Marking the one year anniversary of the Abraham Accords at a virtual event with Israeli, Emirati, Bahraini, and Moroccan dignitaries on Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken laid out a vision for taking the Israel-Arab state agreements to the Israeli-Palestinian sphere. “We all must build on these relationships and growing normalization to make tangible improvements in the lives of Palestinians,” Blinken explained, “And to make progress toward the longstanding goal of advancing a negotiated peace between Israelis and Palestinians.”

Variations of this sentiment have cropped up on numerous occasions since the Abraham Accords were signed last September, repeated by officials in Jerusalem, Abu Dhabi, and Manama, as well as by pundits and think tank analysts in Washington. The notion that the Abraham Accords can materially or politically help the Palestinians has become a popular refrain, and there is some merit to the idea.

I say that there is merit to the idea that the Abraham Accords could help the Palestinians because in principle, there is quite a lot that could be done. Israeli officials might be more receptive to calls from the normalizers to respect the rights of Palestinians in East Jerusalem hotspots or to make some kind of concession on settlements, especially considering the open nature of the relationship between Israel, the UAE, and Bahrain, which presents a stark contrast to the cold peace with Egypt and Jordan. A visit by an Emirati or Bahraini or even Moroccan diplomat to Sheikh Jarrah or Silwan might go a long way in sending a message to Israel. The Emiratis certainly have the resources to facilitate aid to Gaza, shoring up the Strip’s dire humanitarian situation, and they would probably prove a more reliable player than Hamas-friendly Qatar, which acts as the Palestinian enclave’s financial guarantor. And politically, it would be better for all involved if the Abraham Accords’ Arab signatories had something to show for helping the Palestinians, as the unpopularity of normalization, along with Palestinian Authority backlash against the agreements, only fuels feelings of resentment, betrayal, and abandonment in the West Bank and Gaza.

These are just a few of the ways in which, theoretically, the newly open relationships brought about by the Abraham Accords could yield results for the Palestinians. But the operative word here is theoretically. In practice, the normalizers’ records paint a markedly different picture. 

Even before the normalization deal with Israel was inked, Emirati contributions to UNRWA plummeted from $50 million to just $1 million between 2019 and 2020. Abu Dhabi and the Palestinian Authority have been at a diplomatic nadir since Mohammad Dahlan, an exiled rival of PA President Mahmoud Abbas, took up a positon as a close confidant and advisor to de facto Emirati leader Mohammad bin Zayed a decade ago. Bahrain is a Saudi proxy preoccupied with the omnipresent threat of Iran and with precious little to give the Palestinians outside of rhetorical support. Whereas the UAE could at least say they had gotten Israel to cancel (really, postpone) formal West Bank annexation, the other normalizers dispensed with the pretense of extracting some kind of benefit for the Palestinians while opening up relations with Israel. When crisis rocked Jerusalem over pending evictions of Palestinian residents from Sheikh Jarrah and fighting surrounding the Temple Mount, the normalizers confined their engagement to strongly-worded statements of displeasure. As Hussein Ibish has noted, Hamas’s decision to escalate the situation with rocket attacks against Israeli civilians effectively let the normalizers off the hook, but their actions were not exactly trending toward greater involvement before the May 2021 Gaza conflict began.

Focusing on what the Abraham Accords can do for the Palestinians misses the question of whether the countries that are party to the normalization treaty actually want to do anything for them. It obscures the fact that the normalization agreements were backed up by an American administration that explicitly wanted to bifurcate Israel-Arab state relations from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and gave Arab governments—who were hardly dragged into the accords—the political cover to do so. Jared Kushner summarized this objective last year in observing that normalization would “allow people to separate the Palestinian issue from their own national interests and from their own foreign policy.” Even if there were no such political motive on the part of the Trump administration, these were still bilateral agreements with Israel, not the Palestinians; the very point of establishing ties with Israel before the creation of an independent Palestine (in contravention of the Arab Peace Initiative) is that the normalizers do not view their relationships with Israel through the lens of the occupation. The Biden administration, which supports a two-state solution, is clearly aware of this dynamic. This, along with domestic partisan politics, likely contributed to the administration’s earlier tepidness in addressing the Abraham Accords.

Does this mean it was pure folly for Blinken to even raise the possibility that the Abraham Accords might deliver positive returns for the Palestinians? The answer is no. On the contrary, it was critically important that the secretary of state highlight that prospect. The normalizing Arab states’ relative disinterest in the conflict means that if anything is to come from the Abraham Accords in terms of benefits to the Palestinians, the initiative will have to come from Washington. Although Foreign Minister Yair Lapid mentioned bringing the Abraham Accords countries into an initiative to stabilize Gaza on Friday, he was the only participant in the virtual event to mention the Strip, and the Israelis are unlikely to push the point or actively court diplomatic pressure on questions related to the West Bank and East Jerusalem. However, a well-timed request from the Biden administration paired with some kind of incentive (it doesn’t have to be an F-35; the U.S. should investigate non-military inducements) could do the trick. There is no guarantee that it will work, but it is worth trying.