Since the declaration of statehood by the State of Israel on 14 May 1948, it embroiled itself in conflicts with its immediate neighbors and the Muslim world. Although, a secular Turkey became the first Muslim country to recognize Israel in March 1949; wars ensued between Israel and its neighbors. Muslim world was however by and large unanimous in not accepting the establishment of Israel till the Palestinian issue is resolved. However, a breakthrough was obtained in the form of the normalization of relations between Israel and Egypt in 1979 through a peace treaty known as the Camp David Accord. Jordan later also normalized relations with Israel in 1994.
It was hoped that countries which have recognized the ‘State of Israel’ would be able to contribute toward the address of the Palestinian issue due availability of diplomatic forums, however, nothing concrete could be achieved by these states, and thus no other Muslim country recognized Israel thereafter.
It was however due to former President Donald Trump’s initiative that a stir was witnessed in terms of the normalization of relations of Muslim countries with Israel, generally dubbed as the Abraham Accord; Abraham being the central religious figure of Christians, Muslims, and Jewish. The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain announced recognition of the state of Israel on 15 Sep 2020, followed by Morocco in Dec 2020 & Sudan in January 2021. It was again hoped that the accord would provide an opportunity for all stakeholders for the solution of the Palestinian issue, however, hope was futile.
The hard reality is that most Muslim countries are still not willing to accept Israel due to its alleged atrocities on Palestinians and non-granting of statehood status to Palestinian and continued occupation of Palestinian-occupied land. Notwithstanding, neither the individual states nor the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) ventured beyond this due to their own economic & political interests. Thus, the Palestinian issue remains in the lingo.
Debate is that probably except for Palestine all stakeholders are reaping the dividends of new relations. With the signing of the accord, the people-to-people contacts are improving, bringing more business to Israel at least. Arab states now account for a quarter of Israel’s arms export. The business leap in the Abraham accord countries rose from $ 85 Million in 2021 to $ 2.96 Billion in 2022.
Israel and the Abraham Accord countries are in a Win-Win, however, where does the Palestinian issue rest? Does recognition of Israel imply putting the issue on the back burner or the relations are a beacon of hope for the pursuit of the Palestinian issue by these states with Israel?
Although present statistics are a departure from the objective of furthering Palestinian issues, however, the accord is a good forum to pursue the Palestinian statehood agenda with Israel.
Knowing very well the stated position of the USA on the Palestinian statehood issue and its special relations with Israel, an impoverished Palestine while understanding the political dynamics of the changing world is now re-adjusting its sails based on new realities. Instead of focusing exclusively on OIC or the Abraham Accord states, it is hoped that an emerging China might bring a change to the status quo in the Israel-Palestine issue. President Mahmud Abbas’s recent visit to China testifies the same. China supported Palestinian full membership of UNO during the Arab Summit in Saudi Arabia on Dec 22. China has now strongly supported the independence of Palestine and called for a just and durable solution to the issue. China even established a China-Palestine Joint Strategic Partnership It is not mere rhetoric now and is of more significance since China has now embarked on the role of a new statesman who has just brokered peace deals in the Middle East between Saudi Arabia and Iran and even Syria.
With China as a new major global emerging power, it must be now changing the power dynamics of the world and region. States are now not exclusively USA-centric in pursuance of their political & economic interests; rather the new realities have a direct effect on the state’s foreign policy objectives and its implementation mechanism. Only a few months earlier it was but a fantasy that Saudi Arabia and Iran can befriend themselves without USA involvement or consent, however, it’s a reality. Syria an isolated war-torn country is now back on the world stage. Alternative currency is on the agenda of BRICS on July 23 in Johannesburg. Thus, the new realities are a hope for the opening of new paths for the solution to the Palestinian issue. Muslim states who are part of the Abraham Accord have a platform now to further Palestinian issues.
It is thus a good opportunity for the OIC and Abraham Accord countries for a fresh beginning based on new realities.
USA is also not aloof with the development start to further the scope of the Abraham Accord, the US House of Representatives passed legislation on 14 Jun 23 allowing Joe Biden to appoint a special envoy for the Abraham Accord. The objective is the recognition of Israel by the other countries of the region as well. However, the USA also understands the new dynamics only willing to give space to China. China also considers the world too big a place for USA and China to confront each other. Thus, it is hoped that the new US-Envoy on Abraham Accord will be given a mandate by Washington, based on contemporary world power politics, to play a role befitting the time and work to solve the Palestinian State Hood issue.
If Palestine is made an independent State, through USA efforts, while it still holds the rein of world politics, it will pave the way for the real expansion of the Abraham Accord, whereby all the Muslim countries can become an extension of the Abraham Accord through recognition of Israel and thus world peace. It will also instill the USA’s position as the world statesman. If not, then the only question would be who will spearhead such efforts, and the one who does it usually also become the world statesman.
Commander Anees Muhammad Khan is a (retd) Navy Officer and a Research Fellow at Bahria University, Islamabad.