Washington: The Biden administration is laying the groundwork for a renewed push to encourage more Arab countries to sign accords with Israel and working to strengthen existing deals after last month’s devastating war in the Gaza Strip interrupted those diplomatic efforts.
The embrace of the ‘Abraham Accords’ is a rare carryover of a signature Trump administration policy by President Joe Biden and other Democrats.
The Trump administration put US clout and incentives into landing the country-by-country pacts by four Arab states last year, easing enmity and isolation for the Jewish state in the Middle East that had dated back to Israel’s 1948 founding.
The Biden administration saw significant prospects of several other Arab governments signing accords soothing and normalising relations with Israel. US officials have declined to publicly identify the countries they regard as promising prospects.
Sudan, which signed a general declaration of peaceful intent but has not yet signed on to diplomatic relations with Israel, had been a prospect. Oman, which has a policy of non-interference that allows it to be a broker across the Middle East’s fault lines, long has been seen by Westerners as a likely contender.
* The Biden administration is considering appointing a former US ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, to a Mideast role that would marshal and potentially expand the country-by-country accords between Israel and Mideast governments.
* Two people familiar with the matter confirmed Shapiro was being considered for the job, as first reported by The Washington Post.
* Eyes are on Israel at the moment to see how a possible new coalition government led by a new prime minister may affect Israeli-Palestinian relations, especially in the aftermath of the Gaza war.
* The Knesset is set to vote on Sunday on whether to confirm the new government and end Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s 12-year rule. If it does, Yamina party leader Naftali Bennett will become prime minister. Bennett opposes Palestinian statehood.
US officials also are working to encourage more business, education and other ties among the four Arab states and Israel. They hope visible success there will also promote the bilateral accords in the region, at the same time the US works to advance resolution of the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
Last year, the UAE became the first Arab country in over two decades to establish ties with Israel, after Egypt and Jordan in 1979 and 1994, respectively.
The Trump administration saw the accords partly as paving a path toward full ties with Israel, including in security and intelligence cooperation.
The deals former President Donald Trump struck were “an important achievement, one that not only we support, but one we’d like to build on,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the House Foreign Affairs Committee last week.
In addition, “we’re looking at countries that may want to join in and, and take part and begin to normalise their own relations with Israel. That, too, has been very much part of conversations I’ve had with, with several of my counterparts,” Blinken added.
Supporters of the country-by-country accords say isolating Israel failed to overcome decades of stalemate on Palestinians’ demand for their own state with its capital in East Jerusalem.
“As many ways as the Biden administration will depart from Trump policy in the region, there will be places where it sees an interest in continuity,” said Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, who spoke to officials in Oman on a trip immediately before last month’s Gaza war erupted.
Before any new efforts on the accords move forward, big political and pragmatic developments need to fall into place in the region.