations with Israel] is heavily criticized in their own countries and in the Arab world, so I expect they didn’t want to exacerbate that by sending their top leaders.
“Anyway, it’s not that unusual,” he continued. “I remember when [then-prime minister Ehud] Barak came to negotiate with the Syrians [in Shepherdstown, West Virginia] in 2000, he met with their foreign minister. Things like this happen.”
The main problem is the fact Netanyahu kept [Alternate Prime Minister and Defense Minister Benny] Gantz and [Foreign Minister] Ashkenazi out of the whole process. … It’s not a healthy process, but that’s our political reality
Earlier Tuesday, hours before the ceremony, the Israeli delegation discovered to its horror that protocol called for the signature of Israel’s foreign minister alone. Netanyahu was forced to hurriedly call his political rival Gabi Ashkenazi in Jerusalem and ask for his power of attorney to go through with the event.
“The main problem is the fact Netanyahu kept [Alternate Prime Minister and Defense Minister Benny] Gantz and [Foreign Minister] Ashkenazi out of the whole process,” Rabinovich continued, while explaining that even that is not unprecedented. “It happened in the past with Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Shamir. It’s not a healthy process, but that’s our political reality.
Ayalon believes Tuesday’s achievement far outweighed any minor mishaps.
“It was definitely impressive and important,” he said of the two pacts signed by the three countries. “It’s certainly not trivial, especially when you consider it was entirely disconnected from the Palestinian issue. That is refreshing, and a promising change, because it may lead the Palestinian leadership to finally understand that their stubborn policy of All or Nothing and zero-sum game doesn’t work in their favor.
“Maybe that brings about change in the Palestinian thinking, which might bring them to the table. Perhaps not immediately, perhaps not with the current leadership, but I believe that will happen, eventually.”
While the Palestinian-Israeli conflict was missing from both Netanyahu’s and Trump’s remarks Tuesday, the two Gulf diplomats did refer to the issue in passing.
The UAE’s foreign minister praised Netanyahu for “halting the annexation of Palestinian territories.” Bahrain’s Abdullatif bin Rashid, meanwhile, reminded Netanyahu that only a “just, comprehensive and enduring two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict will be the foundation, the bedrock,” of total regional peace.
As if on cue, and to remind the delegates celebrating in Washington of their existence, two rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip at southern Israeli towns during Abdullah bin Zayed’s speech. An additional 13 rockets were launched in the following hours.
Both Israeli ambassadors touched on domestic US politics as well, mentioning Trump’s disparaging statements regarding “sleepy Joe Biden” during his one-on-one meeting with Netanyahu before the signing ceremony.
“This isn’t a precedent either,” Ayalon said, noting that during his term in Washington during the 2004 presidential elections, he was tasked with meeting then-Democratic nominee John Kerry while prime minister Ariel Sharon visited with president George W. Bush in the White House. “Sharon wouldn’t meet with Kerry, almost on purpose, I would say.
“But in any case, [Netanyahu] kept a straight face during Trump’s remarks. I think he managed to display his discomfort in nonverbal gestures.”
If Biden wins, he will settle the score with us. … This was essentially an election rally for Trump, and Netanyahu chose sides
Rabinovich believes the special relationship the Israeli prime minister has forged with the president, and his choice not to reach out to Biden while in Washington, will come to haunt Netanyahu.
“If Biden wins, he will settle the score with us,” Rabinovich warned. “Netanyahu bet all his chips on Trump a long time ago, and we’re already paying for that gamble. There’s harsh criticism from the Democratic Party, the Jewish community and other sectors. This was essentially an election rally for Trump, and Netanyahu chose sides.”