A bipartisan group of US senators on Thursday took off on a Congressional delegation to all four Abraham Accords countries for talks with government officials on how to further integrate Israel into the region.
The Congressional delegation to Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco was being led by senators Jacky Rosen, a Democrat from Nevada, and James Lankford, an Oklahoma Republican. They are joined by Democrats Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Michael Bennet of Colorado and Mark Kelly of Arizona, and Republicans Dan Sullivan of Alaska and Ted Budd of North Carolina.
“The Accords are already contributing to all four countries’ economies and helping them work together to combat Iranian aggression. My colleagues and I look forward to meeting with senior government officials, business leaders, and civil society organizations to discuss how we can strengthen the relationships fostered by the Accords and expand them to new countries,” Rosen said in a statement.
The Abraham Accords normalized ties between Israel and the Arab states in 2020, in a historic breakthrough for Israel in the region.
Rosen and Lankford co-chair the Senate’s Abraham Accords Congressional Caucus. The group was established last year, along with a parallel panel in the House of Representatives, to expand the legislative branch’s role in promoting the accords.
The congressional delegation began days after the latest gathering of the Negev Forum, an expanded group of Abraham Accords countries that also includes the US and Egypt. The UAE hosted the first meetings of six working groups established to promote joint projects in the fields of regional security, education and tolerance, water and food security, tourism, and energy.
The Negev Forum’s intermediate-level steering committee also met to coordinate the regional effort and prepare for a planned second meeting of foreign ministers in Morocco in the spring.
The Abu Dhabi gathering of some 150 government officials was touted as the largest meeting between Israel and its regional partners since the Madrid peace conference in 1991. But participants acknowledged that their efforts remain in the very early stages and that they haven’t decided on any projects just yet.
The Biden administration has stressed its commitment to expanding the Abraham Accords while taking a different approach to that taken by the Trump administration, which circumvented the Palestinians in the agreements. Current US officials have framed the accords as leverage in their ties with Israel to advance the Palestinian issue while asserting that the agreements are not a substitute for Israeli-Palestinian peace.
Washington has also leaned on Saudi Arabia to move toward normalization with Israel, including by allowing Israeli flights to use its airspace and unveiling direct flights between the two countries for Hajj pilgrims.
The new Israeli government under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has already expressed its strong desire for a full normalization agreement with Saudi Arabia, though strained ties between Riyadh and Washington over the ongoing global energy crisis as well as the hardline politics of the government in Jerusalem could pose obstacles to the effort.
Saudi officials have long insisted that they will not normalize relations with Israel until there is a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but their Israeli counterparts are increasingly convinced that the position is malleable.