By Aaron Kliegman This past year was one we won’t miss. From racial tensions to a deadly pandemic, the turmoil and disruptions of 2020 tested America’s resolve. And the presidential election further intensified our deep political divisions. Still, there was a bright spot amid the bleakness. We just need to look to the unlikeliest of places: the most chaotic, volatile region in the world. Despite all the adversity of 2020, the Middle East made history this year through the Abraham Accords, a series of Arab-Israeli agreements which the Trump administration brokered. Specifically, four Arab states agreed to normalize relations with Israel in as many months. First, the United Arab Emirates signed on. Bahrain soon joined, followed by Sudan and, most recently, Morocco. In fact, just this week, White House senior adviser Jared Kusher flew aboard the first direct commercial Israeli flight from Israel to Morocco. He was part of an Israeli-American delegation, which held high-level talks with Moroccan officials, including King Mohammed VI. The Abraham Accords represent the most significant step toward Arab-Israeli peace in decades. And what’s so striking is the spirit of these agreements. True, Egypt and Jordan have had peace treaties with Israel for decades, but they lacked warmth. Bahrain and the UAE are the Jewish state’s first Arab friends, as both sides develop intimate ties through trade and tourism. Sudan and Morocco may not be as friendly, but they are still embracing normalization, discussing all kinds of economic deals. To appreciate how momentous the Abraham Accords are, one has to consider Arab-Israeli history — namely, the Arab world’s virulent antisemitism and hostility to the Jewish state. In 1945, for example, the Arab League began its first collective boycott of Jews in the land of Israel, which was then called Mandatory Palestine while under British administration. “The products of Palestinian Jews,” the league’s resolution stated, “are to be regarded as undesirable in Arab states. They should be boycotted and prohibited, as long as their production in Palestine is liable to bring about the realization of the Zionist political goals.” The following year, the boycott extended to “anything Jewish.” Sudan, Morocco, Bahrain, and the UAE all later jointed the Arab League (in that order), signing onto the boycott, which only intensified over time. All four countries also supported United Nations Resolution 3379, which stated “that Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination.” Of course, Zionism is simply the desire and resolve of Jews to reestablish, and then preserve, their national homeland in the land of Israel. Demonizing this fundamental part of Jewish identity is a particularly insidious form of antisemitism. No country was more complicit in this dark history than Saudi Arabia, which prohibited importers from dealing with businesses that had Jewish owners or employees. Moreover, Saudi Arabia’s late founder, King Ibn Saud, once told a British colonel that “our hatred for the Jews dates from God’s condemnation of them” for rejecting Jesus and the Prophet Muhammad. “For a Muslim to kill a Jew,” he added, “or for him to be killed by a Jew, ensures him an immediate entry into Heaven and into the august presence of God Almighty.” Subsequent Saudi leaders carried with them this horrible hatred of Jews — and therefore of Israel — including the current monarch, King Salman. Which makes it all the more remarkable that Saudi Arabia, the biggest prize of all for Arab-Israeli peace, is currently considering whether to normalize relations with Israel. It seems to be a matter of when, not if. Indeed, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is much more willing to build closer ties to the Jewish state than his elderly father, the king. According to reports, however, the crown prince wants to use the prospect of a deal with Israel to build better ties with Joe Biden and his administration. So, don’t expect any breakthroughs with Saudi Arabia over the next month. There are also rumors that one or two other Arab and Muslim countries may create diplomatic ties with Israel before President Donald Trump leaves office. (Oman and Indonesia have been the two names reported most often.) None of this would be possible without President Trump, whose bold and unorthodox methods opened doors of Middle Eastern diplomacy that, according to conventional wisdom, had been long welded shut. No one articulated the conventional wisdom more accurately — and foolishly — than John Kerry. “There will be no separate peace between Israel and the Arab world. I want to make that very clear to all of you,” Kerry said at the Brookings Institution in 2016. “I’ve heard several prominent politicians in Israel sometimes saying, well, the Arab world’s in a different place now, and we just have to reach out to them, and we can work some things with the Arab world, and we’ll deal with the Palestinians. No. No, no, and no.” And then he added this nugget: “There will be no advance and separate peace with the Arab world without the Palestinian process and Palestinian peace. Everybody needs to understand that. That is a hard reality.” At least 2020 showed how wrong the so-called experts of the diplomatic establishment are — at least concerning the Arab-Israeli conflict. Trump saw that Israel and Arab states shared a chief threat in Iran and capitalized on this common interest. His tough policies toward Iran and support for Israel had a unifying effect in the Middle East. But that’s only part of what made the Abraham Accords happen. Arab leaders finally recognized that Israel is here to stay and that they have much to gain from closer ties with the Jewish state — especially through investment to develop their economies. Israel’s mastery of counterterrorism and high tech appealed to even some of its most hardened adversaries. Naturally, critics dismiss the Abraham Accords as a series of transactional deals. The UAE, this argument goes, only agreed to peace in order to get F-35 fighter jets from the US, Sudan did so to get removed from America’s list of state sponsors of terrorism, and Morocco only signed on because Washington would recognize its sovereignty over the Western Sahara region. Perhaps these critics also think Japan and Germany suddenly became American allies after singing kumbaya while holding hands in a circle. After all, such criticism stems from an idealistic worldview in which peace is achieved by enemies magically embracing each other. The reality is much harsher: that, throughout history, peace has been the result of wars or shady deals. It’s not perfect, but peace is still something to be celebrated. If any human other than Trump brokered these deals, he or she would be guaranteed the Nobel Peace Prize. Of course, it was Trump, so naturally don’t expect the 45th president to be praised as he should be. The big question now is whether Biden can build on the momentum that Trump created. If Biden pursues the same policies as president that he supported as vice president — appeasing Iran and distancing the US from Israel, then the amazing progress of the last four years will stall. What we know for sure today is that the Abraham Accords and the Trump administration’s diplomacy in the Middle East were rare high points in a year full of lows. Above all, they offer a bit of hope for 2021.