WARM PEACE IN THE MAKING – EXAMINING P2P RELATIONS TWO YEARS TO THE ABRAHAM ACCORDS
The Abraham Accords have offered a new and different model for regional relations and already shaped a different reality in the region by offering a dynamic of cooperation in just about all fields: business, security, diplomacy, tourism, and People-to-People (P2P) relations. However, there is more than meets the eye when it comes to bridge building between people and cultures following decades of animosity and some of the initial effort to build these bridges had actually backfired. This article seeks to analyze the challenges and opportunities of P2P relations under the framework of the Abraham Accords and to point toward a more constructive path that will enable them to develop and flourish.
Happy to share my latest long-form article that summarizes over a decade of Israeli involvement in Syria following the Syrian uprising-turned-war that began on March of 2011. The article summarizes a decade of work on the subject that became central to my work and that also serves as a fascinating chapter of Israeli foreign policy which included an unprecedented humanitarian operation at its core. In the last decade, I had the chance of meeting hundreds of Syrians. The engagement with Syrians happened in Syrian Refugee camps; on the ground with the Free Syrian Army; at Israeli hospitals that treated over 5,000 of them; in Jordan, Turkey, Europe and elsewhere where some of the first meetings between Syrians and Israelis took place; and, also, around my Shabbat table which hosted many Syrian friends and partners throughout last decade. All of that resulted in what I hope you will find as a useful analysis.
The enclosed, written with my friend and partner for this work Stéphane Cohen attempts to summarize a decade of Israeli involvement in Syria.
In August 2021, Israel and Lebanon marked fifteen years since the start of the Second Lebanon War. A month later, in September, the world marked twenty years since the 9/11 terror attacks and the end of the United States and NATO campaign in Afghanistan. But the year 2021 also marked ten years since the beginning of the war in Syria that continues despite the attempts to stabilize the country and begin rehabilitation efforts.
Eleven years ago, in Daraa, Syria—not far from Israel’s northern border—antiregime protests broke out following the arrests of Syrian teenagers responsible for antigovernmental graffiti. The “boys that started the Syrian revolution” quickly became one of its icons, and Daraa one of its symbols. A decade later, in 2021, it seems that little has changed. Bashar al-Assad continues to serve as Syria’s president, sworn in for seven more years1 (a fourth term) as he receives renewed legitimacy among the ranks of the Arab League and even in Israel. The Syrian army and its security forces—the same ones who “won” the war in 2018—continue to fight an insurgency in the south. Syrians are killed from both sides—regime and opposition alike (“Syrians,” as the war taught us, became a relative term for militias and foreign fighters on both sides). In the summer of 2021, shortly after the presidential elections, the regime decided to put an end to the bloody insurgency in southern Syria and sent troops, supported by Iranian proxies, to again crush defiant Daraa.
Although Daraa continues to burn, a decade of war has brought tectonic change to Syria, just like it altered the way Israel engaged with that country, its people, and the Syrian arena at large. A decade of Israeli policy and involvement in Syria will be examined here, and some initial insights about the years ahead will be offered
“Today, we already witness a change taking place in the heart of the Middle East, a change that will send hope throughout the world,” said Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan, the UAE’s Foreign Minister when signing what would be dubbed the Abraham Accords at the White House in August 2020. A move that surprised many, the accords began to shape a new model for relations in the region—especially in its demonstrated interest in people-to-people relations. However, it must also be recognized that creating a “People’s Peace” needs more than words to become a reality.
The Abraham Accords were crafted in a very different spirit than the earlier peace agreements between Israel and Jordan or Egypt. The Camp David Agreement of 1978 did in fact outline plans to establish normal relations between Egypt and Israel, including diplomatic, economic, and cultural ties. Furthermore, in 1982, a cultural agreement called for the establishment of two academic centers to facilitate cultural ties between the two nations. Yet actual people-to-people (P2P) relations remain effectively nonexistent. While an Israeli center was established in Cairo, it is guarded by Egyptian intelligence who make it clear that Egyptians are not welcomed. Likewise, after 40 years, the gates of the corresponding Egyptian academic center in Tel Aviv still remain unopened.
In 2020, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Morocco, and Sudan normalized their relations with Israel, the first Arab countries to do so since Jordan in 1994. What does this mean for the future of the Israeli-Palestinian relations? Will the Abraham Accords improve or worsen the prospects for Middle East Peace? And what should the Biden administration do in the aftermath of the agreements? A panel with Dr. Nir Boms and Dr. Najat Al-Saied