Israel media review

Getting to yes: What the press is saying on October 23

Peace with Sudan is all but agreed to, and Israelis are both trying to explain why this one is really the big one while already looking to their next normalization conquest

A Sudanese man performs on his motorbike on the bank of Nile River, in Khartoum, Sudan, Friday, June 21, 2019.   (AP/Hussein Malla)
A Sudanese man performs on his motorbike on the bank of Nile River, in Khartoum, Sudan, Friday, June 21, 2019. (AP/Hussein Malla)

1. Sudone deal, almost: If the announcement of ties with the UAE came like a lightning bolt on a clear day, then normalization with Sudan is swiftly approaching with all the secrecy and subtlety of Shaquille O’Neal trying to hide under a blanket.

  • Days of rampant speculation that a deal is imminent have been capped Friday with yet more speculation that an announcement of an agreement is imminent.
  • “It’s 99 percent done,” reads a headline in Israel Hayom.
  • “An official announcement on the decision is expected to come over the weekend or the start of next week, in all probability following a telephone conversation with US President Donald Trump and the head of Sudan’s transitional council Abed al-Fatah- al Burhan,” reports the paper.
  • A quote from a Sudanese official to London-based al-Araby al-Jadeed that a “deal is closer than ever” gets picked up widely in the Hebrew press.
  • Sudanese officials tell AP an Israeli-American delegation visited Sudan this week to put final touches on the deal establishing ties with Israel. One official says the emerging deal will include Israeli aid and investment, particularly in technology and agriculture. The Americans and Israelis also promised to talk to allies in the Gulf and the West to bring investment and debt relief to Sudan.
  • The officials do not give a timeframe but say an announcement could come at “any time” from Trump, which is probably always a good policy to have with this particular president.
  • Reuters also quotes Sudanese government officials saying that Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok is also willing to normalize, seen as a major step, but only if it’s okayed by a transitional council. That council has yet to form.
  • Nonetheless, Yedioth writes that the trip to Khartoum represented a “turning point” in talks, without going into too many details. It also reports that negotiations have been going on since 2017, when they kicked off at a secret meeting in Turkey, but only ramped up last year after dictator Omar al-Bashir was ousted from power.

2. Ticket to Riyadh: Meanwhile, some are already looking ahead to Saudi Arabia, like the unnamed senior official who somehow winds up in all the stories about Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s travel to the US, who tells reporters that he expects “Sudan, and later Saudi Arabia, to come out of the closet” regarding official ties with Israel.

  • Not so fast. Haaretz reports that Haim Saban reports that Saudi de facto leader Mohammed Bin Salman told him that he could not establish ties with Israel because it would get him “killed by Iran, Qatar and my own people.”
  • Saban, while stumping for Joe Biden, also praised President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and his aide Avi Berkowitz for working hard on the deal.
  • An interview with the little-known Berkowitz makes Israel Hayom’s front page, with the claim that more countries will sign up since “the Arab countries are sick of the conflict.”
  • While Saban says Trump had nothing to do with the deals beyond smiling for a photo, Berkowitz says he didn’t think the Abraham Accords would work out until the last moment: “So long as I didn’t hear Trump’s phone call with leaders in the Oval Office, I didn’t let myself get happy. Even afterwards, only after the deal was signed on September 15 at the White House, was it for me really a deal. Things can happen to drag it down or make it get stuck.”
  • Yedioth profiles someone even further behind the scenes, a man known only by the code name Maoz. The former Shin Bet agent who is now with the National Security Council has been the key to deals with former not friends.
  • “The head of the NSC pulled him from the Shin Bet and since then he has made do with visiting countries Israel has no ties with in Africa and the Arab world and was involved in secret contacts with the UAE and Bahrain that led to peace deals. Maoz also played a key role in contacts that led to a deal with Chad and headed talks with Niger and Mali.”
  • Walla quotes an unnamed senior official saying that all these deals will mean more guns for everybody! “At the end of the day, these are countries with a lot of money and much interest in bolstering their armies,” the official is quoted saying, confusing Sudan for a rich country. “The Americans have an interest in selling weapons that others don’t sell. For us, it’s an advantage that the Americans are selling it and not others. I have a sense that we’ll be seeing a lot more arms deals around.”

3. Why is this treaty is not like the other treaties: Many in Israel are similarly gung ho about the deal, even if they aren’t getting their own American-made machines to rip flesh from bone.

  • “‘Yes, yes, yes’: Why peace with Khartoum would be a true paradigm shift for Israel,” reads a headline from ToI’s Raphael Ahren, who writes that even if Israel blew its wad over the deal with the UAE and Bahrain, Sudan really is a game-changer.
  • “It would mark a paradigm shift in Middle East politics. For one thing, Sudan, as opposed to Israel’s new friends in the Gulf, has a history of military conflict with Israel. And unlike the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, it has not been long known to clandestinely cooperate with Jerusalem in various areas, including security and trade,” he writes.
  • He also surmises that “a warm yes from the capital known for the ‘Three No’s’ would likely have a tremendous psychological impact on Israelis.” A resolution passed at the 1967 Arab League summit in Khartoum is famous for containing what became known as the “Three Nos” — no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it.
  • Irit Bak, head of African Studies at Tel Aviv University, tells him: “We now have diplomatic relations with most African countries, and an important country like Sudan, which is one of the biggest countries in Africa and also is kind of a bridge between Africa south and north of the Sahara, between Arabs and Africans in Africa, could be a huge benefit… in an effort to bring more diplomatic support to Israel in international forums.”
  • In Israel Hayom, Ariel Kahana calls Sudan the last piece of the “hat trick of the decade – two treaties in the Persian Gulf and one in Africa. Sudan is a classic Arab peripheral country, similar to Iraq, and peace with it will not only improve Israel’s standing but make it a key player in the Middle East.”
  • He also attempts to cast aspersions over the peace deals of the past, which were actual peace deals, by criticizing the fanfare that surrounded them — as if the Netanyahu and Trump administrations he praises to the ceiling haven’t prioritized pomp themselves.
  • “Apparently, when true policy shifts occur, they do so behind the smokescreen of media demagoguery and populist propaganda – a clumsy effort to cast a fog over important historical information. But it’s better this way, through an arduous road, coronavirus pandemic and insane opposition, rather than a ceremonial and festive facade of peace for the masses to consume, with doves flying and speeches written by journalists-cum-political advisers. Such ceremonies have tended to be washed away by blood,” he writes, throwing in a questionable line about Sudan “becoming less Arab and more African.”
  • On Twitter, Barak Ravid wonders what a direct flight signing ceremony would look like, including a video of now Transportation Minister Miri Regev calling Sudanese a “cancer.” (For the sake of accuracy, she was referring to Sudanese migrants in south Tel Aviv, which doesn’t make it any less bad.)
  • Possibly aware of historic-fatigue setting in after so many historic things, Likud minister Tzachi Hanegbi is flagged by Reuters reports Dan Williams telling Radio102 that “When we see the Emiratis and Bahrainis coming along, it does not stir us up. They always belonged to the West. Here Sudan is making the switch and connecting to the West. It is also connecting to Israel, perhaps, down the line.”
  • Haim Koren, Israel’s first ambassador to South Sudan, tells Yedioth that the deal with Sudan can end up being more important than Israel’s peace deal with Egypt. “I see no reason why not. We have no shared border or loaded history and the Sudanese people are ready for this. We have a good name as a country.”

4. An open-shut case: Israel’s struggles with the pandemic continue to dominate headlines as well.

  • In Haaretz, Amos Harel writes that efforts are being hampered by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s “frenetic” management of the crisis.
  • “His successive failures in dealing with the coronavirus have become clear to everyone, and this is being felt in public opinion polls, even among Likud voters. It is hard to convince citizens to continue to ‘carry the stretcher’ when one of the main reasons for the situation lies in Netanyahu’s inability to enforce even partial conformity to the rules by his ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) partners,” he writes.
  • He adds that there is “concern … over an unmodulated opening, under pressure from sectors in the economy and interest groups, which will once again lead to a loss of control over the pandemic. This time, it is liable to be further complicated by the winter and a certain increase in the number of flu cases.”
  • With Finance Minister Israel Katz leading the charge for the reopening, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein goes after him, telling Kan that “The Finance Ministry needs to help the unemployed instead of calling for an opening.”
  • Katz’s office responds that “If the health issue was dealt with, we would not have a problem with the coronavirus.”
  • Yedioth reports that municipal officials, annoyed at the slow pace of school openings, are pushing for permission for decisions on opening classes to be moved to local hands.
  • “Authority over this issue needs to be on the ground level,” the mayor of Kiryat Ono tells the paper. “Upstairs they are making decisions that are unclear, chimeric and impractical.”
  • An adviser to Education Minister Yoav Gallant, who has become the biggest booster of opening schools, tells Army Radio that complying with the Health Ministry demands to split classes into pods “requires doubling the size of the education system — it takes time and money.”

5. Gnashing in Nashville: Israelis are also paying attention to the US election, and while Thursday night’s debate didn’t have the fireworks of the first one, (or the fly of the veep debate), pundits still have what to say.

  • For Israel Hayom editor Boaz Bismuth, who is practically part of the Trump campaign team and went all the way to Nashville for the event, the debate was a win for the president.
  • “Trump displays restraint, focus; Biden stutters, lashes out,” reads his headline.
  • The actual story doesn’t include anything about the restraint and stuttering, but does include a supposedly “surprising revelation” about Biden getting money from Russia.
  • Kan’s Moav Vardi agrees that Trump actually looked “statesmanlike,” but wonders if it will be enough to help him.
  • “The voters who love Trump because he’s a bully who doesn’t play by the rules decided long ago who to vote for. The battle is now on the undecideds… A show like last night was meant to calm the opposition of those voters. To make Trump look steady and considerate, and to focus on satisfaction from his economic policies, which have helped him until now. Trump’s advisers, it seems, managed to overcome his instincts to be an unchained Doberman and look presidential.”
  • But he adds that “Biden didn’t lose this debate. He gave a reasonable performance. He didn’t trip over his tongue, didn’t fold, and versus a vision of Trump as divisive, and an inciter, he managed to be seen as a unifier, even lovingly.”
  • Channel 12’s Yona Leibzon similarly writes that the debate was more respectable, but won’t convince many to change their minds. “Both candidates can congratulate themselves on winning, even if the true significance was that they both managed to not majorly screw up.”
  • “The main question is not whether they can convince the undecideds, but whether they can boost turnout among their supporters. In this way, the debate was about preaching to the choir. Nobody is walking away with a totally different view about their candidate, but some of the voters may feel better about voting for them,” she adds. “This is especially important at a time when many are worried about going to the polls and turnout in the last elections was under 60 percent.”
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