WASHINGTON (JTA) — Wrapping up the feel-good-fest that marked the first anniversary of the Abraham Accords, the normalization agreements between Israel and four Arabs states, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken gave a shout-out to the big guy who started it all.
No, not Donald Trump, but Abraham himself.
“Abraham, in our Bible, had the temerity to engage God, to argue with God, to ask why, and maybe more important, to ask why not,” Blinken said at the virtual get-together Friday that marked the Sept. 15, 2020, anniversary (a day or so late, but Yom Kippur got in the way).
“And I think each of you and each of your countries asked, ‘Why not?’ And the answer now we see before us with the accords, with normalization, and with the manifest benefits that it’s bringing to people not just in the countries concerned, but I think increasingly more broadly.”
By invoking Abraham, Blinken put to rest any concerns that President Joe Biden was anything less than fully committed to the accords, despite the fact that they happened under Trump.
The friendly back-and-forth between Blinken, who is Jewish; the foreign ministers of Israel and Morocco; the former holder of that post in the United Arab Emirates; and the Bahraini ambassador to the United States covered what has become familiar territory: Praising the gains already made and pledging to expand the agreements.
But it was the tone that stood out, down to Blinken not just saying Abraham’s name, but in his assigning a quasi-religious significance to the accords by noting the shared Jewish and Muslim investment in the original founding father. Blinken and the Arab diplomats also made sure to wish Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, in attendance, a happy new year.
This was a shift from how the Biden administration has discussed the accords to date. Previously, Biden officials appeared to hesitate even to use the term “Abraham Accords,” which has rankled the deals’ architects under Trump. Insiders told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that Biden’s team had been hesitant to bring religion into any diplomatic brokering.
The Trump administration’s architects of the Abraham Accords had been worried, given Democratic revulsion for all things Trump, that Biden would scupper the deals altogether, even though he had made clear while campaigning that normalizing ties between Israel and its Arab neighbors was a rare point of agreement between himself and Trump.
Those worries receded as Biden pledged to uphold the incentives for the accords: the sale of F-35 stealth combat jets to the UAE, the recognition of Morocco’s claim to the Western Sahara and the repeal of terrorist designations that have inhibited relations between Sudan and the international community.
Friday was also the 43rd anniversary of the Egypt-Israel Camp David peace agreement brokered by President Jimmy Carter, a Democrat who was not shy about mixing religion and diplomacy. Blinken noted the coincidence and said that part of the Biden administration’s agenda would be to deepen the existing peace treaties between Israel, Egypt and Jordan.
“We’ll work to deepen Israel’s longstanding relationships with Egypt and Jordan – partners critical to the United States, Israel and Palestinians alike,” Blinken said. He noted that Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett this week traveled to Cairo to meet Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the first such visit between Israeli and Egyptian heads of state in a decade. “The negotiations between Israel and Jordan around new agreements on water and trade show how these relationships continue to build on the trailblazing agreements signed decades ago.
While those agreements are decades older than the Abraham Accords, what’s missing from Israel-Egypt and Israel-Jordan relations are the people-to-people interactions — the normalization — that has flourished since the Abraham Accords signing. Blinken detailed the gains so far of normalization and its opportunities.
“The United Arab Emirates has pursued significant investments in strategic sectors in Israel, including energy, medicine, technology, healthcare,” he said. “Private firms across your countries are working together on everything from desalinization to stem cell therapies.”
Blinken even made mention of the recent establishment of ties between Kosovo and Israel, which the Trump negotiating team had taken to including in the Abraham Accords package despite key differences in context, including that it was Kosovo that hankered for years for Israeli recognition, not the other way around.
Missing from the get-together was Sudan, where there have been signs of unease with its new Israel relationship (including a Sudanese Olympic athlete dropping out of competition this summer to avoid facing an Israeli opponent). A Sudanese diplomat has said the country would need to have a formal signing agreement at the White House before establishing further public ties with Israel.