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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Joe Biden disagrees with most of President Trump's foreign policy initiatives, but several of his advisers tell Axios that there is one he plans to keep: the Abraham Accords.

Why it matters: Continuing to push the Abraham Accords — the biblical branding the administration has given to the individual normalization agreements between Israel and Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates — could help Biden build positive relationships with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other leaders in the Persian Gulf.

The endgame: Biden could use additional deals to induce Netanyahu to take steps toward preserving the option of a two-state solution — the way Trump got Bibi to kill the annexation of the West Bank in return for his agreement with the UAE.

The Obama administration had said Arab states would only make peace with Israel as a group, and only after it reached an agreement with the Palestinians.

  • Now, Dan Shapiro, former U.S. ambassador to Israel under President Obama, tells Axios normalizing ties "is something Biden made clear during the campaign that he embraces. He said he'll push it forward, and they’ll try to get other Arab states to do the same thing."
  • "It might be the only Trump foreign policy initiative that Biden has had something positive to say about," one adviser said.

The president-elect has vowed to reverse many of Trump's controversial orders, like pulling the U.S. out of the Paris climate agreement, on his first day in office. He also has pledged closer relationships with NATO and other allies.

Netanyahu had a notoriously rocky relationship with the Obama administration, but Shaprio says Biden would leverage the accords differently than Trump: “He wants to use that dynamic to reflect some positive momentum back into the Israeli-Palestinian deal.”

  • And while the incoming administration doesn’t think conditions are ripe to push a full-blown Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, Biden wants to keep alive the prospect of a separate Palestinian state, the advisers say.

Driving the news: Saudi Arabia is one Arab nation that has not normalized relations with Israel — despite Jared Kushner's last-ditch effort to broker a deal when he visited the region last week. The Saudis are waiting for Biden to assume office before making such a decision.

  • Israeli officials say the Saudis might want to take such a step to rehabilitate their standing with Democrats and avoid a clash with Biden over human rights issues.

The backdrop: After the Israel-UAE normalization agreement was announced in August, Biden welcomed it and called it “a historic step.”

  • Just before the election, Secretary of State-nominee Tony Blinken told the Jewish Insider that a Biden administration would try to continue pursuing normalization between Israel and Arab states. 
  • Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi said today at the Manama security conference: “From what we heard so far from the incoming Biden administration, we believe it will be supportive of the Abraham Accords.”

The big picture: Getting the U.S. back into the Iran nuclear deal is the main foreign policy objective of the incoming Biden administration in the Middle East.

  • Israel, the UAE, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia have publicly stated their opposition to that move.

Go deeper

Jan 28, 2021 - World

Biden turns the page on Trump's Israel-Palestine policies

Biden with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in 2010. Photo: David Furst/AFP via Getty Images

The Biden administration laid out its Israel-Palestine policy at the UN Security Council on Tuesday, highlighting the importance of repairing ties with the Palestinian Authority.

Driving the news: According to the new policies, the U.S. will resume aid to the Palestinians and reopen the PLO office in Washington and the consulate in Jerusalem.

Jan 29, 2021 - World

Biden picks Rob Malley as envoy for Iran

Malley (L) during Iran deal negotiations in Vienna, 2015. Photo: Siamek Ebrahimi/Anadolu Agency/Getty Image

Rob Malley will serve as the Biden administration's special envoy for Iran, working out of the State Department, White House press secretary Jen Psaki announced on Friday.

Why it matters: Malley, a former Middle East adviser to Barack Obama, took part in the negotiations over the Iran nuclear deal and is a strong supporter of a U.S. return to the agreement. Reports of his likely selection led to sharp criticism from opponents of the deal like Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), while former colleagues from the Obama administration rallied to Malley's defense.

Arizona Judge: Adding mask mandates ban to budget bill is unconstitutional

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) Photo: Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

An Arizona judge ruled Monday that the state's ban on mask mandates in schools, and other measures put into the state budget by Republicans, are unconstitutional, the Arizona Republic reports.

Why it matters: The sweeping ruling voids a ban on vaccine requirements for public universities, community colleges and local governments, and strikes down some non-COVID-related measures like a ban on teaching critical race theory in classrooms and anti-fraud measures for ballots.