Peace negotiator Becker salutes anniversary of Abraham Accords

September 29, 2021 by J-Wire Newsdesk
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Dr Tal Becker, Director of Legal Affairs for Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and highly respected influential diplomat and peace negotiator on multiple regional tracks examined the implications of the Abraham Accords and other topics for an AIJAC Live Online webinar.

Tal Becker

Speaking to the online gathering courtesy of the Israeli Foreign Ministry in honour of the first anniversary of the Abraham Accords between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain [later expanded to Morocco and Sudan], Becker expressed great pride over what the Accords have achieved and what they portend for Israel’s future.

“My involvement in drafting and negotiating the Abraham Accords was for me very meaningful,” Becker said. “It was nice to be involved in drafting something that was finally signed and hopefully it will have in the end a positive impact on the Israeli-Palestinian relationship as well.”

Becker said that while it is tempting for people to simplify the reasons behind the Abraham Accords, the actual path to the agreements was far from linear, being the product of two decades of diplomacy, and was driven by a variety of issues.

To be sure, he said, “there were strategic factors that have been spoken about in terms of the sense of countries aligned together in certain interests particularly against the threat of Iran – the sense that there’s less US presence in the region and the need to address those challenges directly.”

Becker commended the courage of Arab leaders, particularly Muhammad bin Zayed of the UAE, to act upon Israel’s desire to normalise relations.

Becker also said that the long-held assumption that Arab countries would put the unresolved Palestinian issue ahead of their own interests indefinitely proved to be wrong, and that shouldn’t be the great surprise it has been for many pundits.

“I think because the Middle East is such a bizarre place we don’t always think about it in this way, but it might be that what is unnatural is the fact that we haven’t had relations not the fact that we did create those relations,” Becker said.

“Most countries [foreign policy] tend to pursue their interests,” he continued, “that’s what they do, and in our relation, particularly with the Gulf states the convergence of interest was very striking and it came to a point where it seemed at least to me unnatural for those interests to be held hostage to … the Israeli-Palestinian dynamic. And so, perhaps it’s worth beginning to think about this as the natural thing is for countries who share interests, share objectives, share concerns to cooperate and the unnatural thing is for them not to cooperate.”

On the issue of adding more countries to the Abraham Accords, Becker kept Israel’s diplomatic cards close to his chest. “We are certainly not resting on our laurels and just leaving it to those countries,” he sold the online gathering. “There are significant efforts to try to look at how to expand it but you’ll probably appreciate that I can’t talk about that.”

On the issue of the conventional and nuclear threat posed by Iran, Becker said that the new Israeli Government’s non-confrontational approach to working with the US, together with its regional ties with Gulf states thanks to the Abraham Accords, may yet influence and shape the direction of the US moving forward, should Iran fail to agree to end its nuclear violations and edge closer to building nuclear weapons.

“I think you know it’s no secret that we have a pretty significant difference about the return to the to the JCPOA,” Becker said, “but what’s been equally significant is the willingness of both the US Administration and Israel to have an intensive kind of quiet dialogue about this issue. I think, frankly, it has helped a great deal for there to be this visible convergence of interest between Israel and some of the other states in the region on this issue.

“What we’ve seen”, said Becker, “is Iran not just unwilling to return to the JCPOA but exploiting the negotiating process in order to advance its nuclear program, create more leverage and continue unabated in its regional aggressive ambitions.”

“What that’s done,” he added, “is actually create an opportunity for a dialogue between Israel and the US and others about what an alternative approach might look like, given that the JCPOA negotiations are in in the state that they’re in.  The Administration itself has spoken about the idea of moving beyond the JCPOA to a longer and stronger arrangement but regardless of whether that happens, I think the election of Raisi and the kind of radicalism of the regime in everything it’s doing at the moment without, I have to say, a lot of finesse or a very effective mechanism of concealing it, has… created an opportunity to think very seriously about what we what is being called in some places a ‘Plan B’. I think in that sense there is a genuine opening for dialogue and good coordination with respect to this very serious challenge.”

On the issue of peacemaking between Israel and the Palestinians, to which Becker has devoted years of his life, Becker said that the biggest obstacle between the two sides remains psychological. He expressed hope, however, that the acceptance of the Jewish people’s natural and historical connection to the land of Israel by other Arabs might eventually make inroads into Palestinian political discourse.

“I think one of the challenges in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has less to do with the issues in dispute and more to do with the kind of psychological mindset and kind of foundational narratives that affect this relationship,” Becker said.

“Unfortunately for many Palestinians, the defining story of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not a conflict about the Jewish people and the Palestinian people trying to find a kind of accommodation between them, but it’s a story that tries to say there is a victim and there is a villain. There is a kind of injustice that has been perpetrated by this villain who is very often described as a kind of foreign presence in the region.

“When you look at that as if that’s the story you tell about the conflict, resolving it becomes very difficult because you’re essentially looking for Israel to somehow disappear or capitulate in some basic ways or apologise  for its very existence and I just don’t see that being a justifiable or in any way realistic component of any serious agreement and certainly wouldn’t be sustainable.”

Becker said that the hope is that Abraham Accords can eventually change the Palestinian zero-sum mindset through example.

“My hope is – and I have to say it is a hope,  I don’t think there’s yet evidence of this that you can point to at least in a significant sense – that the Abraham Accords give expression and legitimise another idea… that is the Middle East is made up of different peoples who call it their home who belong here and one of those peoples is the Jewish people.

“Believe it or not,” Becker continued, “we are called Jews because we are the people of Judea and this is the place where our story is told in large part. So the fact of the Abraham Accords recognize that essentially and that there are Arab states willing to speak in that way, I think, gives more legitimacy and resonance to a kind of dialogue that will perhaps enable a different Palestinian voice to emerge over time.”

Becker added, “that doesn’t mean we don’t need to work today with the Palestinians to try to improve the situation.”

A genuine peace, Becker reflected, will be “contingent on a kind of psychological shift in my view both in Israeli society and in Palestinian society that will make people like me who deal with the negotiations be able better to reflect the sentiments of their society rather than push against those sentiments.”

AIJAC’s next webinar guest will be Canada’s former Minister of Justice and Attorney General Irwin Cotler, founder and chair of the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, which will be held on October 6.


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