At Abraham Accords confab, Likud MK claims Saudi peace likely within a year

Danny Danon, former envoy to the UN, says Netanyahu’s priority upon taking office is to expand agreements

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

From left to right: Pastor Carlos Luna Lam, Rabbi Elie Abadie, Ambassador Danny Danon and Imam Mohammad Tawhidi at the First Annual Abraham Accords Global Leadership Summit in Rome, December 8, 2022. (Courtesy)
From left to right: Pastor Carlos Luna Lam, Rabbi Elie Abadie, Ambassador Danny Danon and Imam Mohammad Tawhidi at the First Annual Abraham Accords Global Leadership Summit in Rome, December 8, 2022. (Courtesy)

Likud MK Danny Danon told an international Abraham Accords forum on Thursday that he expects to “see an agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia in the coming year.”

Danon, a former envoy to the UN, told The Times of Israel that his assessment is “based on conversations and talks” he has had recently, but would not refer to a specific effort underway.

“Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu will have the expansion of the Abraham Accords as one of his top priorities,” he added, stressing that the presumptive incoming premier would make the United Arab Emirates his first international stop upon taking office.

Dozens of diplomats, clergy, business leaders, and academics gathered in Rome at the Abraham Accords Global Leadership Summit to discuss ways to expand on the agreements.

In September 2020, Israel signed normalization agreements with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. It signed a similar agreement with Morocco months later.

Sunni power Saudi Arabia is seen as the big prize, and quiet cooperation exists between Riyadh and Jerusalem. But Israel is eager to turn the security ties into full-fledge diplomatic recognition.

US President Joe Biden shakes hands with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman at the Al Salam Royal Palace in Jeddah, July 15, 2022. (Screenshot: Twitter)

In July, Saudi Arabia announced that its airspace would be open to all commercial airliners, in a nod to Israel, which was believed to be the only country barred from flying over the Gulf kingdom. The US and Israel characterized the move as a step toward normalization between Riyadh and Jerusalem, though Saudi Arabia sought to downplay the gesture, saying it was not a precursor to any additional moves so long as there is no two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The accords have been the cause of much excitement in Israel, but there is reason for concern. While headlines tell of comfortable and joyous encounters between Israelis and Arabs in the Gulf and in Morocco, the data show a worrying trend: As time goes on, the Abraham Accords are becoming less popular on the streets of Israel’s new allies.

Washington Institute polling showed 45 percent of Bahrainis held very or somewhat positive views of the agreements in November 2020. That support had steadily eroded to a paltry 20% by March of this year.

UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, then-US president Donald Trump, Bahrain Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu talk at the ceremony for the signing of the Abraham Accords, at the White House in Washington, DC, September 15, 2020. (Avi Ohayon / GPO)

The trend is the same in the UAE. The 49% of the country that disapproved of the Abraham Accords in 2020 had grown to over two-thirds as of last month. And only 31% of Moroccans favor normalization, according to Arab Barometer.

However, the message coming out of Rome on Thursday was one of optimism.

“I come here today, as a free Iranian to tell you that peace between Israel, Iran, and even between the Shi’a and the Sunni world is closer than ever,” said Imam Mohammad Tawhidi, an Iranian-born Shi’ite cleric living in Australia.

“The people of Iran have seen the fruits of the Abraham Accords, they have witnessed how fast peace can be built and many remember the days of Israeli tourists visiting Tehran and long for those days to return.”

Rabbi Levi Duchman, Israeli Consul General in Dubai Ilan Sztulman and children at a Tu Bishvat tree planting event in the UAE. (Courtesy)

Georgi Velikov Panayotov, Bulgaria’s envoy to the US, said the accords should serve as a model to Europe at war.

“We don’t need politicians who are adjusting their opinions according to opinion polls, but we need politicians with vision,” he told The Times of Israel. “We need politicians that do the right thing in order to secure peace and the common good.”

Panayatov even imagined the agreements growing into a political body similar to the European Union, which began as an economic partnership. “They understood that economic cooperation is key to stability and peace,” he said.

Among the attendees from over 30 countries were Houda Nonoo, Bahrain’s former envoy in Washington; Alojz Peterle, past Slovenian premier; former Finnish foreign minister Timo Soini; South Sudanese diplomat Akuei Bona Malwal; and Katharina Von Schnurbein, the European Commission antisemitism czar.

Most Popular
read more: