US working on more normalization between Israel, Arab states – Ashkenazi

The Biden administration is actively involved in encouraging more Arab states to establish diplomatic relations with Israel, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi said on Tuesday.

“They fully adopted the Abraham Accords and are eager to expand them,” Ashkenazi said. “There is going to be someone appointed to be responsible for doing so.”

Ashkenazi’s remarks came several days after The Washington Post reported that the Biden administration is considering appointing former US ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro as a Middle East envoy responsible for handling the continuation of the Abraham Accords.

The Biden administration does not use the Trump-era name “Abraham Accords,” calling them “normalization agreements.”

Ashkenazi would not say which countries were likely to be next to establish full relations with Israel, but before US President Joe Biden came into office, there was progress with Saudi Arabia, Oman, Mauritania and others. The foreign minister also said he was in contact with several of his counterparts in countries with which Israel does not have formal ties.

Relations with Abraham Accords countries the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco are on a “super-fast track,” Ashkenazi said, and that has continued after they “passed the test in the framework of Operation Guardian of the Walls.”

Ashkenazi pointed to 29 agreements already signed, as well as four new diplomatic delegations. Trade between Israel and those countries has already reached NIS 1 billion, he said.

Foreign Ministry Director-General Alon Ushpiz said the agreement to avoid double taxation signed with the UAE last week was a key one that will open the door to more deals.

But beyond the numbers, Ashkenazi touted the Abraham Accords as “changing the discourse in the Middle East.”

Ashkenazi is a cofounder of the Abraham Accords Institute for Peace, founded by top Trump aide Jared Kushner to deepen ties between Israel and Arab countries, and he plans to take part in the institute’s activities after he leaves office.

The foreign minister denied reports that the US set any ultimatums or time limits on Operation Guardian of the Walls last month.

“We had full support from the US government,” he said. “They asked us what our goals were and how we planned to attain them. Biden was involved in the details… It wasn’t easy for them, but they blocked UN Security Council decisions [against Israel] at least three times.”

Ashkenazi said a continuous and transparent dialogue with the US was key to continued support.

The Foreign Ministry also worked on a trade agreement with Jordan in the past year, that would increasing imports and exports between Israel and Jordan, and allow Amman to export more to the Palestinian Authority. Ashkenazi met with his Jordanian counterpart Ayman Safadi three times in the past year, and said they were close to signing a deal, but that the latest round of fighting with Gaza set the talks back.

Ashkenazi pointed to slight positive shifts in voting patterns in the UN, such as only 18 UN General Assembly decisions against Israel in 2020 as opposed to 20 in the previous year.

Israel is now taking a more aggressive negotiating tack to try to get countries to vote in its favor or abstain, which included calling in ambassadors to the Foreign Ministry for clarifications after a recent UN Human Rights Council vote.

“This is a war of attrition and we have to be assertive,” he said.

Ushpiz touted Israel’s election to the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) for the first time on Monday, pointing out that it is one of the UN’s largest councils.

Israel will now be able to vote, propose discussions and launch initiatives in ECOSOC, after 154 countries voted to support Israel’s membership via the Western European and Other Countries group. ECOSOC oversees UN committees including Status of Women, Statistics, Population and Development, and more.

“Choosing Israel to serve on ECOSOC is a recognition of our innovation and creativity, which serves to benefit all nations of the world, as well as evidence of our diplomatic efforts throughout the international community,” Ambassador to the UN and US Gilad Erdan said on Monday.

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