The Biden administration, should it play its cards right, could capitalize on the momentum of the Trump administration’s Abraham Accords to gain further diplomatic wins for Middle East peace. The Trump administration departed very close to clinching normalization deals between Israel and Mauritania and Israel and Indonesia, and had made significant progress on the Israel–Oman and Israel–Saudi Arabia tracks as well. So normalization agreements between Israel and these four countries seem reasonable goals for the Biden administration.
As the culmination of the Trump administration’s negotiating efforts, Kosovo established ties with Israel formally on Monday and will become the first Muslim-majority nation to move its embassy to Jerusalem. Also thanks to the Trump administration’s statecraft, Sudan has now expressed interest in formally signing a normalization agreement with Israel on the White House lawn. The Biden administration could therefore close at least six normalization agreements with Israel.
But instead the Biden administration is well on its way to reversing the significant gains in Middle East peace brokered by the Trump administration. By undermining the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Israel and strengthening the Palestinian Authority and Iran, the Biden administration will greatly undermine prospects of peace in the region. The Biden administration will likely undermine other current and potential normalization agreements through the following:
The Biden administration has begun to sour U.S. relations with the UAE by pausing the sale of F-35s promised by the Trump administration and by calling out the UAE (in addition to Turkey and Russia) for its role in the Libyan Civil War. The pause on the sale of the F-35s could very well become permanent. As senator, Vice President Kamala Harris voted for a resolution (S.J. Res 37), vetoed by President Trump, which called for preventing arms sales to the UAE. A cancellation, or even a significant postponement, of the sale of the F-35s may cause the UAE to slow the growth of UAE–Israeli relations, as this sale was what the UAE had wanted most in exchange for normalization of ties with Israel. Souring relations with the UAE can also put the Israeli–Sudan normalization deal in jeopardy, as well as prospects of an Israel–Mauritania deal, as the UAE was a broker and possibly a patron in the former and has significant economic sway over the latter.
Past statements by both President Joe Biden and Vice President Harris suggest that this administration will be hostile to Saudi Arabia. The Biden administration has already begun to undermine U.S.–Saudi relations by pausing arms sales to Saudi Arabia and lifting Trump administration sanctions on Yemen’s Houthi rebels. Democrats and human rights groups have been pressuring the Biden administration to “remake” its alliance with Saudi Arabia due to the murder of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi and Saudi Arabia’s role in the Yemen Civil War. Saudi Arabia is also very interested in buying F-35s, and if the Biden administration sinks the UAE deal for good, the likelihood that the Biden administration will sell F-35s to Saudi Arabia plummets.
The Biden administration’s antagonizing of Saudi Arabia will make it less likely to normalize relations with Israel. Saudi Arabia’s key role in behind-the-scenes brokering of normalization with Israel will also be in jeopardy. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was reportedly integral in convincing the UAE and Bahrain to normalize relations with Israel. Also, if Saudi Arabia warming to Israel turns cold, a long-shot possibility of Israeli–Pakistani normalization will be off the table as well, as Saudi Arabia is reportedly trying to influence Pakistan to do this.
The Biden administration’s inevitable pivot back to a nuclear deal with Iran will estrange all our allies in the region. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, and envoy to Iran Robert Malley all previously worked on and support President Obama’s Iran nuclear deal. Israel has already said that it is preparing contingency plans to strike Iran, and unlike in 2015, both its political and military leadership are united against the prospects of an Iran nuclear deal. An emboldened Iran will likely increase attempts to subvert Bahrain, with its Shiite-majority population ruled by a Sunni monarchy, and this will likely cause Bahrain to cool its newfound relationship with Israel. A stronger Iran will also likely step up pressure on the UAE to similarly distance itself from Israel and would cool prospects of a normalization deal between Israel and Oman, which is an ally of both other Gulf states and Iran. Growing Iranian influence in Lebanon would weaken a long-shot prospect of peace between Israel and Lebanon, or at the very least an agreement on the two countries’ maritime border.
The Biden administration has already pledged to reopen the PLO mission in Washington, D.C., and restore diplomatic relations with the Palestinian Authority (PA). Giving diplomatic life to the PA is pointless and destructive as the PA/PLO/Fatah continues to demonstrate that they are not interested in peace with Israel. In the past month alone, Fatah has glorified the Munich Olympics Massacre as a “quality operation,” and the PA has called the Arabs that murdered Jewish civilians in 1929 Arab riots “noble heroes.” The Palestinian Supreme Fatwa Council also issued a ban and fatwa on Arabs using the term “Abraham Accords,” calling it “tantamount to apostasy.”
The Biden administration may overturn the Trump administration’s recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara, as Democrats like Susan Rice and Barack Obama have supported the Polisario Front’s claims to that territory. Since American recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara is what Morocco wanted most in its normalization deal with Israel, withdrawing such recognition could weaken Morocco’s relationship with the United States and chill its growing relations with the Jewish State.
It appears less likely that the Biden administration will be able to clinch an Israel–Indonesia deal. The Trump administration reportedly offered Indonesia an extra $1 to $2 billion in investment through the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation if it signed a normalization deal with Israel. But an unnamed aide to Democratic leadership seemed to indicate that a Biden administration would not honor any such agreement. For the Biden administration to not pursue an Israel–Indonesia deal would be penny wise, pound foolish even beyond Middle East peace. President Biden should continue favoring a “free and open Indo-Pacific,” a term coined by former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and later used by the Trump administration, and Indonesia would serve an integral role in this strategy. Further, growing American investment in Indonesia, coupled with an Israel–Indonesia normalization agreement, would help to check Chinese ambitions against Indonesia (and southeast Asia generally) in the South China Sea.
The Abraham Accords have the potential to solidify an Israeli–Emirati–Bahraini (and eventually Saudi) strategic partnership that would be able to project more power against Iran than any number of American troops in Iraq or Syria could ever do. But rather than picking up the baton and strengthening the Abraham Accords, the Biden administration is well on its way to undermining those accords. As long as the Biden administration continues to alienate our allies while courting our enemies, Middle East peace will suffer.