- The Washington Times - Monday, May 24, 2021

The White House is now dismissing President Trump’s Abraham Accords between Arab states and Israel — after candidate Joseph R. Biden in 2020 effusively praised the deals and took credit for laying the diplomatic groundwork.

The normalization pacts between Israel and a number of Arab states were at the heart of the Trump administration’s Middle East strategy, easing Israel’s economic and diplomatic isolation and building up a regional coalition of allies to confront Iran and its proxies. 

Asked by a reporter last week specifically about the status of Mr. Trump’s accords, Jen Psaki, President Biden’s press secretary, responded: “Aside from putting forward a peace proposal that was dead on arrival, we don’t think they did anything constructive, really, to bring an end to the longstanding conflict in the Middle East.”

The recent 11-day war between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas in the Gaza Strip has put the region on edge once again. Over the weekend, Hamas terror leader Ismail Haniyeh declared victory after Hamas fired over 4,000 missiles into Israel and the Jewish state’s retaliated with airstrikes. Mr. Haniyeh said Hamas had met its objective in the fighting and “destroyed the project of coexistence,” according to news reports, in a reference to the Abraham Accords.

The Trump administration’s point man, the president’s son-in-law and White House adviser Jared Kushner, brought a new approach to the Middle East. Instead of waiting for Palestinians to recognize Israel — a prospect that has lingered unfulfilled for decades — the Trump team decoupled those talks from brokering individual deals between Israel and Arab states.

The first was a precedent-shattering agreement, dubbed the Abraham Accords, announced in August 2020 between the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Israel, culminating in a White House signing ceremony the next month.

SEE ALSO: Antony Blinken: U.S. will aid Gaza without helping Hamas

Mr. Biden as a candidate for president last year enthusiastically supported the agreement as a critical step, injected himself into how it came about and said he would build on it.

“Today, Israel and the United Arab Emirates have taken a historic step to bridge the deep divides of the Middle East,” Mr. Biden said. “The UAE’s offer to publicly recognize the State of Israel is a welcome, brave and badly needed act of statesmanship. And it is a critical recognition that Israel is a vibrant, integral part of the Middle East that is here to stay. Israel can and will be a valued strategic and economic partner to all who welcome it.”

He added, “the coming together of Israel and Arab states builds on the efforts of multiple administrations to foster a broader Arab-Israeli opening, including the efforts of the Obama-Biden administration to build on the Arab Peace Initiative. [The UAE] and Israel have pointed a path toward a more peaceful, stable Middle East. A Biden-Harris administration will seek to build on this progress, and will challenge all the nations of the region to keep pace.”

Mr. Biden noted at the time he had “personally spent time with leaders of both Israel and the UAE” as vice president, “building the case for cooperation and broader engagement and the benefits it could deliver to both nations, and I am gratified by today’s announcement.”

It was unclear if Ms. Psaki’s dismissive tone was shared across the administration.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken sounded a much more positive note about the Abraham Accords last month during an Israeli independence day celebration in Washington. 

“The United States welcomes and supports the recent normalization agreements,” Mr. Blinken said. “We will continue to urge more countries to normalize relations with Israel, and will look for other opportunities to expand cooperation among countries in the region. As a result, I expect Israel’s group of friends to grow even wider in the year ahead.”

The State Department said Monday Mr. Blinken was embarking this week on a hastily arranged tour of the region this week, with an agenda that included bolstering the recent cease-fire, resuming humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip and laying the groundwork for an eventual resumption in long-stalled peace talks.

Mr. Blinken’s itinerary includes talks with leaders in Israel, the West Bank, Jordan and Egypt, The Associated Press reported.

Sharp divergence

Mr. Biden has veered sharply from his predecessor’s Middle East approach.

The Trump Middle East policy renounced the Obama administration 2015 nuclear deal with Iran’s hardline Islamic regime; labeled the Iran-backed Houthis rebel movement in Yemen as a terrorist organization in its war with Saudi Arabia; killed Gen. Qasem Soleimani, Iran’s leader of foreign military operations who plotted the deaths of hundreds of American soldiers during the Iraq War and also directed militias and Iranian troops in support of the Syrian-Russian bombing of anti-government forces. 

Mr. Trump also recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and cut off $200 million in funds to the Palestine Authority in Gaza and West Bank after the group boycotted peace talks.

After the UAE deal, and a similar deal with Bahrain, two other Arab states, Sudan and Morocco, normalized relations with Israel. Saudi Arabia seemed on the verge of doing the same, but then said it would decide after the Nov. 3 presidential election.

Mr. Biden, by contrast, has re-engaged with Iran to restart the nuclear deal, which is designed to block development of atomic weapons until the year 2030, while lifting economic sanctions imposed by the Trump administration

The new administration took Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthis off the official U.S. terror list, while retaining the ability to impose sanctions, and ended support for Saudi “offensive” operations in Yemen. The Houthis proceeded to launch streams of rockets into Saudi civilian areas, attacks the Biden administration has repeatedly condemned.

Mr. Biden also approved the resumption of millions of dollars in aid and reconstruction funding for the Palestinian territories.

In early May, Hamas, a U.S.-designated terror group which is directed and financed by Iran, commenced days of missile attacks on Israeli civilian targets from its Gaza stronghold. Hamas leaders went on social media and TV stations to openly thank Iran for providing many of the 4,000 unleashed rockets.

• Rowan Scarborough can be reached at rscarborough@washingtontimes.com.

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