Tuesday will mark one year since the foreign ministers of the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Donald Trump on the White House lawn to sign agreements that recognized Israel and pledged their countries to mutual cooperation. They were followed shortly thereafter by Morocco and Sudan. Colloquially known as the “Abraham Accords,” these agreements will be celebrated today in Washington at an event featuring the Israeli ambassador and representatives from every Arab country that recognizes Israel, as well as former U.S. administration officials.
These agreements represented a sea change in Arab-Israeli relations and led to massive benefits both to Israel and their new Arab friends.
The Abraham Accords were in stark contrast to another agreement, signed 53 years before, almost to the day. In September 1967, the Arab League famously signed the Khartoum Resolutions, more colloquially known as the “Three No’s,” indicating that Arab countries would never have peace with Israel, would never negotiate with Israel, and would never recognize Israel. This rejection of Israel’s legitimacy governed Arab-Israeli relations for decades.
But how did we move from Arab rejection of Israel’s very existence to this new era of mutual recognition and cooperation?
The Khartoum Resolutions came in the immediate aftermath of the Six-Day War, a multistate effort by several Arab countries to destroy Israel that ended in a catastrophic tactical defeat. By signing the “Three No’s,” the Arab League nations were signaling that while the battle may have been lost, they maintained their aim of destroying Israel and some day would finish the job. Israel, for its part, declined to commit national suicide.
Thus, the Arab League and the Israelis were diametrically opposed. Israel wanted to exist, while the Arab League wanted Israel to be destroyed. To resolve the situation, one side had to convince the other to change its mind about the desired outcome. The Abraham Accords represented not simply a new diplomatic venture, but, on the part of the signatories, a dramatic end to a war that had lingered for more than 50 years.