JERUSALEM—A year after its inception, the historic Abraham Accords enjoys bipartisan support and has passed its first major test – a change in leadership in both America and Israel.
But despite the wide support for the normalization agreements both in the United States and in Israel, elements in each of the new governments have a different ideological approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than did the original Abraham Accords signers.
This became crystal clear earlier this week during speeches that marked the inauguration of the Knesset’s Abraham Accords Caucus, a bipartisan committee headed by Likud Knesset Member Ofir Akunis and Blue and White Knesset Member Ruth Wasserman Lande that will focus on deepening and expanding the agreements.
With about a dozen speakers, including former senior White House advisor and architect of the Accords Jared Kushner, the divergent approaches were evident at Monday’s ceremony.
The approach pioneered by the Trump administration was a bold shift in U.S. policy dropping the premise of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a prerequisite for peace. Former President Donald Trump instead sought allies across the Middle East that would make peace with Israel regardless of whether a resolution was reached with the Palestinians.
Many detractors said it could not be done. But when Trump moved the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem and no subsequent rioting ensued, he forged ahead his new policy and eventually arrived at the Abraham Accords. Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu embraced this approach, welcoming more countries to make peace with Israel while setting aside stagnant negotiations with the Palestinians.
However, centrist Israeli ministers and Biden administration officials, while warm in their praise of the Abraham Accords, uniformly speak of the need for a two-state solution or inviting the Palestinians to join when speaking of the agreements.
The two different perspectives took center stage during last week’s gathering at the Knesset. American Chargé d’Affaires Michael Ratney reassured the Abraham Accords partners that President Joe Biden will continue to support the initiative, but he added that progress must be made to create “conditions for a viable two-state solution” for Palestinians and Israelis.
“The Biden administration now continues working to expand normalization efforts and to deepen Israel's existing relationships and to bring new countries into the fold,” Ratney said.
On the other hand, Kushner – nominated for a Nobel Peace prize for his involvement in the Accords – extolled Trump’s policies which turned the U.S. foreign policy approach to Middle East peace on its head.
“What we created is a new paradigm in the region,” Kushner said at the Knesset, praising the Trump administration’s approach. “It’s imperative that all of us set extremely high expectations for what we want to see and achieve from the Abraham Accords for what they have the potential to be, for what they have, the potential to bring to our societies, to our families, to the region and really to the world.”
Later, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz – the centrist leader of the Blue and White party – said that while Israel “must remain the most powerful state in the Middle East,” it also has “a duty to develop all peace agreements and to continue to strive for peace with the Palestinians as well.”
“The fact that we prevented the unilateral annexation [of Palestinian territories] enabled the vision of the Abraham Accords to break through and materialize. I am very happy that these peace treaties were signed, and I am sure that they will be expanded,” Gantz said. “They will serve as engines of change in the Middle East since they have established peace between our people.”
Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid – a centrist and head of the Yesh Atid (There is a Future) party – also supports a two-state solution and during his speech he called the Palestinians to “turn toward peace.”
“We renewed relations with Egypt, we opened embassies, we improved our relations with the U.S.,” Lapid said. “I call upon the Palestinians, and every Arab nation that is listening: We seek peace. Peace is not a compromise or a weakness but rather an embodiment of the human spirit. Those living in the Middle East are welcome to look around and see which countries are in a better position – those who seek peace, or those who seek war?”
On the contrary, former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – the opposition leader in the current Knesset – spoke at length about Israel’s strength in the region and its advantage as a peace partner in standing against common threats such as Iran and ISIS.
But when he predicted there will be “many, many more” agreements to follow, he did not mention the Palestinians.
“As long as people said peace can’t be made with the Arab world without peace with the Palestinians, we couldn’t have achieved peace,” Netanyahu said. “We broke the Palestinian veto and brought four historic peace deals.”
Israel’s current prime minister, Naftali Bennett, did not speak at the Knesset caucus last week, but the right-winger’s position as always been ideologically closer to Netanyahu when it comes to national security and especially the Palestinians.
In a speech at the United Nations in September he entirely omitted the issue despite the Palestinian Authority president’s speech days earlier challenging Israel and giving an ultimatum on reaching an agreement.
Bennett is at odds with elements of his own coalition, from Defense Minister Gantz and from Lapid – the alternate prime minister slated to take over in 2023 – and from the Muslim party Ra’am. Ra’am called this week on the government to urgently solve the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. And Lapid has even said that the new government would not neglect the Palestinian issue “forever and ever.”
“I wouldn’t name names because this will harm the process, but of course, we’re working with the United States and with the new friends in the Emirates, in Bahrain and Morocco… in order to expand this to other countries,” Lapid said at the Jewish Federations of North America’s annual conference. “This doesn’t mean we’re neglecting forever and ever the Palestinian issue that we have also to work on. We will always have to keep an eye both on Gaza and on Hezbollah up north.”
While Bennett has made no overtures to the Palestinian Authority, Gantz met with President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah a few weeks ago.
A final agreement with the Palestinians would likely require territorial sacrifice on Israel’s part – an unnecessary issue in the Abraham Accords agreements with far-flung Arab states.
For now, however, Israel appears content to maintain a status quo situation with the Palestinians, neither making an overt outreach nor raising any controversial issues such as settlement building.
And Washington, while clearly in favor of establishing a Palestinian state, has paid lip service to the issue while not making it a foreign policy priority.
Nicole Jansezian is the news editor for both ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS and senior correspondent for ALL ISRAEL NEWS