Israel, Arab States Celebrate Abraham Accords Anniversary at Kushner's Party

Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels
Washington
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Benjamin Netanyahu, Donald Trump and UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan sign the Abraham Accords in Washington on September 15, 2020.
Benjamin Netanyahu, Donald Trump and UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan sign the Abraham Accords in Washington on September 15, 2020.Credit: Saul Loeb / AFP
Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels
Washington

WASHINGTON - On the one-year anniversary of the signing of the Abraham Accords on Tuesday, the ambassadors to the United States from Israel, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates marked the occasion in Washington.

The event, hosted by Jared Kushner's new non-profit organization, is one of several this week celebrating the blossoming ties between the countries since the accords' signing.

LISTEN: One year after the Abraham Accords, is Saudi Arabia Next

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The Abraham Accords Institute for Peace — co-founded with former Trump Mideast peace envoy Avi Berkowitz and Democratic mega-donor Haim Saban — is dedicated to deepening the normalization pacts between Israel and its Arab allies. It will focus on promoting trade, tourism, and people-to-people development between the countries, as well as showcasing opportunities presented by bringing additional countries into the fold.

Robert Greenway, who served as Trump's top Middle East advisor on the National Security Council, is the institute's executive director and moderated the event.

UAE Ambassador to the U.S. Yousef Al Otaiba highlighted how the countries aren't suspicious of another, and this is seen particularly in the field of tourism. Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Gilad Erdan noted that Israel is waiting for the U.S. to follow the UAE's lead concerning visa-free travel. 

The outgoing Israeli ambassador has made entry into the U.S. Visa Waiver Program a central tenet of his tenure. Although the issue was directly mentioned by the White House and Secretary of State Antony Blinken during Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's Washington visit, Israeli entry is a ways away due to failure to meet required benchmarks that are prerequisites to membership. 

Erdan also directly floated the possibility of Saudi Arabia becoming party to the accords one day as part of a regional alliance at the New York event, while criticizing Palestinian leadership for viewing the accords as a threat instead of an opportunity.

Meanwhile, Kushner praised the bipartisan backing behind the series of normalization pacts, calling for further shared support moving forward. Erdan highlighted how all the accords' members oppose the Iran nuclear deal, which the Biden administration has publicly supported and has been negotiating a potential re-entry for months. Erdan also announced the creation of a Knesset caucus dedicated to the accords during the event.

The Biden administration, in general, has endorsed the normalization pacts as a positive development while acknowledging it cannot act as a substitute for Israeli-Palestinian peace. Critics have charged the current administration with not sufficiently prioritizing or capitalizing on the accords, including accusing the administration of petty semantics by not using the terminology "Abraham Accords." 

However, the Biden administration did send a senior State Department official to Tuesday's ceremony, and Blinken will hold a virtual meeting with his counterparts to commemorate the anniversary. Blinken's event was first reported by Axios.

Tuesday's event is one of several this week marking the anniversary, following a Monday event hosted by the Israeli mission to the UN in New York where U.S. Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield praised the countries for putting the accords into action while committing to building upon the agreements. 

Otaiba told Washington's Wilson Center that the accords saved the two-state solution by staving off West Bank annexation, and Bahraini Ambassador to the U.S. Rashid bin Abdullah al-Khalifa said the accords helped defuse tensions during the most recent Gaza war quicker than in past escalations.

The three countries at the Kushner event were the first parties to sign the accords, prior to Sudan and Morocco respectively announcing normalized ties. The Biden administration has largely followed through with Trump's commitments to the states party to the pacts — including the sale of F-35s to the UAE, recognition of Morocco's sovereignty over Western Sahara, and the $700 million aid package to Sudan (which has yet to formally finalize the pact with Israel).

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