The Abraham Accords: Winners and Losers

Sept. 24, 2020 – By JON ALLEN

The recent UAE-Israel-U.S.A. agreement takes the immediate prospects of Israel’s illegal annexation of part of the West Bank off the table in exchange for full diplomatic relations with the United Arab Emirates. Bahrain has followed suit, and others – Oman, Sudan and Morocco – could soon. These accords have been variously described as breakthrough peace agreements, an arms deal, and a stab in the back of the Palestinian people.

Clearly, where one stands on this agreement depends on where one sits. For the UAE, the U.S. and Israel, this is a good deal, with multiple benefits. For Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran and the Palestinians it’s either unwelcome or very bad news.

For the UAE, the accords bring into the open a relationship with Israel that, until now, has flown under the radar. The deal will allow the transfer of strategic defence and intelligence equipment, technology and training that could reinforce its credibility as a leading Gulf state, and help defend itself against its existential enemy, Iran.

The accord also puts the UAE in the good books of the U.S. Congress, the Trump Administration, and Joe Biden. In return for helping Donald Trump dig himself out of his failed Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, and depending on the will of the next Congress, the agreement could pave the way for the sale to the UAE of F-35 stealth fighter jets, radar scrambling aircraft, and other American defence equipment.

For the U.S., the agreements are also a plus. By diverting attention from Trump’s “deal of the century” that was going nowhere, and by helping Israel obtain two breakthrough recognition agreements, Trump solidifies his support among the right wing of the U.S. Jewish community and among American evangelicals. The billions that the UAE may spend on F-35s and other materiel are bonuses.

Finally, by taking annexation off the table, the deal removes potential acrimony between the Netanyahu government and the Biden campaign, and between Biden and the right wing of the Jewish community. 

That said, foreign policy issues rarely play a major role in U.S. elections, and these accords are unlikely to give Trump much of a bump in the polls or a fast track to the Nobel Peace Prize that he so desperately seeks.

For Israel, establishment of full relations with important Gulf states – and the legitimacy that confers – and the hope that more could follow, is huge. If the accords lead to a strategic relationship centred on confronting Iran, that development could signal an even greater shift in the region. And that could come without Israel having to negotiate a peace agreement with the Palestinians – the previous sine qua non to any recognition by Arab states.

Finally, the deal was a personal victory for Netanyahu and a brief respite at a time when he is being criticized at home for his failure to manage the economy and the COVID crisis.

Possible downsides of the agreement for Bibi include incurring the wrath of the pro-annexation settler movement. For Israel, a concern is the possible shifting of the strategic balance in the region as a result of the sale of sophisticated equipment to the UAE and other Gulf states that could potentially challenge Israel’s qualitative military edge.

In the medium term, if the agreement convinces Israelis that they can now somehow ignore the Palestinian question, such a notion could pose an existential threat to the nation’s future as a democratic state and the home of the Jewish people.

As mentioned, Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia lost ground as a result of the accords. Turkey, which has had diplomatic relations with Israel since 1949, attacked the UAE for its act of recognition. Turkey also is in conflict with the UAE in both Libya and Yemen, and finds common cause with Iran on various issues, including support for Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. The deal clearly poses challenges on all these fronts.

Of course, Iran is Israel’s strongest and most vocal enemy. By boosting Israel’s legitimacy, breaking ranks among Arab and Muslim nations, and allowing the UAE to enhance its defence capabilities, the deal poses a direct threat to Iran’s credibility in the region at a time when U.S. sanctions, COVID, and a failing economy are already weakening Iranian leadership.

Saudi Arabia and its Crown Prince, Mohammad bin Salman, also lost some ground. The Saudis’ disastrous forays into Yemen and Libya, coupled with the Jamal Khashoggi assassination, had already put the prince in the U.S. Congress’ bad books. The UAE departed Yemen last year in part to disassociate itself from the Saudis. By offering recognition to Israel without meeting the Arab Peace Initiative’s preconditions, the UAE further disassociated itself from the Saudis. Finally, if Congress does approve the sale of weapons and planes, the UAE will have an enhanced strategic relationship with both the U.S. and Israel that could leave the Saudis playing second fiddle for a time.

As suggested, however, this agreement bodes the worst for the Palestinians. To this point, the quid pro quo for any Arab recognition of Israel was a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians based on the Arab Peace Initiative. The Abraham Accords instead trade removing the threat of annexation – an illegal act that was heavily criticized by the international community – for full diplomatic relations.

To add insult to injury, all efforts by the Palestinians to bring the issue before the Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council failed miserably. No consensus on criticizing the agreements could be achieved. Palestinian hopes that the Arab street in the UAE, Bahrain, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia might react strongly also were dashed. The only notable protests occurred in the Territories themselves.

Indeed, the only two positive elements of the accords for the Palestinians are that they united Palestinians (Hamas, Fatah, Islamic Jihad) in their opposition to them, and that they staved off legislated annexation, at least for now.

The accords’ long-term prospects are harder to predict when it comes to the Palestinians. The UAE and Bahrain claim that they have not forgotten the Palestinians. Will they and others now pressure Israel to begin negotiations with the Palestinian Authority on realistic terms? Will they oppose further settlement expansion? What role will Mohammed Dachlan, a pretender to PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ throne and an important adviser to the UAE, play in the future?

I agree with some who say it is crucial for the Palestinian Authority to replace its sclerotic leadership with new blood through open and transparent elections, to bring forward its own proposals for a two-state solution, and to dispel the notion that the Palestinians are only able to say no.

I disagree, however, with those who suggest that the time is now ripe for such a move. No legitimate proposal for a two-state solution that requires compromises on both sides will be negotiated as long as Netanyahu remains prime minister. He has made clear more than once that Palestinian statehood will not happen on his watch. Moreover, the blatantly pro-Israel terms of Trump’s so-called peace plan belies any hope that his Administration might act as an honest broker in such a negotiation.

Rather, the Palestinians should reform their political class, develop a serious draft peace proposal, consult with key Arab states and American allies on the substance and the process going forward, and act boldly once both Trump and Bibi have left the scene.


Jon Allen

Jon Allen is a Senior Fellow at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, and served as Canada’s ambassador to Israel from 2006 to 2010.

Erin O’Toole On Record as Pledging Embassy Move

Aug. 24, 2020 – New Conservative leader Erin O’Toole has in the past indicated he is a strong supporter of Israel and would move Canada’s embassy there to Jerusalem.

Following a six-hour delay to fix glitches with the ballots, O’Toole handily won the Conservative Party leadership early Monday, taking 57 percent of the votes on the third and final ballot, compared to 43 percent for second-place contender Peter MacKay.

In a video posted to Facebook last month, O’Toole repeated his pledge to move Canada’s embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

“Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the Jewish people, and the modern presence there just cements this. The Knesset, the Supreme Court and Foreign Ministry are all in west Jerusalem,” O’Toole said.

Canada-Israel relations have “weakened and wavered” under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, he added.

“I stand with Israel,” he said. “Yesterday, today and always.”

This past February, MacKay backtracked on his position on moving Canada’s embassy in Israel. On day after he was quoting as saying he would not commit to such a move as leader, MacKay said it had “always been my personal view that Jerusalem is the undisputed capital of the State of Israel and that is where Canada’s embassy should be and under my leadership, will be located.”

O’Toole, a former party foreign affairs critic, wasted little time in staking out his position.

“Under Stephen Harper, Canada stood out as a resolute friend of Israel. Sadly, under Justin Trudeau, this strong support has weakened. We need a principled Conservative leader who will make Canada a true friend of Israel once again,” O’Toole said at the time.

“I have been absolutely clear about this and my views have not changed. Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. The strong presence of the Jewish people there is thousands of years old.

“I believe that we need more of a presence in the ground in Jerusalem. It’s crazy that our ambassador has to drive from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem to meet with government officials just to preserve a diplomatic fiction. It’s time to recognize reality and move our embassy,” O’Toole said.

Earlier this year, all Canadian political parties came out in opposition to Israel’s contentious plan to annex parts of the West Bank, particularly the Jordan Valley. Israel has since postponed those plans.

The CJR reached out to Conservative leadership frontrunners MacKay and O’Toole. Only O’Toole replied, saying, “We don’t support any unilateral action whether it involves the Palestinians using the [International Criminal Court] against Israel, or the Israelis annexing disputed territory. Canada supports and remains committed to a negotiated two-state solution to the conflict.”

When he ran for the leadership in early 2017, a contest won by Andrew Scheer, O’Toole was an unstinting supporter of Israel, even in a field of 14 strongly pro-Israel candidates.

At the time, O’Toole said he supports “Israel as a democratic, Jewish state with secure borders… Israel has been ready to sign a final peace deal several times. Each time, the Palestinian leadership has walked away from the table. Palestinian leaders still refuse to accept the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state. It is this, and not the settlements, that is the obstacle to peace.”

O’Toole said he’d advance peace by establishing an exchange program between the Canadian Armed Forces and the Israel Defense Forces, “and vocally opposing efforts to isolate Israel, such as the recent United Nations resolution that the Trudeau government remained silent on.”

The UAE-Israel Agreement: Winners and Losers

Aug. 19, 2020 – By Barbara Landau

Progressive Jews applaud the announcement that the United Arab Emirates and Israel have reached an historic agreement. The deal to normalize relations has been waiting since the Arab Initiative was offered in 2002. Steps toward peace with Israel’s Arab neighbours clearly benefit the Jewish state and increase stability and security cooperation amid threats from Iran and other radical states.

This historic and surprising announcement came on the heels of Donald Trump’s “Deal of a Century” and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s proposal to unilaterally annex parts of the Jordan Valley. While Trump is claiming credit for this new deal, the applause really belongs to a loud chorus of voices, in particular from the UAE, as well as Jordan, the European Union, American political pundits, and the global progressive Jewish community, including a strong cooperative effort across Canadian Jewish organizations and the Reform movement.

There was consensus that both proposals were a major threat to any hope of a two-state solution or peace with the Palestinians. In jeopardy was the very success we are celebrating – warming relations with Arab neighbours. Our achievement is that unilateral annexation is now on hold and the future of Trump’s original deal has been at least temporarily mothballed.

Before we breathe a sigh of relief, we need to look at what was not included in this latest announcement.

First, annexation may not be off the table. Before the ink on the UAE deal was dry, Netanyahu was claiming that he intended to proceed with annexation after a period of “suspension.” This was to reassure his settler base, many of whom decried both Trump’s deal and UAE agreement because both leave open the possibility of a two-state resolution. They want one state incorporating all of “Judea and Samaria” without offering citizenship to Palestinians, a move that would again risk international condemnation. Whether settlers can rely on Netanyahu’s reassurance is thankfully open to question.

An optimistic view is that while applauding the agreement between the UAE and Israel as a significant step to counter the threat of Iran and other potential adversaries, Netanyahu will not jeopardize his return to celebrity status just when he faces corruption charges and widespread protests against his handling of COVID and the Israeli economy. Also, the UAE deal made it clear that “normalization of relations” is the payoff for no annexation.

For Trump, with an election looming, the applause is a welcome change of the channel from citizen unrest and widespread criticism. Even Democratic candidate Joe Biden has offered his blessing, giving Trump an opportunity to claim credit and appeal to his fragmenting American Jewish base. For now, Trump is clear that unilateral annexation is not in the cards, despite the contrary assurance by David Friedman, the U.S. Ambassador to Israel, that the delay is “for now.”

The question is, “what does Israel need to ensure its future as a peaceful and a democratic state?” While acceptance in the Arab world is very important, how critical is reaching a viable and just deal with the Palestinians? If it is essential, then the question is, “will this announcement help?”

The answer to that question is likely no. Yet again, the Palestinians played no role in the negotiations. They apparently were not consulted or even informed. Their status is yet again diminished, and they are understandably angry and feel betrayed.

This should be of concern to Israel because the likely result is further instability within the Palestinian Authority and a potential outpouring of frustration and despair directed at Israel. Such violence has largely been avoided because of the security cooperation between Israel and the P.A. that ended when Netanyahu announced his annexation plan.

While normalized relations with the UAE and potentially other Arab countries is news to celebrate, what is missing? As Diaspora Jews who care deeply about Israel’s future as a democratic and Jewish state, the elephant not in the room is the occupation – or ending it.

Where can we look for reassurance that peace will triumph? While the UAE and the U.S. claim that Netanyahu agreed to resume direct two-state negotiations, this was not spelled out in the text of the agreement. Netanyahu’s deafening silence about this in his triumphant announcement to Israelis means caution is warranted.  

What might cause concern? Recent years have seen serious challenges to Israel’s democracy and the prospects for peace: The “Nation State Law,” the continued settlement expansion, the undermining of civil rights of Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, and the attacks on judicial independence. The unilateral declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital by the U.S. and the unilateral annexation of the Golan Heights are all in contradiction to the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative that put reciprocal demands on Israel in exchange for its considerable olive branch:  

The 2002 Arab Peace initiative…

…reaffirms the resolution taken in June 1996 at the Cairo extraordinary Arab summit that a just and comprehensive peace in the Middle East is the strategic option of the Arab countries, to be achieved in accordance with international legality, and which would require a comparable commitment on the part of the Israeli government. (Emphasis mine).

Arab Peace Initiative

The current UAE-Israel agreement makes no such explicit demand and leaves the occupation and creeping annexation in place. So while we celebrate today, what does the future hold for peace based on two states for two peoples? If this dream is erased, what is the alternative? My hope is that we will keep a watchful eye and continue our advocacy for a genuine and secure peace.


Barbara Landau
Dr. Barbara Landau

Dr. Barbara Landau is a lawyer, psychologist and mediator. She is a board member and chairs the Shared Society Committee of JSpaceCanada and is the Canadian representative on the J-Link Coordinating Committee. She participated in three Compassionate Listening peace-building missions to Israel and Palestine. She co-chairs the Canadian Association of Jews and Muslims (CAJM), is co-founder of “Together in Hope,” a Jewish, Palestinian/Arab women’s dialogue group. Barbara is a partner in Givat Haviva’s “Heart to Heart” Alumni Program, whose goal is building shared society for Jewish and Palestinian Israeli youth and their parents.

EDITORIAL: Annexation Will Destroy Hopes for Peace

Over the course of the last 50 plus years, the dire need for a two-state solution between Palestinians and Israelis has always occupied the minds of world leaders. When there were breakthroughs, be it former prime minister Ariel Sharon’s recognition of the Palestinian people, the Oslo agreement or former prime minister Ehud Barak’s attempt at a negotiated deal between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, nothing seemed to work.

For those who longed for a settlement, it seemed a stalemate, as inadequate as that was, still left open the possibility of peace.

But, as of this week, Israel’s plans to annex a portion of the occupied territories, though temporarily on hold for reasons unknown, still seem to be careening toward some form of completion. Annexation in any form will destroy the hopes for a Middle East peace. Indeed, if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plans for a fuller annexation come to fruition, the chances of Israel’s very survival as a Jewish state may well come into question.

The plans set forth cannot help but render impossible any contemplation of a contiguous Palestinian state. Many Jews in the Diaspora have railed against Netanyahu’s plans. Even the stalwart American Jewish Committee, which has always found ways to defend some of Israel’s harshest policies, warned in a recent article that in annexation, “The price will be borne in the erosion of Israel’s longstanding claims against Palestinian unilateralism, in breach of Oslo Accords promises, and in increasing cynicism in multiple constituencies – including within our own community – about Israel’s commitment to peace.”

Even the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the largest and most successful pro-Israel lobbying group on Capitol Hill, has, according to the Times of Israel,  let it be known that while it will not publicly criticize Israel, it will also not cry foul if others do so, as long as the criticism stops at the issue of annexation.

Here in Canada, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs has been quiet about annexation, but given its usual full-throated support of anything Netanyahu offers, its silence speaks volumes.

Progressive Zionist organizations have rejected any idea of annexation. A recent letter written by New Israel Fund, Jspace Canada and Canadian Friends of Peace Now and signed by many well-known Canadian Jewish writers, thinkers and advocates (including Bernie Farber publisher of the CJR), was adamant in its opposition to annexation. In part, the letter read, “An annexation agenda assails not only Palestinian rights and national aspirations but also Israel’s founding values as outlined in its Declaration of Independence. Illegal under international law, unilateral annexation could provoke a new cycle of violence, lead to the collapse of the Palestinian Authority, jeopardize peace treaties with Jordan and Egypt, undermine Israel’s security and further destabilize the region.”

We continue to dream of a negotiated two-state solution. We fear that without it, Israel as a safe haven for Jews, as a democratic state that embraces the concepts of freedom and human rights will disappear. Jews of good conscience can no longer be silent. 

Canadians Opposed to Annexation, Poll Suggests

By RON CSILLAG

A new survey suggests that three out of four Canadians want their government to oppose Israel’s proposed annexation of large parts of the West Bank.

Apart from suggesting that 74 percent of Canadians want Ottawa to express opposition to Israel’s annexation proposal “in some form,” the survey also found that 42 percent want Canada to impose economic and/or diplomatic sanctions against Israel should the annexation plan proceed.

“There is very little support for Israeli annexation among the Canadian public,” the survey noted, adding that the poll “confirms” that Canada’s foreign policy “is out of touch with the preferences of Canadians.”

EKOS Research Associates conducted the national online survey of 1,009 Canadians from June 5 to 10 on behalf of three groups that oppose the annexation and support the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel: Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East, Independent Jewish Voices Canada, and the United Network for Justice and Peace in Palestine-Israel.

The poll found that only 11 percent of respondents said Canada should support Israel’s annexation plans, and 15 percent said Canada should do nothing.

Among Liberal Party supporters, 42 percent favour sanctions, while 45 percent thought Canada should express opposition but take no further action. Only five percent of Liberals want Canada to support Israel’s plan, and eight percent would prefer Canada do nothing.

Conservatives were found to be most supportive of Israel’s annexation plan. Half of Conservative supporters think that Canada should either support the plan (27 percent) or do nothing (25 percent). Another 32 percent of Conservatives said Canada should express opposition, and 16 percent said Canada should impose sanctions.

Among Canadians aged 18 to 35, an “overwhelming majority” want Canada to oppose Israel’s plans, the poll suggested: 59 percent of respondents in that age group said Canada should impose sanctions on Israel, and 24 percent said Canada should express opposition but take no other action.

Imposing sanctions on Israel was the “clear preference” for a majority of those who support the NDP (68 percent); Green Party (59 percent), and Bloc Quebecois (54 percent).

Supporting sanctions on Israel was most popular with Canadians who have higher levels of education, but Canadians of all education levels favoured sanctions over the other options, the survey found.

The poll results “demonstrate that the Trudeau government would have strong majority support if it opposed the annexations, and considerable public support to go further and impose sanctions on Israel. In fact, from a political standpoint, it would be risky for the Trudeau government to stay quiet in the face of this violation of international law planned by Israel.”

Listed as investigators and authors of the survey are Michael Bueckert, Thomas Woodley, and Grafton Ross of Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East; Sheryl Nestel and Stanislav Birko of Independent Jewish Voices Canada; and Ken McEvoy of United Network for Justice and Peace in Palestine-Israel.

As with at least one other past survey conducted by pro-BDS groups, this latest one was dismissed by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs as weighted to arrive at certain conclusions.

“Predictably,” questions were “intentionally biased to skew the answer,” Shimon Koffler Fogel, president and CEO of CIJA, told the CJR.

By “prejudicially” characterizing the lands in question as “Palestinian,” and stating that Israel plans to “formally incorporate” them, the poll’s questions “telegraph to the respondent that the territory is incontrovertibly Palestinian [and is] being stolen by Israel, and [is] not disputed.”

In doing so, “the poll seeks to exploit a generic tendency on the part of Canadians to express support for the perceived underdog,” Fogel noted.

Notwithstanding the “serious deficiencies” in the survey questions and the “dubious” motivations of the report’s sponsors, “a majority” of Canadians have indicated their opposition to any changes to Canada-Israel relations, Fogel said.

An extensive Environics survey conducted last year found a plurality of respondents endorsed Canada’s level of support for Israel, but a “significant” minority said it was not supportive enough.

However, that was before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced plans to unilaterally annex about 30 percent of the West Bank by July 1.

The latest poll comes as more than 100 prominent Canadians – former diplomats and cabinet ministers, as well as rabbis, academics, authors, and human rights advocates – signed letters asking the government to forcefully oppose Israel’s proposed annexation.


Ron Csillag
Ron Csillag

Ron Csillag is editor of the Canadian Jewish Record