Will Biden cut strings Trump attached to Abraham Accords? – Analysis

Biden is in favor of the Abraham Accords, but they have strings attached that make his administration uncomfortable.


The past weekend has been a festival of light and national pride befitting Hanukkah. Two countries, Morocco and Bhutan, established relations with Israel in three days.

And just as Hanukkah has more nights ahead, it seems as if there are more normalizations to come too – though probably not eight in total, and probably not this week, but in the coming weeks before US President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on January 20.


US Vice President Mike Pence is coming to Israel a week before he leaves office, and may announce that another country will forge diplomatic ties with Israel. And Regional Cooperation Minister Ofir Akunis said on Army Radio on Sunday that there may be yet another country, too. It’s yet unclear what countries they may be – Oman and Indonesia are commonly uttered – but the biggest prize in the region, Saudi Arabia, is unlikely to be one of them, and seems to be waiting to see how things go with the Biden administration before taking the major step.

It’s exciting to have new friends, but as January 20th nears, perhaps the Saudi approach is the wise one. In other words, will normalization deals negotiated by the Trump administration during its lame duck period last after Biden enters the White House?

Diplomatic relations with Bhutan are safe, as they really have almost nothing to do with the rest. The Buddhist kingdom bordering India and China has isolated itself to preserve its environment and culture, and by choice, has ties with only 54 of the UN’s 193 member states. Its relationship with Israel grew mostly over the past decade, as hundreds of Bhutanese citizens participated in agricultural programs through MASHAV, Israel’s development agency.

As such, Bhutan’s normalization with Israel is not really connected to the Abraham Accords and it was not brokered by the US. Indeed, Bhutan does not have diplomatic relations with the US.


Morocco, however, falls squarely into the slot of the Abraham Accords as the fourth Arab Muslim country in as many months to have its limited ties with Israel brought fully out into the open through mediation by Trump administration negotiators. They’re also the second – and some may argue the third – country to have their normalization with Israel tied up with major promises from the administration, whose days are numbered.


Broadly, Biden favors the Abraham Accords, which have led to ties between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and now Morocco. He and his foreign policy advisers have said positive things about them, although they also seek to have normalizations come in conjunction with progress in the peace process with the Palestinians.

A Biden administration may not pursue diplomatic ties for Israel and Arab countries with the same zeal as US President Donald Trump but it would be unlikely to put up obstacles in principle.

However, these normalizations have strings attached that could be uncomfortable for the Biden administration.

First, there was the United Arab Emirates. Many senior Emirati figures, along with high-level Israeli and American officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have said that the sale of F-35 fighter jets to the UAE was not part of the negotiations leading to the Abraham Accords. Still, the Emiratis have long sought to buy the planes and they and the Americans have said the peace agreement makes it easier for them to get them, and, after Defense Minister Benny Gantz had meetings in the Pentagon, he and Netanyahu released a rare joint statement dropping any objection to the sale.


That sale just squeaked by a Senate bill aiming to block it, but whether it will be completed before Trump leaves office is unclear. Biden could oppose the sale, like most Democrats in the Senate, based on concerns following UAE involvement in the wars in Yemen and Libya.

Next, there’s Sudan, which sought to get off the US list of state sponsors of terrorism, debt forgiveness and aid after dictator Omar al-Bashir was overthrown last year. The US insisted that diplomatic relations with Israel be part of the deal and Sudan pushed for “legal peace,” by which Khartoum will pay over $300 million to victims of terror, and no further lawsuits can be brought against the country for its past support for terrorism.


This, too, faced obstacles in Congress, though supporting Sudan’s nascent democracy has bipartisan support. Senators Robert Menendez and Chuck Schumer seeking to carve out an exception for victims of the 9/11 attacks, among others, to sue Sudan, which harbored Osama bin Laden and hosted Al Qaeda training camps in the 1990s.


Sudanese officials have relayed the message to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that they will not move forward with ties with Israel if the bill granting Khartoum immunity from future lawsuits does not pass by the end of 2020.


In the meantime, an Israeli economic delegation has already been to Sudan, and Israel has been lobbying Congress to pass the legal immunity bill, without taking a position on 9/11 victims. Sudanese journalist Wasil Ali posited in Axios that Khartoum will not stop the normalization process, because Israel can help the East African country in Washington.

Democrats do not generally oppose the “legal peace” for Sudan, even though details must still be worked out, and Biden has not said anything to indicate he would block it. Yet the matter is unlikely to be at the top of his agenda if it is not done by January 20, and those delays could be a strain on the new Sudan-Israel ties.


Then, there’s Morocco, which is perhaps the most controversial move of all three. The US became the first country to recognize Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara. The Trump administration’s message was that decades of attempts at negotiations between Morocco and the leadership of the Sahrawi, the non-Moroccan people living in the region, have gone nowhere and autonomy under Morocco’s king is the way to move forward.

This has serious implications when it comes to international law that can radiate outward to Judea and Samaria, Crimea and beyond – as different as those land disputes may be – and the Trump administration has boxed Biden into a change of policy.


A cabinet source said on Sunday that the government of Israel is not concerned that any of the aforementioned strings attached to the Abraham Accords will be cut by the Biden administration.


“The US has a clear system of continuity, especially when it comes to diplomatic positions. We’ve seen this with Israel over the decades,” the source said.

But Biden has a drastically different view on foreign policy than Trump and he is likely to make many changes. What that means for Israel’s new partnerships remains to be seen.