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The Israel-Hamas war could impact the 3-year-old Abraham Accords


A negotiated four-day pause in fighting between Israel and Hamas and the release of some hostages held by Hamas has begun. Israel's Foreign ministry says 12 Thai hostages who were seized by Hamas during the deadly October 7 attack on Israel are now free. A group of Israeli civilians who were captured that same day were also expected to be released today in exchange for freedom for another group of Palestinians jailed in Israel. All of these developments, and the negotiations that made them possible, may have, for the moment upstaged other diplomatic agreements that several Arab states made with Israel three years ago. Here's NPR international affairs correspondent Jackie Northam.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: The so-called Abraham Accords were spun out of the Trump administration's effort to broker peace in the Middle East. They were meant to normalize relations between Israel and Arab nations, says Natan Sachs, director of the center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution.

NATAN SACHS: Israel and some important Arab countries, most notably the United Arab Emirates - but with it also, Morocco, Bahrain and, for a moment, Sudan - reached agreements on normalization.

NORTHAM: Compared to earlier agreements between Israel and Egypt or Jordan, these accords were relatively easy, says Aaron David Miller of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The UAE, Bahrain and Morocco were neither neighbors nor at war with Israel and already cooperating with the Jewish state. Miller says the agreement made those relationships public, and that all sides of the Abraham Accords have benefited.

AARON DAVID MILLER: They flourished. These agreements impressed even the most skeptical that they would not just be formalistic, but they would actually produce cultural exchanges, economic exchanges. And then the issue of security cooperation and intelligence sharing, these three benefited enormously.

NORTHAM: The Abraham Accords did nothing to help the Palestinians. They were left out. At the time, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu boasted he had achieved the agreement without any concessions to the Palestinians. And Miller says the Arab states that signed off had grown frustrated with the Israel-Palestinian issue.

MILLER: The Arab states had reached a judgment that this conflict could not be resolved. And they were not going to tether themselves to Palestinian interests when their own interests could have been advanced, even without a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem.

NORTHAM: Bahrain has recalled its ambassador to Israel and closed its airspace to Israeli flights but hasn't backed out of the accords, nor has the United Arab Emirates or Morocco despite the uproar across the Arab world about what's happening in Gaza, says Yousef Munayyer, who heads up the Palestine/Israel program at the Arab Center in Washington, D.C.

YOUSEF MUNAYYER: All of these regimes see that and understand that their people are not just angry with Israel, but they're also angry with them. They're angry with them because they see them as tolerating this and in many ways furthering it through their normalized ties.

NORTHAM: Saudi Arabia was inching towards signing the accords with encouragement from the Biden administration, but that's basically on hold, says Munayyer.

MUNAYYER: And I think that, you know, while the Saudis may have been prepared to move more in that direction before this, the idea that you can kind of ignore Palestine, I think, now has been - has really been shattered. And more and more people see the necessity of keeping Palestine at the top of the international agenda because we've all witnessed the costs of what happens when it's not and it's ignored.

NORTHAM: Sachs, with the Brookings Institution, says the Biden administration recognizes any normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia would need a Palestinian component.

SACHS: But what exactly that component would be has yet to be defined. Could, for example, Saudi Arabia play a constructive role in reconstructing Gaza, for example, or allowing some kind of political settlement in Gaza that would be slightly less terrible than the alternatives?

NORTHAM: Sachs says all this rests in the future, once the latest conflict between Israel and Hamas subsides.

Jackie Northam, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jackie Northam is NPR's International Affairs Correspondent. She is a veteran journalist who has spent three decades reporting on conflict, geopolitics, and life across the globe - from the mountains of Afghanistan and the desert sands of Saudi Arabia, to the gritty prison camp at Guantanamo Bay and the pristine beauty of the Arctic.