Israel media review

A peace to start all fights (and flights): What the press is saying on August 17

Netanyahu takes credit both for pushing annexation and for pushing a deal that killed it, laying bare an Iran vs. annexation dispute, amid battles over who the real diplomats are

Joshua Davidovich is The Times of Israel's Deputy Editor

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his office in Jerusalem on a phone call with UAE leader Mohammed Bin Zayed on August 13, 2020. (Kobi Gideon/PMO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his office in Jerusalem on a phone call with UAE leader Mohammed Bin Zayed on August 13, 2020. (Kobi Gideon/PMO)

1. What’s my deal? Israel’s agreement with the UAE continues to be a major part of the media conversation Monday, even as Gaza tensions creep up and Israel’s economy slumps to historic lows.

  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, doing a victory lap after the deal — and perhaps heralding new elections — does a series of interviews in which he crows about the development and seems to downplay talk of annexation while simultaneously taking credit for both.
  • Speaking to a friendly Jacob Bardugo on Army Radio, Netanyahu acts coy when asked if he himself had traveled to the UAE, insisting that “you don’t ask a prime minister where he traveled and when” (though actually, as a public servant, that is exactly what should be asked of him).
  • He also claims that Arab states are so impressed with his Iran stance that they are practically lining up to be on Israel’s side. “The fact that we acted alone, and sometimes need to stand alone against the whole world, against Iran and against the dangerous Iran deal, impressed the Arab leaders in the region. I expect more countries to join our circle of peace.”
  • “I don’t know if they would have lined up behind Iran, but they would not be on our side. In the Middle East you make peace with the strong, not the weak,” he tells Israel Hayom.
  • The paper appears to try to make him seem more committed to annexation than he might be, running a headline quoting him as saying that “annexation is still on the table,” though he uttered no such words, or at least none that they published.
  • Instead he actually appears to move further away from the idea, repeating that he was asked to wait on it to make peace with other Arab states, while seemingly pushing the idea that he is one pulling the strings of America’s policy on Israel, especially on that issue, and will continue to do so no matter who is in the White House, thus entertaining the possibility of Donald Trump losing:
  • “For three years I worked and did not give up on sovereignty. I put it in the Trump plan … The insistence on sovereignty and putting it in the official plan of the president was a game changer. … The idea of going back to the 1967 lines, of abandoning settlements, these have fallen off the table. This change, which I got Trump to take off [the table], will also hold sway in the future.”
  • The quotes on his insistence on being responsible for pushing annexation, not having it shelved, even if admittedly cherry-picked, speak volumes about the image he is attempting to project.They are also almost verbatim from a statement he released Sunday about the deal: “It was I who insisted on including sovereignty in the plan, and this plan has not changed. President Trump is committed to it and I am committed to negotiate based on it.”
  • Speaking to Army Radio, he also denies that he was forced to reject annexation in exchange for normalization.
  • “It’s not as if someone gave me a choice and told me to pick either sovereignty or normalization,” he said. “Just as nobody believed I would bring a peace agreement — I will also bring the sovereignty.”

2. Fordo or Forgo: Despite Netanyahu’s insistence that it was Arab leaders impressed with underdog Israel standing up to Iran that sparked the deal, the consensus among all reports, and all officials outside of the Prime Minister’s Office, is that it was the chance to hold off annexation that got Abu Dhabi excited.

  • Walla news reports that Israel’s decision to mark July 1 as a concrete date for the move was what really got the ball rolling.
  • ToI’s Raphael Ahren points out that UAE Foreign Minister Anwar Gargash also pushed back at the idea that Iran, and not annexation, had anything to do with the deal.
  • But Finance Minister Israel Katz says that annexation was off the table even before the deal: “Portraying the deal as connected to it is maybe more convenient for the Arab states,” he tells Kan.
  • Either way, a poll published by Channel 12 news claims that some 80 percent of Israelis prefer peace with the UAE over annexation.
  • “Aside from a loud minority, the vast majority of the public, even on the right, do not support annexation. It’s not important to them and does not interest them. Peace on the other hand is still a hot product, even in Israel 2020,” tweets Walla reporter Barak Ravid.

3. Peace with the UAE, but not the ministry: The fight over Iran or annexation is not the only dispute. In the softball Israel Hayom interview Netanyahu expresses his indignation at the idea that he should have informed his coalition partners Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi and Defense Minister Benny Gantz: “To inform them?! I’ve been working on this for years. They’ve been here a few months. That was the last part, to keep it discreet, so we don’t allow Iran or others to torpedo it.”

  • Haaretz reports that both Gantz and Ashkenazi, who come from Blue and White, are “furious” at the fact that they were out of the loop.
  • Minister Itzik Shmuli of the Labor party, which is aligned with Blue and White, is also not happy: “It’s a false claim, these are two former IDF chiefs who have been exposed to the most sensitive information,” he tells Army Radio. “On security there is cooperation and harmony in the government, and it should be for diplomatic work as well.”
  • Opposition leader Yair Lapid tells Radio103 that it seems pop singer Omer Adam, rumored to be planning a show in the UAE, knew about the deal before Ashkenazi and Gantz since it takes time to set up gigs, calling the idea of such deep dysfunction in the government “amusing.”
  • The fights haven’t stopped now that the news is out. Haaretz says now diplomatic work on the ground is being held up by turf battles between the Foreign Ministry, which one might think would have the job, and the National Security Council, which is directly controlled by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and has been actually given the work, as well as the Mossad, whose chief Yossi Cohen played a large part in brokering the deal.
  • “Because of these disputes over its makeup and authority, along with waiting for the wording of the details Israel wants to present, the delegation sendoff has been delayed. When it does set out, senior officials in both countries say the issue of direct flights will be first on the agenda,” the paper reports.
  • Channel 12 news quotes a Foreign Ministry source saying that “The ministry has to have a significant part of the contacts. We have the knowledge, we have the abilities, and the prime minister knows that.”
  • It adds that ministry sources claim that they have been deep in the muck of trying to broker an agreement for years.

4. Dubai is for spenders: Israelis are ready to quickly follow once the diplomats get their ducks in a row. Several news outlets run pieces on plans for travel between the countries and what Israelis should expect so they can already start planning a trip.

  • Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor, a billionaire real estate tycoon and philanthropist who is all for ties with Israel, is already getting tourist packages ready to market to Israelis, coronavirus be damned.
  • Al Habtoor tells Channel 13 news that talks are already underway for direct flights between the countries: “That’s true, my team and the Israeli team, there were talks this afternoon approaching each other regarding commercial airline and charters for tourists.”
  • Channel 12 news reports that “prices in Dubai are definitely comfortable and surprising, much more so than the prices of hotels in Israel.”
  • Yedioth Ahronoth quotes a tourism figure in the Emirates saying that officials told them before not to bring in Israelis, even those with foreign passports, but now they have been given a green light, especially with the virus decimating tourism. “Now we are waiting for Israeli tourists who will surely come here to make deals, fill the streets of Dubai and our main attractions,” says the person, who has clearly never had the joy of dealing with Israeli tourists.
  • The paper calls Dubai a “garden of Eden” for Israelis, and lists all the top attractions, but anyone planning on making the trip may want to make sure to stay hydrated in the hot, hot weather. Israelis got an unfortunate view of the effects of the scorching heat on Sunday night, as Channel 13 reporter Doron Herman collapsed live on air from the UAE, possibly from heat exhaustion.
  • The channel reports that he is feeling better.

5. Nowhere to go but up: One cannot say the same for Israel’s economy, which saw its worst downturn in over 40 years quarter over quarter, as confirmed by the Central Bureau of Statistics on Sunday.

  • “Recession,” reads the single word full-page headline on the front of Yedioth, with a bar chart reaching the length of the page, clearly ripping off the iconic New York Times front page that used the same method to broadcast the depth of the unemployment crisis there several months ago.
  • “These statistical figures were mostly expected: They point to Israel entering a severe recession over March, April and half of May, and show the high level of unemployment and the economic and social travails of hundreds of thousands of Israelis who lost their source of income,” reports the paper.
  • At the same time, it notes that Israel’s figures were not quite as bad as those of many other Western countries, including the US. But it chides officials who try to claim that a yearly calculation actually shows growth, since it’s based on misleading math: “The reports on Israel’s real GDP growing by 29 percent in the second quarter of 2020 according to a yearly calculation is devoid of any economic significance. It’s based on the hypothetical question of what would happen if the economy were smaller by 8 percent in each quarter until spring 2021.”
  • Katz, the finance minister, tells Army Radio that “the economic situation is the hardest in the country’s history,” though he adds that “the numbers place us among the countries whose situations are among the best in the world.”
  • Katz also tells the station that he knows of no plans for a new stimulus check ahead of the High Holidays, but Avi Simhon, Netanyahu’s economics adviser, tells the station that the idea is “definitely on the table,” though he himself would advise against it.
  • The Marker notes that Israelis actually bought more air conditioners and dishwashers than normal over the period, and cautions against getting too worked up about the numbers: “In the short term, growth numbers have no clear influence on consumers’ pockets. What is important for every household is its level of income and wealth, and those are not seen in national accounting figures.”

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