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.

Editorial: Let’s Continue to Save Lives

Aug. 27, 2020

In the Jewish tradition, we are taught that“whosoever saves a life, it is as though he had saved the entire world” – surely a beautiful sentiment embraced by other faith traditions.

And yet, we see very much the opposite today, especially in the reaction of a significant minority both here and in the United States to dangerous fiction that “trumps” truth when it comes to Covid-19.

Alarmingly, more than a few people are either ignorant or think they are invincible,or worse, believe religiously-tinged fairy tales from numbskulls in leadership positions.

Take Ohio state representative Nino Vitale, for example. The Republican has urged his fellow Ohioans to refuse to wear face masks. As he rambled to Newsweekrecently, “When we think about the image and likeness of God, that we’re created in the image and likeness of God, when we think of image, do we think of a chest or our legs or our arms? We think of their face. I don’t want to cover people’s faces. That’s the image of God right there. I want to see it in my brothers and sisters.”

Ordinary Americans have also invoked God, claiming masks interfere with His divinely-designed human breathing apparatus. A study released in late June suggested that White American evangelicals’ attitudes toward the coronavirus pandemic are considerably more relaxed than those of other religious groups.

This might go some way to explaining the fact that the United States has the highest number (per 100,000 people) of Covid cases and deaths in the world.

To date, nearly 180,000 Americans have died in the pandemic, a number that scientists and epidemiologists tell us wasavoidable had people followed the simple hygienic rules by now burned into our brains: keep your distance, wash your hands, and wear a mask – simple rules that Donald Trump was reluctant to mandate.

Worse, Trump seems to treat unnecessary deaths with a shrugging normalcy. Asked a couple of weeks ago about the staggering death rate in his country, he responded, “it is what it is.”

One might assume that members of his own party would be horrified at such a reply. Not so much. A recent CBS poll found 57percent of Republicans felt that a death toll of 176,000 Americans (at the time) was “acceptable.” The same survey found that 73 percent of Republicans believe Trump is handling the Coronavirus pandemic well.

Thankfully, saner heads prevail when the same question is asked across the United States, where 62 percent of voters believe the response is “going badly.” Incredibly,however, that means close to 40 percent of Americans (almost 150 million people) are just fine with Trump’s handling of the pandemic.

In Canada, we are faring much better, even though we have our own “Covoidiots.” Take the recent example of 600 patrons packedshoulder-to-shoulder into a downtown Toronto strip club. Naturally, an employee tested positive for the virus. Now all attendees and employees have to isolate and monitor. Consider also pandemic house parties held across the country, just begging for infection?

The good news, however, is that for the most part, our political leaders, no matter where they stand on the spectrum andunlike their American counterparts, have saved lives by listening to science and taking the best possible advice from those in public health charged with looking after our welfare.

This is not to say problems don’t exist. Finding the right balance between opening our schools and preventing huge spikes in the virus remains a real challenge.

So far, with the customary Canadian sense of following established rules (and a little luck), our pandemic numbers have been trending downward. We need to continue down this path with care and thoughtfulness. We need to continue saving entire generations.

Canada and UNRWA: A Return to First Principles?

By DAVID H. GOLDBERG

For decades, Canadian governments – Liberal and Conservative – have routinely approved generous funding for United Nations agencies, with little apparent thought as to whether taxpayers’ dollars were being applied transparently, or that agency staff were adhering to the UN’s commitment to strict impartiality with respect to Israel and Israel-Arab relations.

Case in point is Canada’s relationship with UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. Since UNRWA’s founding in 1950, support for the agency has remained a core principle of Canada’s Middle East policy, despite UNRWA’s consistent failure to fulfill its mandate to alleviate human suffering and its status as an impediment to achieving a viable solution to the Arab-Israel conflict.

For UNRWA, the term “refugee” refers solely to Arabs displaced from the former Palestine mandate by the 1948 and 1967 Arab-Israeli wars. Moreover, its prescription for resolving the refugees’ status is their return to their former homes in the former Palestine mandate, including all of pre-state Israel – a condition that is rejected by Israel as a recipe for the destruction of the Jewish state.

UNRWA perpetuates the untenable Palestinian dream of “right of return” rather than working to facilitate the refugees’ permanent resettlement in the countries of their current residence – whether Lebanon, Jordan, England or Canada – as is the UN’s preferred resettlement strategy for all international refugees other than the Palestinians. UNRWA also perpetuates the conflict by grossly exaggerating the number of Palestinians requiring agency support, by including among the 5 million “registered refugees” the children, grandchildren (and great-grandchildren) of Arab refugees from the 1948 and 1967 wars. From Israel’s perspective, the only legitimate Arab refugees are the 700,000 who departed the former Palestine mandate in the 1948-1949 War of Independence. Israel calculates that only about 20,000 from this original group of Arab refugees remain alive today.

Other allegations include the anti-Israel and anti-Jewish language and images found in textbooks and curricula used in UNRWA-operated schools throughout the Middle East. There are also the documented cases of Hamas “active sympathizers” employed by UNRWA.

The agency’s defense – that while all local employees are vetted for connections with terrorist groups, UNRWA cannot control the hearts and minds of its personnel – strains credulity, as does its denial of awareness that its schools, medical clinics and ambulances have been used to hide, store, and transport Hamas weapons and armed fighters deployed in terrorist attacks against Israel.

In 2010, the Stephen Harper Conservatives suspended funding to UNRWA over the organization’s links to Hamas. The Justin Trudeau Liberals resumed funding in 2016, with a special focus on social media training and review of UNRWA school curricula. Also, Ottawa’s UNRWA funding would henceforth be overseen by “independent” authorities.

In August 2018, the Trump Administration withdrew all United States funding for UNRWA – more than $360 million – citing the agency’s overt anti-Israel bias. Two months later, Canada allocated $50 million over two years to an UNRWA emergency fund-raising campaign (this was in addition to Canada’s $15 million contribution to UNRWA’s 2018 annual budget.)

Global Affairs Canada explained that the emergency funds would help “bring stability to the region by helping Palestinian refugees cope with poverty, unemployment and food insecurity.” It would also “assist UNRWA with its ongoing efforts to improve neutrality within the agency and its operations.” There is, however, no evidence that concern about agency neutrality, presumably relating to the anti-Israel bias that precipitated the U.S. suspension of UNRWA funding, affected Canada’s funding deliberations in 2018.

If Canada was looking to review its relationship with UNRWA, the opportunity arose early in 2019, with release of a special internal agency investigation that revealed allegations of outrageous ethical and managerial misconduct involving UNRWA’s senior staff.

Canada expressed “concern” about such revelations, as well as its expectation that the UN’s full investigation of UNRWA would be rigorous, fair, accountable and transparent.

Vivian Bercovici, Canada’s former ambassador to Israel, claimed the tepid Canadian response was calculated. Writing in the National Post, she argued that Canada wilfully ignored UNRWA’s ethical and institutional failings as one of the sacrifices of principle Ottawa was making to achieve broader geopolitical ambitions.

According to Bercovici, “[t]he current leadership in Ottawa so covets a rotating seat on the United Nations Security Council that it will do anything to secure it, including throwing money at a corrupt organization [UNRWA] that is utterly committed to promoting antisemitism and colludes with Hamas and other unsavoury groups.”

Having recently failed to secure a Security Council seat, will Canada finally challenge the overtly anti-Jewish and anti-Israel programs of UN agencies such as UNRWA? This could be achieved by joining the United States in totally withdrawing funding for UNRWA.

Alternatively, further Canadian funding could be made contingent on fundamental improvements in UNRWA’s ethical and financial accountability, as well as a sincere and transparent commitment to strict impartiality when it comes to Judaism, Israel and Israel-Palestinian relations.

Redefining its relationship with UNRWA is a good, low-cost step for Canada toward resuming its principled policy approach toward UN agencies like UNRWA, whose important human rights work has been hijacked and politicized by the anti-Israel automatic majority of Arab, Muslim and developing world countries that dominate the UN General Assembly.


David Goldberg
David Goldberg

David H. Goldberg, PhD, the author of eight books on Israel, formerly served as director of research and education for the Canada-Israel Committee and for the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.

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.