Representative from Oman in attendance; Sudan mission absent

‘We’ve only just begun’: Abraham Accords partners mark one year since signing

At anniversary event hosted by Israeli UN mission, countries tout growing ties; UAE, Morocco and Bahrain hail treatment of local Jews, US says it hasn’t forgotten Palestinians

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

UN Ambassadors from Israel Gilad Erdan, from the UAE Lana Nusseibeh, from the US Linda Thomas-Greenfield, from Morocco Omar Hilale, and from Bahrain Jamal Al Rowaiei at a New York event marking the one-year anniversary of the signing of the Abraham Accords, September 13, 2021. (Jacob Magid/ Times of Israel)
UN Ambassadors from Israel Gilad Erdan, from the UAE Lana Nusseibeh, from the US Linda Thomas-Greenfield, from Morocco Omar Hilale, and from Bahrain Jamal Al Rowaiei at a New York event marking the one-year anniversary of the signing of the Abraham Accords, September 13, 2021. (Jacob Magid/ Times of Israel)

NEW YORK — The UN ambassadors of Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco marked the one-year anniversary of the signing of the Abraham Accords at a New York event on Monday, highlighting the swift development of ties between their countries since the normalization agreements were inked.

Hosted by the Israeli Mission to the UN at Manhattan’s Museum of Jewish Heritage, the event was attended by envoys from several other countries, including Oman’s deputy ambassador to the UN Ahmed Dawood Ali Al Zadjal, whose country does not have official diplomatic relations with Jerusalem.

The Trump administration, which brokered the accords, sought a last-minute push for Oman and Israel to normalize ties, but Muscat resisted, saying it wanted to see progress in Israeli-Palestinian peace first.

Absent from Monday’s event, however, was any representative from Sudan, which signed an agreement to establish diplomatic ties last October. The deal has yet to be finalized though and has faced considerable opposition within Sudan. A diplomatic official told The Times of Israel that Sudan’s UN mission received an invitation, but decided against attending the ceremony.

Arguably the event’s highest-ranking official was US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield. Speaking after her four colleagues, the envoy praised the Abraham Accords participants for transforming “ink on a page to concrete improvements between countries.”

Thomas-Greenfield listed the recent opening of embassies, appointments of ambassadors, launching of direct flights and observation of Holocaust Remembrance Day among the many fruits of the normalization agreements in the past year.

Like most Biden officials, she refrained from referring to the agreements as the “Abraham Accords,” in an apparent effort to distance herself from the Trump administration-coined term. However, she pledged to work to develop the existing normalization agreements and to establish new allies for Israel in the Arab and Muslim world.

UN Ambassadors from Israel Gilad Erdan, from the UAE Lana Nusseibah, from the US Linda Thomas-Greenfield, from Morocco Omar Hilale, and from Bahrain Jamal Al Rowaiei at a New York event marking the one-year anniversary of the signing of the Abraham Accords, September 13, 2021. (Jacob Magid/ Times of Israel)

Thomas-Greenfield did not provide any details for how the administration plans to go about advancing those goals, and US President Joe Biden hasn’t appointed a specific envoy to spearhead the issue, as was the case under Trump.

Moreover, the current administration’s lack of enthusiasm regarding the sweetened deals the former president was willing to offer to potential Abraham Accords partners — like the sale of F-35 fighter jets to the UAE, the recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over the disputed Western Sahara region, or billions in debt relief for Sudan — indicates that it won’t be willing to go as far as may be necessary to coax other reluctant Arab countries to normalize relations with Israel.

The US ambassador said she was “determined to explore how we can translate these agreements into progress within the UN system.”

Still, she made a point in clarifying that US support for these ties will not come at the expense of efforts to support Israeli-Palestinian peace.

“We remain committed to the two-state solution. We firmly believe that Israelis and Palestinians deserve equal measures of freedom, dignity, security and prosperity, and US diplomacy will remain focused on practical steps to advance that vision in the immediate term,” Thomas-Greenfield said. The sentence echoed a familiar talking point that the Biden administration has used in countless statements issued on the matter over the past year — one which has exposed it to criticism from the progressive flank of the Democratic party, which has accused the White House of paying lip service to the issue, while failing to act more forcefully on behalf of Palestinian rights.

Nonetheless, Thomas-Greenfield paid more attention to the Palestinian issue than any other envoy who spoke at Monday’s event.

In this September 15, 2020, file photo, from left; former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, former US president Donald Trump, and United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan, sit during the Abraham Accords signing ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan used the opportunity to take a swipe at the leadership in Ramallah, which has lambasted the Abraham Accords as a duplicitous attempt to bypass the Palestinians.

“Perhaps even the Palestinians, as they see the benefits of our peace and the prosperity it brings, will finally view these Accords as an opportunity and not a threat,” Erdan said.

However, the bulk of his speech focused on Israel’s other neighbors in the region.

“The moderate countries in the Middle East must unite to tackle our shared challenges, such as climate change, and form a regional alliance to confront our shared threats, first and foremost, Iran,” he said.

“Such an alliance could share intelligence about different threats and even collaborate on defensive capabilities. Can you imagine Israeli air defense systems like Iron Dome protecting the airspace of our new partners in the Gulf? Maybe one day even Saudi Arabia?” he proposed.

Asked for comment on Thomas-Greenfield’s position in favor of two states, Erdan told The Times of Israel the current Israeli government respects the US stance but thinks differently “and believes that it’s not currently achievable.”

“Even the Biden administration, when they speak with us, they recognize that it’s not something that currently can be achieved,” he said, adding that in the meantime, both countries are focusing on advancing economic projects that can improve the quality of life for Palestinians.

“The [two-state] option is not on the table, so we’re focused on what unites us rather than what divides us,” the Israeli ambassador said.

Erdan noted that the Trump administration, which initiated the Abraham Accords, did not always support the two-state model either. “It wasn’t the position of the previous administration, though from time to time it was.”

From left to right: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US President Donald Trump, Bahrain Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani and United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan are seen on the Blue Room Balcony after signing the Abraham Accords during a ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, September 15, 2020. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Former US president Donald Trump indeed went back and forth on the issue, initially stating, “I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like.” He later backed a two-state solution, and unveiled a peace plan in 2020 that he argued was within the two-state paradigm. However, it envisioned Israel annexing all of its settlements and leaving the Palestinians with a semi-autonomous, non-contiguous Palestinian state in 70% of the West Bank. Trump officials were also several times quoted calling the traditional two-state paradigm unrealistic.

The Palestinians were not even mentioned by name in the brief remarks by the Bahraini and Morocco ambassadors, and UAE Ambassador Lana Nusseibah only raised the issue briefly, expressing her hope that the Abraham Accords would lead to a “lasting agreement between the Palestinians and the Israelis.”

Nusseibah, Bahraini Ambassador Jamal Al Rowaiei and Moroccan envoy Omar Hilale instead focused on the ties their respective countries have been developing with Israel in the past year. They also presented their countries as beacons of coexistence and tolerance, pointing to the growing Jewish communities that they host.

“Our relationship [with Israel] draws its strength from the longstanding protection of Morocco’s Jewish community,” said Hilale.

“The flourishing of the Jewish community in the UAE — the first newly established Jewish community in an Arab country in centuries — is just one proof of how the three Abrahamic religions can live together and work side beside in our region in peace,” said Nusseibah.

A Sudanese demonstrator holds a placard that reads in Arabic ‘The Abraham Accords, a US provocation and the sale of our homeland to the Zionists’ during a rally against their country’s recent signing of a deal on normalizing relations with Israel, outside the cabinet offices in the capital Khartoum, on January 17, 2021 (ASHRAF SHAZLY / AFP)

“We’ve only just begun to explore the opportunity for these accords in our wider region,” she added.

Erdan, who is also Israel’s outgoing ambassador to the US, will travel to Washington on Tuesday where he will attend a subsequent anniversary event organized by the Abraham Accords Peace Institute. The center was launched earlier this year by Jared Kushner, Trump’s former senior adviser and son-in-law, and one of the main brokers of the normalization agreements.

Kushner will offer brief remarks before introducing a panel featuring Erdan, UAE Ambassador to the US Yousef al-Otaiba and Bahrain Ambassador to the US Sheikh Abdullah bin Rashid al-Khalifa.

Senior State Department officials from the Biden administration will also be in attendance, AAPI executive director Robert Greenway told ToI last week.

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