Lankford: Abraham Accords Were a Remarkable Moment in US History
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WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today honored the two-year anniversary of the historic signing of the Abraham Accords on the Senate floor. Earlier today, Lankford was joined by Senators Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Joni Ernst (R-IA), and Cory Booker (D-NJ) to introduce a resolution to commemorate the historic moment on September 15, 2020, for the US, Israel, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates. Lankford attended the signing at the White House with President Trump.
The Senators launched the Senate Abraham Accords Caucus to build on the success of the historic Abraham Accords. For decades, Congress has played a key role in promoting peace between Israel and its neighbors. The Caucus provides an opportunity to strengthen the Abraham Accords by encouraging and partnerships among the existing Abraham Accords countries and expanding the agreement to include countries that do not currently have diplomatic relations with Israel.
Earlier this year, the Senators introduced the DEFEND Act to establish an integrated air defense capability among Israel and Arab allies. The Senators also joined in a statement earlier this year following the signature into law of the Israel Relations Normalization Act, which builds on the success of the Abraham Accords by strengthening and expanding normalization and peace agreements between Israel and United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco, as well as previous agreement with Egypt and Jordan.
Two years ago almost to the exact moment, I was sitting on the south lawn of the White House in the blazing sun where a redhead should never sit, getting a sunburn on a hot September day in DC, watching leadership of the UAE, Bahrain, Israel, and the United States all shake hands and sign an agreement called the Abraham Accords.
It was a remarkable moment in American history.
We’ve become so accustomed in the last two years to this discussion about the Abraham Accords, we lose track that it was just two years ago we had one of the greatest breakthroughs in Middle East peace that we’ve had in decades.
In 1979 Egypt and Israel came together for a peace agreement under President Jimmy Carter and the Camp David Accords. Jordan and Israel normalized relationships under President Clinton. But for 26 years, there were no additional peace agreements and quite frankly very few conversations even. It stopped.
All the conversation among foreign affairs was that you had to resolve the Palestinian conflict before anything else could be resolved in the Middle East. And for 26 years all the focus was on that. The Trump Administration came in and put the whole thing on its head and said: What if? What if we worked towards peace agreements outside of the Palestinian conversation, if we set that aside? Could we still normalize agreements? Again, most people said, ‘No, that’s not possible’—until two years ago today.
Two years ago today, when the leaders of UAE, Bahrain, Israel, and the United States met together and signed an agreement. They started not just a process, they started a conversation and a dialogue. They shook hands and signed an agreement that had remarkable statements in it about religious liberty, that we look at and think, ‘The Arab world would not sign that.’ But they did. Quite frankly because people hadn’t asked them to. There were conversations and agreements made about energy policy, about economic development, in a region of the world that many would say no one will ever meet and this will never get better.
President Reagan once said, ‘Our involvement in the search for Middle East peace is not a matter of preference; it’s a moral imperative. We are a people of peace. We are a people as a nation passionate about religious liberty. We’re a people that want to see a nation joining other nations in economic development. That’s who we are. That’s who we’ve been from the beginning. And we’re pat our best when we’re expanding that.’
Since the signing of that document, several things have happened since that two-year time period. The first thing that happened really was October of 2020, Sudan raised their hand and said, ‘I want to join that agreement.’ Then in December of 2020, morocco raised their hand and said, ‘I want to be in that agreement.’ And it quickly went from four nations to five to six, all this ongoing dialogue about peace in the region.
The countries have exchanged ambassadors since then. Again that may not sound revolutionary, but it is in that region. The UAE, Morocco, Bahrain all opened up embassies in Israel, again rRevolutionary. Israel opened up its embassy, the first ever, in the gulf nations in Abu Dhabi, January of 2021. It opened up its next embassy in Bahrain in September of 2021.
The UAE and Israel have signed a comprehensive free-trade agreement. It’s now $10 billion worth of trade in the next five years that’s been set is up between those nations. Trade has begun between Israel and Morocco. In fact, it’s increased 94 percent in a year. Trade between the UAE and Israel has increased 88 percent in one year. Trade between Israel and Egypt even has increased 41 percent in the last year. And between Jordan, with a long-standing agreement, has increased 55 percent. The UAE and Morocco now have university students that are studying in Israeli universities. It’s something we thought we would never see. The UAE has overhauled its school curriculum to increase tolerance of other faiths and religious groups. Dozens of daily flights are now moving in those Abraham Accord countries, bringing business and tourism. There’s even real conversations about water, about energy sharing and development, and large economic infrastructure projects.
There are other countries even in the region that have started to take notice of this. Countries like Saudi Arabia, now allowing Israeli-bound flights to fly through Saudi airspace. Now again that may not seem revolutionary to some that planes get to fly over them. But you understand, two years ago, that didn’t happen. The Saudis made every Israeli-bound flight go around their airspace.
Israel and Saudi Arabia have also participated in multilateral naval and air drills alongside UAE, Bahrain, and other countries. It’s an enormous shift. And if I can even say this, in the region, Israel and Lebanon are very close right now to forming an agreement on what they call the blue line, the border between Israel and Lebanon, including the maritime areas. What does that matter? It is a tremendous development for Lebanon, for their economic development, because there is a large natural gas field just off of Lebanon’s coast, but the border has been unresolved for years. And in the conflict between nations and the trust that has collapsed, the Abraham Accords have provided an opportunity and a moment for the nations in the region to say, ‘If peace can begin with UAE and Bahrain and Sudan and Morocco and Israel and recognition and economic development and ambassadors can be exchanged, who else can engage in economic development?’
Let’s start with their neighbor, Lebanon. To build trust is to also build clear borders. This is real progress in two years.
My challenge to the Administration and to our State Department is the fan the flame. Keep going on this. We’ve seen nations begin to do economic development, families meeting other families, school curriculum changing to taking out antisemitic tropes basically out of their curriculum. We’ve seen real progress in this area. Keep going. Other nations should be welcomed to be able to join in the Abraham Accords. It is not closed. Other nations can join in that economic development.
There are four of us that began the Abraham Accords Caucus. Myself, Senator Rosen, Senator Ernst, Senator Booker. We launched out the four of us and invited all of our colleagues to join in it. Our focus is to be able to work with the ambassadors of those nations to say, ‘How can we work together to bless what has already occurred and how can we expand into other nations? How can we encourage increased economic development?’
Now there are still very real challenges. The work is not done by any means. But it has at least begun, and progress is taking off. This simple principle of economic engagement, going past all the government noise and saying, ‘What if we allowed infrastructure to be able to work together? What if we allowed tourism to be able to happen? What if we allowed businesses to work with other businesses in other nations that used to be hostile? How can we engage in such a way that would help?’
The four of us in the Abraham Accords Caucus brought to the floor today a resolution to recognize this two-year anniversary, and it’s set before all 100 senators, and I don’t know a single Senator that’s opposed to that because we all want to see peace in the Middle East. We all want to see that kind of progress. And we all want to see this increase.
So to our State Department: keep the work going. Keep the conversation is going. And to nations around the world recalled that used to be hostile to Israel and in the region: why don’t we set down the past and prepare four families for the future.