Thursday, March 31, 2022

The Abraham Accords and The Prospects of Israeli/Palestinian Peace

I am a booster of the Abraham Accords. I consider them an unadulterated good. In a region of the world that has been beset by tension and conflict, anything that is a step towards collaboration and cooperation is a good thing, and I have no problem saying so.

Some have suggested that the Abraham Accords makes an Israeli/Palestinian peace accord less likely, and oppose them on that basis (or purportedly on that basis). I am not sure whether that's true, but I do think it's worth thinking about how the Abraham Accords interact with a common narrative about the viability of an Israeli/Palestinian peace process -- the idea that an Israeli/Palestinian accord will only come into being if it is attached to a wider regional deal. How do the Abraham Accords affect that narrative?

One way one might think about it is as follows: Israel has, from its founding, labored under a genuine risk of existential destruction that has understandably colored all of its security determinations. The idea that the West Bank (particularly the Jordan Valley) is necessary as a "buffer" in case of attack in an example: something that at face value is an Israeli/Palestinian matter is inextricable from Israel's region-wide security posture. If this is one's view, then the Abraham Accords are a net positive for the prospects of peace insofar as they represent a significant diminishing of existential military threats Israel faces from its neighbors. This, in turn, allows for Israel to relate to the issues of occupation of Palestine qua Palestine, as opposed to re-situating the occupation as part of larger regional security issues (where the existential threats to Israel's safety have, historically speaking, been more salient).

Now to be clear, "diminishing" the existential risks that come from hostile neighboring military powers is not the same as "eliminating" them. Not counting Palestine, two of Israel's four bordering neighbors (Syria and Lebanon) retain a highly belligerent, aggressive posture toward Israel, and that doesn't even get into Iran. Still, there is a marked difference in Israel's existential situation when it was genuinely all alone in the region compared to when it is increasingly aligned with a significant regional bloc. If one has been cynical about or excusing of (choose your favored verbiage) peace prospects because Israel is "surrounded by enemies who want to destroy it", then the breaking of that proverbial (and sometimes not-so-proverbial) siege should be heartening (or take away the excuse).

But there's another line on this that I've sometimes heard. Some people are arguing that the Abraham Accords prove that Israel doesn't need to make peace with Palestine in order to make peace with its neighbors. These people style themselves as responding to hectoring leftists who insisted that if Israel wants to be an integrated member of the Middle East community of nations it would have to resolve the occupation of Palestine first. The target of said hectoring are those members of Israeli society who very much desire the former but have little interest in pursuing the former; the idea is that the former is the leverage necessary to stop foot-dragging on the latter.  But the Abraham Accords falsified the premise, so now these Israelis are celebrating being able to have their cake and eat it too -- they got what they want (regional integration) without ever having to compromise on Palestine at all. For these people, the Abraham Accords are a net negative for the prospects of a peace accord with Palestine; they feel more emboldened that they needn't take a step they do not want to take because a potential cost now appears to have rendered moot.

All of this is a long-winded way of saying that, for Israelis who genuinely want a peace deal with Palestinians and an end to the occupation, the Abraham Accords make it easier for them to say "yes"; and for those who at root wish to thwart such a deal, the Abraham Accords make it easier for them to say "no". For those of us on the outside, and particularly those of us who are cheerleaders for the Abraham Accords, it is important that we stress the narrative that bolsters the former framing. In particular, it means starting to lay off some of the well-worn, historically reasonable but perhaps now dated, rhetoric about Israel being "surrounded by enemies". The reason we celebrate the Abraham Accords is precisely that it represents a break from that history; but we cannot return to it at convenience in order to justify more hesitation and foot-dragging on robustly and vigorously supporting an end to the occupation.

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