September 15, 2023 | Flash Brief

Three Years On, Secretary of State Complicates Abraham Accords Expansion

September 15, 2023 | Flash Brief

Three Years On, Secretary of State Complicates Abraham Accords Expansion

Latest Developments

Three years after the Abraham Accords were signed by the United States, Israel, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Bahrain, the White House’s efforts to tie normalization to the Israel-Palestinian conflict complicate further expansion. Speaking on a podcast on September 13, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the Biden administration believes the further expansion of the accords, specifically with Saudi Arabia, “needs to involve a two-state solution.” Blinken also claimed that Saudis insist on a two-state solution to move forward with any normalization deal with Israel.

Expert Analysis

“A three-way deal between the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Israel would be consequential for the region and for American security. It would be an important counter to Chinese and Iranian influence in the Middle East. But it should not come at the price of greenlighting nuclear proliferation in the Middle East, as the Obama administration did with the Iran nuclear deal of 2015.” Mark Dubowitz, FDD CEO

“An Arab proverb says, ‘Whoever carries the big rock will never hurl it.’ Team Biden has turned a straightforward deal — Saudi normalization with Israel in return for U.S. rewards — into a mega-deal that involves the Palestinians and China, making it too complicated to negotiate, let alone achieve.” Hussain Abdul-Hussain, FDD Research Fellow

Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Complicates Negotiation

The original Abraham Accords purposefully avoided the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, believing that the conflict’s hard-to-solve issues would thwart normalization efforts. However, Israel agreed to suspend annexing parts of the West Bank until 2024 as a concession to the UAE. Similarly, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has claimed that Palestinian issues are not central to Saudi normalization. In recent months, there have been small but noticeable improvements in relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, including the opening of Saudi airspace to Israeli carriers in July 2022. On September 11, Israeli government officials participated in the 45th session of UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee in Riyadh.

Ongoing Diplomacy

Israeli officials told The Times of Israel on September 15 that the Biden administration informed Jerusalem that Blinken will visit the Middle East in October, making stops in Israel and Saudi Arabia. Speaking to reporters on September 7, White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said that although there is still much work to do, Israeli and Saudi leaders have achieved a “broad understanding of many of the key elements.”

Last week, Brett McGurk, U.S. special envoy to the Middle East, and Barbara Leaf, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, traveled to Riyadh, where they reportedly discussed normalization. The same week, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas visited Jeddah to present the Palestinian Authority’s demands to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Saudi Demands

Unlike the Trump administration, which sidelined Palestinian issues in the original Abraham Accords, Blinken has been adamant about including them. Saudi Arabia’s publicly stated preconditions for normalization include concessions from Israel to the Palestinians, but the extent of those concessions is unclear. After meeting with Abbas, bin Salman offered to resume Saudi aid to the Palestinians.

Other Saudi requests may be more challenging to achieve. Bin Salman is requesting U.S. aid in developing a civilian nuclear energy program with domestic enrichment, which is counter to U.S. nonproliferation policy. The Saudis also seek security guarantees and a promise that they will be allowed to purchase and receive advanced weapons systems from the United States.

Saudi Arabia Moves to Assert Influence in West Bank as Normalization with Israel Appears Possible,” FDD Flash Brief

U.S. Denies Significant Progress in Saudi-Israel Normalization,” FDD Flash Brief

Saudi-Israeli peace is no pipe dream,” by Haisam Hassanein

Can Saudi normalization with Israel hurt Palestinians?” by Hussain Abdul-Hussain


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