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Transcript: The Abraham Accords Two Years On: Building Peace, Looming Threats

Jonathan Schachter & Robert Greenway

Following is the full transcript of the Hudson Institute event titled The Abraham Accords Two Years On: Building Peace, Looming Threats.

Disclaimer: This transcript is based off of a recorded video conference and periodic breaks in the stream have resulted in disruptions to the audio and transcribed text.

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Jonathan Schachter:
Greetings I’m Jonathan Schachter, a senior fellow at Hudson Institute Center for Peace and Security in the Middle East. Joining me are my Hudson colleague, Rob Greenway, who’s the president and executive director of the Abraham Accords Peace Institute. My friend ambassador, Mark Regev, chairman of the Abba Eban Institute for International Diplomacy at Reichman University. And his colleague, Dr. Yossi Mann, head of the Israel and Arab Gulf program at the Abba Eban Institute. Today, we’re going to talk about the Abraham Accords, which were signed on the white house lawn two years ago this week. Let’s begin by talking about the big picture. Rob, you were there at the NSC in the weeks and months, leading up to the ceremony, working to make the Accords a reality. With the benefit now of two years of hindsight, have the agreements signed that day delivered? What’s exceeded your expectations and what are your disappointments, if any?

Robert Greenway:
So first, thanks for having me and it’s a great pleasure to join all of you to talk about what we judge to be one of the most positive developments in the last generation, certainly as it impacts the Middle East and two. Your first question, has it fulfilled expectations? And I think the answer is absolutely. And in many cases it’s exceeded expectations and the energy, the drive and enthusiasm between the member states as they get to know one another and as trade and contact expands. I think part of the vision from the very outset was to stitch together our partners and allies in the region, and certainly including and encompassing normalization of diplomatic relations with Israel is a key component. As Israel remains our most significant and largest investment and best investment, I would argue, in the region. And doing that of course would provide the whole work against risk and instability, which the region has long been known for.

And so our thought was that if we could tie together, particularly the economies of the countries, some of the most vibrant economies in the region together that would provide a rationale for what would follow ultimately in shared security cooperation as well, to defend that economic cooperation. And it’s our hope that that trajectory continues. It’s our hope that expansion of the Accords takes pace. And we can start once again to add countries to the Accords and begin to create a larger network and constellation in the region. So that regardless of what happens in the coming years ahead, that we’ve got a more effective collaboration between our partners and allies in the region. I would say in terms of where we think there can and should be additional progress. I think we can talk about it perhaps later in more detail, but Sudan is an area where we are concerned for their retention in the Accords.

Obviously since the co and October of last year, there has been a delay let’s say in the progress made. It’s our hope that we can restore that process in the transition to democratic rule in Khartoum. And it’s our hope that the Accord member countries provided the opportunity to provide support and assistance for Khartoum as it does. So it’s important I think that we re-double our efforts there to ensure we retain Sudan, that we focus continually on expansion of the Accord number countries and that the economic cooperation evolved into a broader collaboration between its member states.

Jonathan Schachter:
You mentioned Sudan, and I noticed that just a couple weeks ago, the United States sent a new ambassador Sudan for the first time, I think in 25 years, where do you think strengthening the Abraham Accords is on the agenda of the ambassador and of the United States more generally vis-a-vis Sudan.

Robert Greenway:
So I have no doubt that the ambassadors post reflects importance that it places the United States places on the relationship. It’s critical that we continue the trajectory, not only with their membership in the Abraham Accords, but also with everything associated with the removal of the state sponsor terrorism list. After turning the corner from the days of Al-Bashir. I think our concern is to ensure that Sudan never again becomes a sanctuary or safe haven for terrorists, and that remains critically important to us and to everyone in the region.

Obviously, the Accords reflects a reversal of the famous Three Nos from Khartoum after the 67 war. We’re anxious to ensure that also doesn’t change. And I think that while his posting is important, I think it’s probably not sufficient. In the end, it’s going to take, I think, direct contact between Washington and Khartoum and hopefully with the collaboration of other Accord member countries to sustain the trajectory and return Sudan to a democratic transition, which would I think address both of our concerns and our neighbors. But it’s going to take concerted effort beyond which I think the ambassadors equipped. There has been, and that’s no slight to him or to anyone in the post.

There has been of course, a special Envoy for coordination in the broader region of the horn of Africa encompassing a range of issues. And so perhaps in collaboration between those two posts and UNMAS, the UN organization responsible for implementing the Juba agreement, hopefully the three can work together in order to return to a positive trajectory.

Jonathan Schachter:
Okay, thank you. YosSi, let me turn to you for a moment. The piece that had developed between Israel and its Arab, Abraham Accords partners appears to be much warmer than the peace between Israel and Egypt and Jordan from decades past. Why do you think that’s the case and what do you think the parties, Israel and its partners need to do to ensure that this peace differs from its predecessors?

Yossi Mann:
So thank you again for having me in this conference. I would say first, I would like to start saying that this Abraham Accord is obviously a huge step for new in the Middle East. There is a new discourse in the Middle East, and you can see the new dynamics, not just between Israel [inaudible 00:06:36]. You can see new dynamics with Israel and Egypt and Jordan and other states, and it enforced other states to start to talk with Israel. You can see Turki and Israel, it’s a byproduct of this normalization. So there was a huge impact, you really can feel you can in this region. However, we need to understand what went wrong. Okay. We need to understand that. I assume that somewhere, in 40 years ago, there were the same conferences, the same talks about new reality, new potential, new era in the Middle East.

When we just signed the peace agreement with Egypt. And 15 years later with Jordan, we had the same talks. I assume people try to create something new and let’s say very clear, we failed to do it. It was a peace between governments and not peace between people and that’s the main challenge. We need to think and that’s the main mission, now after we have this normalization, how can we guarantee that this normalization will be look different than the one that we had till now with Egypt and Jordan. And we need to do a few things to make this situated different. And I think there is the reason why it’s different now is because of few reason. First of all, I would say technology. Now think about it. Now we can talk people to people, we can text. Think in the past, we couldn’t talk to people in Egypt.

Now I can text to someone, to a friend of mine in the Arab Gulf. Texting instead of going to an ambassador, asking for a meeting, it used to be government to government. Now with technology, we can text, we can publish, we can tweet. We can share things so we can talk from with different layers of their society, with the cultural, we can do with politics, and then students are coming from the Arab Gulf to studying Reichman University. Students from Reichman studying in the Arab Gulf. That’s a new era in the Middle East. Second, we need to remember that United Arab Emirates is not the same status that Egypt had 40 years ago. United Emirate is much richer, it’s a well known country. It’s influencing the region, countries cannot buy caught Egypt, United Arab Emirate like they did to Egypt. It’s much more complicated.

The third reason is that I think nowadays we need to talk regionally. In the past countries tried to solve problems in a national level. And now we are trying to solve big problems in a regional level. Take, for example, the COVID. We needed to solve this challenge regional level. Take, for example, the energy crisis, nowadays. The food security need to solve it in regional level, the climate change, we need to solve it between the players in the Middle East and in this region.

So there is a new situation. That’s why this agreement, I assume, looks different. I would say that in order to make sure that there is a new, another future, not like the one we had to add few layers. The first one is to create common values and common culture to the people in the Middle East. And later on, I will give some examples how we should do it. I think we just should continue to talk between governments to promote to regional cooperation and the third level we should push and promote cooperation between business. By doing so we will have much more stronger peace agreement normalization with the countries that we just signed on normalization.

Jonathan Schachter:
Okay. Mark, let me ask you on November first, Israelis are going to go to the polls for the fifth time in under four years. Now, the signing of the Accords themselves came during this politically turbulent time. I think it was after the third, there was about a six or seven month window between the third election and the falling of that government. What do you think is the prevailing public sentiment about the Accords and what role, if any, do you see them playing in Israeli politics today?

Mark Regev:
Once again, I thank Hudson and I thank you Jonathan for hosting us. I think it’s important to remember what is unique here. Israelis are going to be arguing in this election campaign about many, many issues. But the Abraham Accords isn’t one of them. There’s a consensus across the Israeli political spectrum that the Abraham Accords were a good thing. There was on the far left the communists and the Arab nationalist block in the Canesse. They abstain, they weren’t in favor of these agreements, but they lost their base because their voters, Arab Israeli citizens vote in elections, were in another place. And Yossi indicated a moment ago about people to people and literally tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of Israelis who have flocked to the UAE since the signing of agreements. So many of them are Arab Israelis who are very happy to visit these countries.

They’re very happy that there are direct flights. And so even originally, if the far left in the Canesse was a bit reserved about the Abraham Accords, they also are remarkably quiet today because they know that their voters, their base is much more positive than these parties have been in the Canesse. So, as I said, as we move forward to these elections on November 4th, we will argue about many issues, but we’re not going to argue about the Abraham Accords. I think there’s a consensus in Israel that this is a good thing. I would say this, what I find intriguing about the Abraham Accords. I think there’s what I would call the American paradox. I’d be interested to hear what you and Robert say about this, but there’s no doubt that the new relationships we have in the Gulf, in my opinion, stem of course from a convergence of interests between Israel and Gulf countries, we have very, very strong, common, strategic interests.

Whether it’s a common concern about Iran, whether it’s, we don’t like the Islamic extremists, we’re interested in stability. We’re interested in being part of the west and so forth, but I’m not sure that in itself was enough to make those agreements happen two years ago. I think there was another factor, a parallel factor. And that’s why I talk about the American paradox because without Robert’s administration, I mean, there’s no doubt you were crucial in making it happen. But the paradox I think is that it was in the years before the erosion of confidence in the Gulf, in American security commitment, rightly or wrongly, but they felt that in the Gulf that led, I think, leaderships in the Gulf to look anew at Israel. You have a whole group of countries who based their national security on a model, which was founded on the first golf war when, America under George Herbert Walker Bush, liberates Kuwait from Iraq and all these countries ultimately developed a national security doctrine, which said, we know that if push comes to shove, we can count on our good friends abroad to come and help us.

I think there’s an understanding across the Gulf, no matter how much they invest in western military equipment and how much they try to upgrade their own capabilities, that ultimately, if they look at their neighbors and their small countries and their neighbors like Iran and previously Iraq, much larger, much stronger, they were dependent on American security guarantee. And things happened in the decade leading up to the Abraham Accords, where they became less sure of those guarantees that if they were sure that once again, if you’d have a Kuwait scenario, the Americans would lead a coalition and they could make these countries independent and free again. They became less sure of that insurance and they sought supplementary insurance. And that came from Israel. If the Arabs were correct in their assessment, that there was erosion American commitment, I don’t know. Maybe Robert and Jonathan can address that issue. But there was a perception that there was an erosion of that commitment. That is undoubted.

I’ll just give a couple of examples, if you allow me. When Mubarak, president Mubarak was facing a crisis in 2011, we understood, I understand Israelis also, and Americans, we supported the people. Many people supported the demonstrators in the street. Democracy, how can you not support people power against an entrenched Democrat. But how did people in the Arab world see it when the Americans said, it’s time for you to go Mr. Mubarak, none of the Arab countries democracy. And from the Arab perspective, from the Gulf perspective, this is a man who’s been America’s ally for 30 years. And when he gets into a bit of trouble, he’s deserted. The same thing in 2013, I remember I was working for the Israeli government at the time, we praised Obama’s agreement on the, taking out the chemical weapons from Syria, with the Russian involved.

But what did the Arab see. They saw in America that was pacifist that found a diplomatic detour, a country that was increasingly pacifist. They wouldn’t follow through on its own red line. And if they weren’t willing to… if America wasn’t willing to be hard on our side to use force on our side, when would they be willing to use? And I think the cherry on the top, not a very academic term, but I think the pinnacle of all this of course was the 2015 deal with Iran. And so I think you had this idea that the national security adoption of these countries would fundamentally challenge. They weren’t as sure as they were on the past, on the strength of their American commitment to look after their interests and Israel came in and provided supplementary insurance, so to speak. But the paradoxy, is there were American question marks that created the background or the foundations for the Abraham Accords, American active involvement by Robert and his colleagues made them happen in the end.

Jonathan Schachter:
Those are all, I think, very strong points. So Rob, let’s ask you, I think mark raises some interesting questions and brings up some important historical examples. The only thing I would add to that is that for about half of the period, since the Gulf War, we also have in different words and in different presented in different ways, but we have talk about an American pivot away from the region. Greater focus on the challenges coming from Russia and from China, which I think have also added to this, to some of these question marks in the region. So having said all that, how do you respond to Mark and how do you see the Abraham Accords serving US interests today?

Robert Greenway:
Sure and I would unreservedly agree with Mark’s observations. What I would add is first and from our perspective, from the perspective of our partners in the region and probably elsewhere, US foreign policy tends to swing increasingly to extremes. Particularly so in the Middle East and so either we are there in significant presence typically in terms of military, but not just limited to military presence as was the case in Afghanistan and Iraq and Syria, or we are increasingly not. And the perception, and that is a reality, and frankly, it’s not a perception because if you sit in the region, it’s visible. You can see what the US presence has looked like historically in the region. It’s not concealed. It’s very, very visible and very noticeable and it was intentionally so. If you are there now you notice, again, the reality that there is less us presence in the region.

So it’s more than just perception. Now, the perception though, is that regardless of who is in the white house, that this exists across the political divide in the United States. Which is also, I think, increasing as everyone would agree, but across the political spectrum is a strong desire to disengage in many regions, certainly in the Middle East. And that concern, I think was certainly a factor in the Abraham Accords and the decision that each of the countries charted. What I would say though to, and I don’t think it’s a difference, but I think to put a finer point on Mark’s comments, that common agreement as to the principle threat to regional peace and stability and security in the region. Absolutely true. And it’s Iran, there’s no question about that. Second, that Mark’s excellent points on where the region has had tremendous concern with previous presidential administrations and in some respects that has remained consistent.

They look at the US presence in the region as declining, without question. They look at interest in the region, again, declining across the political spectrum. And so part of the contributing factors behind the Abraham Accords was to strengthen their relationship with Israel as the most consistent investment of the US and the region. And so in their minds, the best way to shore up a security guarantee from the United States in whatever form is to expand their relations and cooperation with Israel. And one important caveat is they have their… They’re fully aware that there are limitations to that. In that Israel will not supplant the US security guarantee that they seek and in the past have fell. And that’s not going to happen and it isn’t happening, even though increased cooperation is certainly taking place. And there’s enormous potential for that to increase as well. So they are still essentially left with unaddressed security concerns.

And I would add to the list of instance that Mark brought out, the Abqaiq attack in 2019 against Saudi Arabian infrastructure. They’re all incredibly mindful of the fact, especially those in the Gulf that they’re within a close range, ballistic missile range, of pretty much all of Iran’s inventory. And they’re acutely aware of the fact that there isn’t a defensive architecture in place in order to prevent a re-occurrence or nor is there an assurance that there’ll be a response. So without deterrence their economy, the source of their strength and power, is completely vulnerable. It’s an uncomfortable position to be in. And so there’s a great deal of unease and frustration.

In terms of your last point in terms of the vision. I think then, and I hope going forward, again, it is in our minds, two things. First is an enduring regional security architecture in the region. Our partners and allies working together for collective defense. And second normalization with Israel and behind all of it is an economic logic. In that you have economic interests, those interests are shared just as the security concerns are, but it provides a logic that 79 and 94 agreements did not.

In other words, we approached those agreements, and I would say out of necessity, security first, and everything else was secondary. And so it became a cold peace. The Abraham Accords and our approach was very deliberately economic at the basis of it because that’s where the US interest, the vital national interest resided. And that’s where the interests of each of the countries in question. Their economy is their source of their strength and power. Security is a logic to protect and defend it. And if we could do this collectively, then we would’ve an enduring something that would last something that would withstand tested stress, which undoubtedly is coming. And so in our minds, if you can pull their economies together, they would defend that relationship. And on that basis, you would have a real regional security collective architecture. In our administration the effort was the Middle East Strategic Alliance. We hope it’ll go forward under whatever name its given and normalization was the key to it, because obviously our principal investment has and will continue to be Israel. And obviously they have to have relations with one another to achieve those goals.

Jonathan Schachter:
Thank you Rob. You’ll see if you allow me the one that got away seems to be Saudi Arabia. We wouldn’t be where we are today of course, I think without the quiet and sometimes not so quiet approval of the Saudis. But what about making things even less quiet? What’s your assessment regarding ties, economic if not diplomatic, between Israel and Saudi Arabia over the next two years?

Yossi Mann:
So I have to share with you that 20 years ago, I did my PhD on Saudi Arabia internally affairs. And I remember the times that it was not allowed to celebrate a birthday party in Saudi Arabia or put music in Saudi Arabia. And nowadays this kingdom is changing so much. It’s a real revolution, sometimes to talk to use the term revolution in Saudi Arabia sounds not realistic, but Saudi Arabia is changing. It’s starting from 2016, I would say, mainly because of technology, mainly because of the challenge to its oil sector, and then they now understand they need a change. So the change when you are talking about Israel is not just a change toward Israel. It’s a general change that all this region is doing. When we are talking about the Abraham Accord, we need to remember that we started the last decade with the Arab spring, and we started this decade with the Abraham Accord.

But in the meantime, there was a change in these states. The first change was the need, their understanding, there is a need for economic diversification. There is a new ruling elite in Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirate, in Morocco, in Jordan. So there is a general change in the region in the Arab Gulf in specific. So, Saudi Arabia is, of course, leading this change and the by product is the relations with Israel, but we need to remember that actually Saudi Arabia was always supporting the peace agreement with Israel. They were supporting the peace agreement between Egypt and Israel. They didn’t say clear, but it was obviously that everybody knows that they knew that they are supporting it. And then they came with few initiatives, the King Abdullah Initiative, the headache king fire initiative. So they offered few solution to the Israeli, the Arab Israeli conflict. So this is not supposed to surprise us.

The Saudi’s are trying to be closer to the Israelis, that there is a potential for normalization with the Saudi Arabia. So let’s talk now with what Robert mentioned it few times with the economic potential. For the Israeli, we understand that the Saudi Arabia is the real thing for many reason, not just because of the economic aspect, because Saudi is actually the leader of the Sunni world. It’s the largest economy, the largest population in the Arab Gulf. The biggest economy, I would say in the Arab world. The most influential player in the Muslim world besides maybe Iran. So for Israel, there is a huge interest to be in the clear, very direct relation with the Saudi Arabia. And when it comes to potential, there is plenty of ways to say, what is the potential? There is economic potential. When you think about the economic potential, we need to make few remarks regarding the potential.

First of all, we assume that few Israeli, I assume that many companies, Israeli companies are already involved in the Saudi economy, direct or indirect. The second thing we need to know that I assume that most of the economic relations will be on the defense and the security sector. The third thing that we need to calculate is there are many countries who are trying to get into the Saudi market, not just Israel. So when we are talking about the economic potential between Israel and Saudi Arabia, we need to remember that there are plenty of countries, mainly Germany, UK, Japan, South Korea, are trying to be involved in the Saudi economy because of this revolution, the economic revolution, the reforms that Mohammed Bin Salman is doing. So for Israel, if we are talking about the potential, I would say the main potential is in few fields. First of all, of course, the security in defense.

And that’s depends on how will be the relations between US and Saudi Arabia, because maybe they will try to find an alternative if the Americans will not support them with the Israelis. So that’s there, I would say the biggest potential, and we try to calculate how much it can be. And we assume it’ll be around one billion dollars annual in the beginning. And then after two years based on several models, which we did in our institute. And also we think that agriculture sector is a huge potential. Think about it, Israel is very close that the Red Sea is very, very close. There is, we can take a ship from a lot to Saudi, to Jeddah three days, three days journey, and the export fresh vegetable, fresh foods from Israel using the agriculture technology that the Israeli is having and the challenge of food security in Saudi Arabia. So I would say that the biggest potential of course is different, of course, and then agriculture.

And we can see also other potential, of course, in the service in sector companies, Israeli companies can be part of the revolution of the service sector in Saudi Arabia. And if we try to calculate how much it could be, I would say that in the first few years, it will be something in between 1.5 billion dollar annually, and then it’ll go up like we have now with Turkey, one three billion dollar. Around the Saudi potential with Israel, I would say the biggest potential is there to put a pipe, to create a pipeline, the old pipeline from Saudi Arabia to the Mediterranean Sea. Now the war between Russia, the invasion of Russia to Ukraine, there is a new potential to create, once again, this pipeline from Saudi Arabia, for the Eastern part of Eastern province of Saudi Arabia to Israel and export one day oil from Saudi Arabia through Jordan, through Israel, to Europe. And by that they bypass the Russian sanction on energy. So that’s generally speaking the potential between Saudi Arabia and Israel for the, I would say, for the next decade.

Jonathan Schachter:
Okay and you’re speaking mostly to the economic side of things. What about the diplomatic potential?

Yossi Mann:
Well, the diplomatic potential let’s say, I would say that the diplomatic potential depends on what will be with the Palestinians. I think after all, we see that for almost 50 years, the Saudis are claiming that they will sign on agreement in case there will be some solution with the Palestinian. They don’t say clear what kind of a solution. I think they are willing to compromise and not saying clearly, what are the territories. Where should the Israeli evacuate, or should we leave the settlements or not leave the settlements? And where exactly is the holy places of Jerusalem? Which part will hold the Western wall or we will have access to Alexa or not?

So I think that the new leadership in Saudi Arabia will look for a relation between the Palestinian and Israel and based on that, they will do the next move. And I think it’s because there are now many changes in Saudi Arabia. As I mentioned, the reforms, the revolution, the new status of the religious authority, say they would not take risk based on this reforms. They would not take more risk to sign an agreement before they have a final deal between these Israeli and Palestinians.

Jonathan Schachter:
That reminds me, I think, of two of the biggest myths that we hear about the Abraham Accords and Mark, I wanted to ask you about this. One of the myths that is actually presented sometimes in almost conspiratorial terms is that the Abraham Accords was, the whole thing, was an effort to dodge the Palestinian issue altogether. And that I know from the conversations that we’ve had in the past and the conversations that we were privy to at the time and in the years before was it was actually the exact opposite. It was, the whole idea was to, I think, create a momentum for peace, including with the Palestinians and to take away the Palestinian veto over peace. And it’s been interesting watching some of the responses over the last two years to the Abraham Accords and what I’ve found is, and I’m sure there are exceptions, but it seems like most of the people who are critical or the most skeptical of the Accords are those who actually don’t want to get rid of the Palestinian veto.

But I want to ask you about the second myth, which is about the Iranian threat. That is, it’s not a myth, obviously the Iranian threat, the growing nuclearization of Iran is one of the things that informed this. I’ve told people that I think that the close relations that have developed over the last several years is maybe the only possible silver lining that I see out of the Iran nuclear deal, the JCPOA. But there’s much more to it than that. And just from the Israeli perspective, I was wondering if you could shed some light on the Israeli thinking and some of the other factors that informed Israel’s position and feel free to weigh in on the Palestinian question as well of course.

Mark Regev:
So with your permission, I’ll start with the Palestinians. You will remind me the exact time, but before the Abraham Accords were signed, there was those very, very, very significant series of interviews given by the former Saudi Ambassador to Washington Prince Bandar, where he publicly spoke about frustration with the Palestinians. I see Robert is smiling. He remembers the interviews, obviously very well. There were interviews where he said we were with them in 48 and we were with them in 67. And we were with them here and we were with them there. And he said, even when they made mistakes, we supported them. And then he sort of said, enough is enough.

We cannot, we have our national interests and we have to pursue those interests and they can’t always be subordinate to the whims of Palestinian politic.

Jonathan Schachter:
You’re speaking the Saudi perspective?

Mark Regev:
From the Saudi perspective. Now Yossi could be right, and you’ve got a delicate situation in Saudi Arabia and he wants to get reforms through very important internal reforms. And if you bring in the Palestinian issue and Israel too, in a way that maybe he doesn’t want to rock the boat. Yes. But I have no doubt that those interviews by prince Bandar reflected Saudi establishment attitudes. And not just in Saudi Arabia, they across the region. So of course, everyone wants peace with the Palestinian, but as you put it Jonathan, to what extent, if we have real interests, do we subordinate those to Palestinians whose politics were actually critical of? We think they haven’t taken the right steps. We think they haven’t taken the correct steps for peace and reconciliation with Israel. So to what extent, when we even don’t agree with what they’re doing? Are we still forced to be subordinate to their agenda.

You know from your time in Israel, Jonathan, that often when Israel was, let’s say by the sort of messages we got from Arab countries were not public messages, but discreet messages that you’ve got to win. You can’t allow Hamas to win. If Hamas wins, that’s not just bad for you. It’s bad for stability in Arab countries. It empowers Islamist militants throughout the region.

So I think the Palestinian issue has moved on. I think unfortunately, Yossi could be right, that we’re not going to see necessarily a breakthrough with Saudi Arabia anytime soon. He’s right, Yossi. When he said Saudi Arabia would be the big prize because of its special status in the Sunni Muslim world. And to have priests with Saudi Arabia would be a real game changer, not undermining what we achieved in 2020, but it would be a real change though, as Yossi had already mentioned, I mean, there have been small incremental changes, maybe not so small. I flew recently from Israel to Asia, I flew over Saudi air space. You couldn’t do that a few years ago. Now I fly leaving Ben Gurion Airport in Israel. You can fly directly over Saudi air space on your way to Asia. These are new developments and the Saudis are moving in the right direction. And the question, which remains open, is obviously they can take steps towards normalization, but a full diplomatic breakthrough like we saw with the Abraham Accords, we want it.

America would like to see it, but to what extent is it on the table anytime soon? I’ll let Yossi lead on this because he follows internal Saudi politics, much more closer than me. On the issue of Iran, which probably deserves more time than I have. But there’s no doubt that the common threats, and Robert spoke about this as well, the common threats brought us and the Arabs together. If Iran is perceived by Israel as the number one threat facing us, yes, their nuclear program, their activity on our borders, whether in Lebanon through Hezbollah, in Syria, in Gaza, their support for Hamas and Islamic Jihad, their nefarious presence. Obviously for Israel the Iran is a major problem, a problem with the capital P. But what is even more interesting is that the Arabs have the Arab states and the Gulf have exactly the same perception.

I remember, I think maybe you were there at the time Jonathan, we had a group of senior US Senators came to see the prime minister at the time it was Netanyahu. And the doors closed, the meeting starts and Netanyahu starts telling them what’s wrong with Iran and why we’ve got to be more aggressive. And one of the senators says, that’s exactly what we heard in Riyadh. And you’ve seen in the years leading up to the Abraham Accords, this convergence. And if you think about it historically, it’s very interesting because for the first time, in the second decade of the 21st century, for the first time in history, you saw an avert convergence of interests between Israel and our Arab neighbors. We were always the enemy. We were always someone that they were hostile about. And suddenly we see these common interests. I like to say in international relations, it’s nice to like someone that it’s more important to have a common interest with them.

And if you can build a common interest and we have a common interest. And that’s the only good thing we can say about the JCPOA and or maybe we can find something else. Yes? But the whole American and Western raprochment with Iran has actually galvanized the process that became the Abraham Accord. It has brought us and the Arabs together because we have seen the problem in almost identical ways in contrast to people in Washington and of course in Western Europe. Which, have a much more open attitude to trying to accommodate the Iranians.

Jonathan Schachter:
I think accommodate is a very diplomatic choice of words. Rob, you like to respond to that? And what are your thoughts about the potential for the Saudis joining the party?

Robert Greenway:
So there’s not a lot of guesswork required here. We had and continue to have a great relationship and a lot of close conversations in this matter. Again, it comes down to what Mark had pointed out that the outset is that the US role in brokery neighbor and Accords was essential. And if we were to add additional countries, especially the kingdom at the US is the central role and will be. And while I agree, it’s not likely in the current trajectory. I think the odds improve over time. But again, it really comes down to the perception of the threat. The fact that if they believe that Israel could address that threat from Iran, they probably would’ve already concluded it. But I think they judge, and I think rightly that only the United States can ensure the protection required to take the step and that while helpful, it will be insufficient by itself.

Second, I would say that when it comes to potential, Garview overall, and this is something we spend a lot of time on and we have mixed success. And I think it’s a long-term effort with our colleagues in all of the Accord member countries. And that’s this, that this is not to us and shouldn’t be to them a series of bilateral relationships with bilateral economic potential. You will only get so far. There is room in every case for increased expansion, trade and investment, but that pales in comparison to what the Accord member countries can do collaborating economically. And that itself, so if you look at this from a collective standpoint within the region, the economic potential far eclipses any of the bilateral relationships. Number two, I would say that that is eclipsed by orders of magnitude. If you look at how the countries in collaboration can work between global markets.

So the Middle East Accords sits between Europe, American, and Asian markets. And the Abraham Accords countries provide the opportunity for collaboration between them in order to expand trade levels in which I think could truly get them close to the goals that they have all stated that they want to achieve by 2030 and 2050. The problem is, that truly few of the countries in the accord in the Accords constellation are looking at it that way. And more importantly, I don’t know that we’re taking the concrete steps to move in that direction. Our hope is that seeing the potential offered by integrating their economies more effectively will expand the potential because of their placement and because of the opportunities that they all can achieve in collaboration that will start to get there. And then I think the economic cooperation will be such that they will absolutely have to defend it as important as it is, and that will ensure that they will survive the stress that undoubtedly will come.

And I’ll give you one example of this that has become, I think, more acute in addition to what Yossi mentioned on food security. I would mention that energy cooperation, as it pertains to Europe, since the Russian invasion of Ukraine has become, I think, has everyone’s attention and rightly so, but no more perhaps than it does in Europe as they try to realize what they have to do to replace the loss of Russian gas, that they had labored long to become dependent upon. Which I think we all now know, and they know was a strategic miscalculation. Our proposition was that the Accords member countries working together could offset that in its entirety, but it’s going to take time and it’s going to take investment and it’s going to take cooperation. Again, in our minds, the strategic realignment is of tremendous importance and certainly can be achieved.

So again, the real potential resides in collaboration among the accord member countries, but they each have to approach it that way, not as a series of bilateral relationships, but as a collective. And not just as a collective within the region amongst each other, but as one that sits between critical global markets. And if you approach it that way, you get to a different place, you have different goals, you have different path. And you look at each of these economies built in isolation and all of them were, it’s not just Israel’s economy that had to exist in isolation, in the region. All of the economies, if you look at it, really were built as protectors in isolation. That has to change. And I think they’re recognizing it, but I think it’s going to take more time and attention to do. And in any case, we hope that’s the case, because that was the vision from the beginning.

Jonathan Schachter:
So Rob, let me stick with you for just a moment as we begin to wrap up. That is a very big picture, long term view of where this should go. So, as we wrap up, what would be your policy recommendations to the current or future US government to catalyze turning that vision that you just described into reality? So that when we have this conversation again, two years from now, or two years after that some of those goals will be met.

Robert Greenway:
So the first is a simple premise, but it bears repeating. The overall approach to the region, I think is most effective when our founding principle is one, we have, the United States has vital interest in the region. They have always been economic. They’re not the same as they were when we established the Carter Doctrine, when we were more or less dependent upon middle Eastern oil. We are not of necessity now, but the rest of the world still is, the global economy that the United States helped to bring about and is the principle beneficiary of, and in many ways we remain sort of the arbiters of this system is completely dependent upon this region and will be for the foreseeable future. And so we have no choice, but to remain invested in the region, whether we like it or not. And second, I would say that for those that are most concerned with China as a strategic competitor and threat, I don’t disagree with it, but China sees this far more clearly in some cases than we do and why 40% of its energy and growing comes from the region.

And so for that reason alone, we cannot abandon the region and we cannot take our eye off of it because our competitors and adversaries certainly cannot and will not. Second is equally important, is that the going in proposition in my judgment should be, we should oppose our adversaries and we should support our friends. And at any time we find ourselves doing the opposite, we should have pause. And at any time Russia and China agree with our approach, we should probably consider that we have somehow made a mistake. We should never find ourselves in agreement with the two of them in our approach to the region. Which is unfortunately, I think the case now. And so that principle is incredibly important. And I think it’s, again, why we were able to achieve some measure of success here. And will, I think, in the future, if we resume that approach.

The last I would say is this has to be a priority. There are really only two solutions to the redress of threats in this particular part of the world. As long as our adversaries capabilities are exceed our own the United States, plus our partners and allies in the region. And we’ve got to address that gap. In the past the United States has introduced enormous capabilities in the region to get us close to parody, or overmatch. We’re not there now and there’s not a lot of appetite to do it. The only other solution is to accept that risk, which is significant. And I would argue far too significant and that’s to make our partners and allies more capable. And again, the premise here is let’s ensure that they can all cooperate. So take the US partners and allies in the region, work with them to increase their capabilities and work together as a team confronting the range of threats, including certainly Iran.

And if you do that, I think that we’ll find ourselves in a much better position. They’ll be in a much better position and whether it’s the Chinese threat or whether it’s stability of the global economy and markets, or whether it’s the safety and security of Israel and our other partners and allies. I think we’ll address all as a consequence. That’s going to take some time to do, but it is well worth the effort and the alternatives, frankly, are far more costly and far more unpleasant to think about.

Jonathan Schachter:
Thank you, Rob. You’ll see, I know that at the Abba Eban Institute, you’re trying to do some direct engagement with the Gulf states. Can you share with us some of the ideas that you’re pursuing again with an eye toward the next two years?

Yossi Mann:
So let me start with saying, with joining to what Robert and Mark said, there is no doubt that without an American guarantee, the safety of the Arab Gulf states, there is no future for normalization. There is no option for normalization with Saudi Arabia or for long term relation with the countries will sign the agreement. Saying that in order to create more close relation between Israel and these states, we need to put, as I said, to add few layers in certain beginning. First of all, we need to create layer of common values and create cultural agreements and partnership. And I give you a few examples that just so that the state depart is now offering a program for gaming for people from Israel, Americans and people from the Arab Gulf. Gaming is very popular now in Arab Gulf. And that’s a way to bring Western liberal values to this region. If we can bring together Israel is to Americans and people from the Arab Gulf and the Middle East in general, to develop regional games and create games, which is so popular in the Middle East. That’s one concept to create a change in this region.

And I’ll give you another example. We are offering an Abraham banking, okay. We know the traditional banking, but we offer that a bank to represent the values of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. Fair banking. They treat, how to treat interest rate and to create a new concept, new reconciliation between the religions. So that’s the new concept, how to add a new layer of relations between Jews, Muslim, and Christians in this region in Israel, the other states in the region.

The other layer is to create economic cooperation. For example, we think to offer a natural exchange, communities exchange, natural gas exchange for this region. Right now, we don’t have a natural gas exchange. Although we have lots of producers of natural gas, Israel, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, for example. We should create a natural gas exchange for this region, which will reflect the price, but also will give a fair price to the customers, to the customers in Jordan customers in Egypt. And this is something we can do by the help of the Americans, because they have a very developed stock exchange. The CME, of course, the Chicago Stock Exchange. They have a lot of experience in commodities in general. So creating a stock exchange for the natural gas will solve lots of problems, lots of issue, energy security problems. It will reflect the real price of the natural gas and will bring together all economy. It will bring economy and governments together. That’s why some of the examples that we working on in our Institute.

Jonathan Schachter:
Perfect. There’s obviously a lot of potential there. If we can do the right things to stay on track. Mark, we’ll conclude our conversation today with you. You’re a veteran diplomat and advisor to the prime minister. Regardless of who enters the prime minister’s office after the elections, if anybody, what would your recommendations be for any new Israeli government to broaden and strengthen the Abraham Accords over the next two years? As you mentioned before, sorry, as you mentioned before, there’s obviously wall to wall, public and political support. So you can really focus on the policy more than the politics. So what would your recommendations be?

Mark Regev:
So, first of all, I think our approachment with the Arab states are based fundamentally on Israeli strength. There’s an old saying, no one wants a weak ally. There’s no point having a weak ally. So Israeli governments have to continue making the huge investments they are in our defense, in our military capabilities. We are only attractive to our Arab neighbors as a friend in this ally, if we’re a strong country. Now that might be obvious, but it has to be said. That’s the first thing I’d say. The second thing I’d say is that we have to show the relationships that we already have to make them as healthy as is possible.

And we saw already Yossi spoke about this. We saw a positive spinoff from the Abraham Accords that had helped energize older relationships like we had with the Jordan and Egypt and Morocco, which was not formally part of the Abraham Accords, but it was part of the process. And Robert knows that the Americans also play a very important role in behind the scenes in getting that upgrading of relation. So do what we can to show the other members of the Arab world, the other countries in the Arab world, that those countries who have made agreements with Israel are benefiting, benefiting from those new rank.

I don’t know if we can solve our problem with the Palestinians anytime soon. I’m actually very conservative that, I’m not sure it will be possible. But I think it’s also very important to move, to show, that we’re doing tangible things to try to make things better for the Palestinians, especially on the economic side. If we can do that I think that also is good for our relations in the Arab world. I think the Arab world is understanding that the Palestinian isn’t going to be solved tomorrow, but at least if we can show some good faith. Some of these ideas of doing projects, economic projects and infrastructure projects, and allowing these things to happen, I think that can also help us in the atmosphere in the Arab world. Having said that we are uncompromising and tough with the extremists on the Palestinian side. I’m not sure that hurts us with the Arabs either. I think there’s, that works well.

The most important thing. And here I’d just to reiterate what Robert said. Ultimately, what brings us and the Arabs together is that we’re American allies. We in the Israel, lay in the Gulf, we all have an interest in America being strong and America being the influential regional power. We don’t want to see another power take American space. We worry, when Americans talk about a pivot to another part of the world. And we’ve got in our engagements with the United States, it’s important for us to say it’s important that you are here. It’s important that you’re playing a role. Though, when we have an honest disagreement with a friend, so good friends can disagree. And I have no doubt that when we, in 2015 stood up and said, we didn’t like the JCPOA, I think that also gave us an enhanced position with the Arabin, because they were often a bit modest or they were reticent to say what Israel felt we could say. But we got messages in Jerusalem. I remember at the time saying you are speaking for yourselves, we understand that, but you’re also speaking for us.

Jonathan Schachter:
And very true. We’ve used up our hour. So I want to, obviously we could go on for many more and I hope that we’ll have many more opportunities to talk about this important subject and many others. I want to thank you, Mark, Robert, Yossi, distinguished guests and colleagues today for sharing their perspective, their experience, and their insights. Thank you also to our viewers, we hope you’ve enjoyed watching this conversation as much as we enjoyed having it. And they’ll be much more to come from the Hudson Institute Center for Peace and Security in the Middle East. So stay tuned.

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