As Israel-Hamas battle in Gaza, the Abrhamic process plants seeds of peace
Five weeks after Hamas’ brutal incursion into Israel, the resulting violence could easily metastasize into a region-wide conflict.
But beyond the immediate war, what did Hamas hope to achieve on Oct. 7?
One goal, we are told, was to prevent the expansion of the Abraham Accords and the normalization of relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Without a doubt, the Accords — which established diplomatic recognition between Israel and Bahrain, Sudan, Morocco, and the United Arab Emirates — did little to resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict.
But as we’ve witnessed firsthand, the Accords have transformed regional economics while promoting robust people-to-people exchanges, including our own Abrahamic Programs at the University of Connecticut.
Established in 2016 — four years before the Abraham Accords — our model for academic cooperation demonstrates the potential for regional economic and political integration.
According to the Abraham Accords Peace Institute (AAPI), trade, tourism, and bilateral investment have increased significantly between Israel and the Abraham Accords countries since their signing in September 2020.
Indeed, total trade between Israel and Accords nations reached $3.47 billion in 2022, up from $1.905 billion in 2021 and $593 million in 2019, according to the AAPI’s 2022 annual report.
Despite the intensification of the Israel-Hamas war, reports in both Western and Arab media suggest that Saudi Arabia remains interested in normalization with Israel.
Last week, for instance, the Saudis joined Abraham Accords countries (the UAE, Bahrain, and Morocco) in blocking anti-Israel measures at the Arab League and Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) emergency summit in Riyadh on November 11th.
Meanwhile, the UAE — which is home to the multi-faith Abrahamic Family House in Abu Dhabi — continues to tout peaceful coexistence and economic integration.
In an interview conducted by the European Jewish Association (EJA) following the start of the Israel-Hamas war, Dr. Ali Rashid Al Nuaimi, chairman of the Defense, Interior, and Foreign Affairs Committee of the UAE Federal Council, asserted: “The Accords are our future. It is not an agreement between two governments, but a platform that we believe should transform the region where everyone will enjoy security, stability, and prosperity.”
Bahrain also appears committed to its relationship with Israel.
Late last month, Bahrain’s Minister of Finance and National Economy, Sheikh Salman bin Khalifa al-Khalifa, said the Israel-Hamas war should not hold back regional integration, noting in the Bahraini newspaper Al-Ayyam Bahraini, that the existing accords “will underpin a secure, safe region in which we are delivering prosperity for all, and delivering hope and opportunity.”
Despite the current spike in anti-Israel sentiments on social media, polling prior to the Oct. 7 tragedy revealed that public support for the Accords and regional integration was effectively split in most of the Gulf.
Moreover, a plurality of respondents in the non-signatory nations of Saudi Arabia (41%) and Qatar (40%) viewed the Accords in a positive light, according to Washington Institute polling.
Most crucially, among all Arab groups, Palestinians expressed some of the highest levels of affinity for the Accords, despite their friction with Israel.
Beyond the feelings of the Arab integration with Israel, Washington Institute polls from the past decade revealed a marked decline in support for Hamas across the region, particularly since the post-Abraham Accords.
For example, while 48% of Emirati respondents stated a positive attitude towards Hamas in 2017, those sentiments plunged to a mere 17% this past August.
Support for Hamas was even lower in Saudi Arabia at just 10% during the same period, while the 2018-2019 Arab Barometer survey revealed that most of the Arab public rejected the use of violence for political purposes and they specifically condemned Hamas’s use of violence and terrorist tactics against Israeli civilians.
Strikingly, Arab Barometer’s latest polling in Gaza completed before the October 7th massacre showed that Gazans had little trust in the Hamas-led government.
Coincidentally conducted the day before the Hamas attack, the poll revealed that nearly 70% of Gazans have “no trust at all” or “not a lot of trust” in Hamas.
The same survey also revealed that 72% of Gazans believe there is a large or medium level of corruption in the Gaza Strip — while 31% hold Hamas accountable for food shortages in Gaza, compared to just 16% blaming Israel-led economic sanctions.
Equally crucial, Israel’s own Arab citizens have never felt more aligned with the Jewish State.
According to the Israel Democracy Institute’s latest survey on Nov. 6, 70% of the Arab citizens of Israel say “they feel a part of the State of Israel,” compared to just 48% this past June.
As the battles in the Levant intensify, so too does the potential for dangerous regional escalation — as well as a shift in public opinion. But as polls have indicated, foundational sentiments towards the conflict are more sanguine than current headlines might suggest.
Oct. 7 was a political earthquake whose impacts won’t be known for years to come. Wars provide opportunities to upend existing paradigms while paving the way for strategic resets.
Don’t forget, that social democracy in Europe only emerged after two world wars, fascism, and genocide.
At a moment when college campuses are drowning in the politics of difference, the University of Connecticut is leaning into dialogue, diversity of thought, and peaceful coexistence.
We will continue to plant Abrahamic seeds and celebrate our common humanity.
Dr. Sercan Canbolat is the director of Abrahamic Programs at The University of Connecticut; Professor Daniel Weiner is vice president for Global Affairs at The University of Connecticut