Israel media review

Peace and its disconnects: What the press is saying on September 16

The press gets swept up in the Abraham Accords hoopla, but doesn’t shy away from noting that the treaties do not actually create peace and leave out 1 important actor

Joshua Davidovich is The Times of Israel's Deputy Editor

L-R: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US President Donald Trump, and UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan participate in the signing of the Abraham Accords at the White House on September 15, 2020. (Saul Loeb/AFP)
L-R: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US President Donald Trump, and UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan participate in the signing of the Abraham Accords at the White House on September 15, 2020. (Saul Loeb/AFP)

1. Peace and then some: A White House ceremony to celebrate the signing of treaties between Israel and the UAE and Israel and Bahrain unsurprisingly dominates news coverage Wednesday, with all of Israel’s major papers devoting much, if not all, of their front pages and A sections to the event.

  • “Salaam aleikum,” crows Yedioth Ahronoth across its front, albeit in Hebrew and not Arabic for some reason. (The Maariv daily does the exact same thing.) Israel Hayom goes with “A new Middle East.”
  • Non-print outlets are also gung-ho about the signing, like Walla news, which puts the quote “Peace will expand to the entire Middle East,” into its headline.
  • (The actual quote, from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was “this peace will eventually expand to include other Arab states.” You can read all the full speeches, and all 51 mentions of the word “peace” here, here, here and here, if you are into that sort of thing. Yedioth, which translates all four speeches and runs them prominently, thinks you are.)
  • Even Haaretz puts the cynicism on hold, running a headline over all eight columns of the broadsheet’s front page and calling what happened “Peace at the White House,” despite the fact that technically speaking, peace is not what was reached, but rather normalization (a fact duly noted by many, many pundits).
  • The Seventh Eye helpfully has links to all the front pages here.

2. No great shakes: Thanks to COVID-19, there was no historic handshake to go along with the historic signing of the historic accords, meaning there is no single iconic picture to crystallize the event a la the Oslo Accords or peace treaties with Jordan and Egypt, also at the White House.

  • Instead each newspaper picks a slightly different picture of the leaders and diplomats, some waving from a balcony, some holding up the treaties and grinning. Haaretz goes with a picture of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump trying to help UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan find where to sign, which thanks to the slightly socially distanced set up, sits beautifully stretched across the broadsheet.
  • It was a sweet moment, but Gili Cohen writes that it was much more. “Peace began the moment the UAE foreign minister, Abdullah bin Zayed, asked Netanyahu for help in figuring out what was written in the peace treaty in Hebrew that he was signing. ‘You’ll need to help me with the Arabic!,’ Netanyahu said back, and got his first public promise from the foreign minister.”
  • (The idea of signatories needing a hand is not new. During the signing ceremonies for Egypt and Jordan in 1979 and 1995 respectively, pictures show the leaders being helped by aides as they put ink to paper. It’s unclear if those aides were absent on Tuesday due to pandemic regulations or out of a desire to keep peons out of the picture.)
  • Another picture that made the rounds showed a quorum of Jews and then some holding an afternoon prayer gathering on the South Lawn.
  • In Yedioth, Sivan Rahav-Meir writes that the picture shows her the direct link between not hiding one’s Jewishness and getting Arab states to normalize. “When we know who we are and respect ourselves, the world recognizes it and respects us.”

3. Get on the peace train: Those celebratory headlines are matched by high-falutin’ rhetoric from Israel’s best word jockeys, playing up the historicity of the event and its ramifications.

  • Leading the way is Netanyahu- and US President Donald Trump-backing Israel Hayom, which gets so gosh darn excited it forgets to include a straight news story, instead running oodles of analysis and commentary-tinged color. (Yedioth and Haaretz too, emphasize commentary and analysis over straight news. What follows is just a tiny taste of the oodles of analyses as every writer and their mother tries to get their word in.
  • “The Israeli-Arab conflict, as we have known it since our inception as a sovereign state, is changing before our eyes,” gushes editor Boaz Bismuth, showering praise on Netanyahu and Trump and claiming that the ceremony means all who doubted them about making peace in the Middle East have been proven wrong.
  • “Could it be that the US president, Donald Trump, had the formula for doing it the right way? Do you remember how he was mocked as a presidential candidate? And how his deal of the century was derided? As the saying goes, he who laughs last, laughs best,” he adds.
  • It’s not just the cheerleaders. Other pundits, including some who may normally be critical of Netanyahu and Trump, get a little misty-eyed.
  • ToI editor David Horovitz writes: “When Trump noted that he was overseeing the doubling of Israel’s entire history of peace alliances, he was also telling a whole generation of Israelis and of Arabs — a generation that has simply never witnessed such a ceremony before — that, yes, Israeli-Arab peace is actually possible. It can be achieved here and now. It’s not something that happened a couple of times long ago and then froze over, or that dreamers talk endlessly about being almost within reach.”
  • “Ultimately the joint interests of Israel, the United States and its Arab allies prevailed over the ideology of the Greater Land of Israel or pan-Arab solidarity with the Palestinians,” writes Haaretz editor Aluf Benn. “These interests impelled the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain to declare peace with Israel and to establish full and open diplomatic relations, and led Netanyahu to abandon the advocates of annexation and the ‘Temple Mount Faithful’ on the extreme right, and to return to the path that all his predecessors since 1973 have trod. Some happily, some under pressure, but all with the same outcome: they relinquished their messianic dreams in favor of pragmatic, realistic arrangements that have turned Israel into a welcome neighbor.”
  • “For people who grew up in a country under siege, where all the land borders were closed and whose passports weren’t accepted by a host of other countries – any agreement forging diplomatic relations and enabling flights are another small victory on the road to Israel becoming a ‘nation like all nations,’ he adds.
  • “The significance of the admittedly boring ceremony, on the famous South Lawn, is that the walls of the boycott that non-adjacent Arab states put on Israel are starting to crumble, and I am personally convinced that the continuation of it will occur much faster than seems likely now,” says Channel 12’s Ehud Yaari, who correctly predicted last month that Bahrain would soon establish open ties with Israel after the UAE.
  • Yedioth’s Ben-Dror Yemini writes, “The Arab-Israeli conflict has raged for many years. Yesterday its death was declared.” But he adds that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is alive and well.

4. It’s a good deal, but maybe not a great deal: Indeed it’s not all gumdrops and lollipops and most Israeli pundits do not shy away from pointing out the various issues and flaws surrounding the deal, from the fact that it does not actually make peace to the fact that it does not make peace with the Palestinians.

  • “In this surrealistic scene, the representatives of four countries gathered – the United States, Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain – to sign agreements and declarations of peace, which, as important and groundbreaking as they may be, and in many ways they certainly are, they did not end any actual bloody war,” writes Noa Landau in Haaretz.
  • “And while they gathered in their pastoral bubble on the White House lawn to announce peace in the Middle East and an end to disputes that never were – rockets were launched at Israel from a very real arena, a reminder of the real conflict in the Middle East that no one has solved at all.”
  • Landau also notes the strange secrecy around the accords, with the texts of them only being published around midnight in Israel, some four hours after the ceremony: “During the storm of applause that came as the agreements were signed, most of those clapping still did not know what they were cheering. In fact, until the last minute, and even after that, not one word of the agreement was shared with the public, in any of the four countries involved.”
  • Walla’s Barak Ravid, while mostly laudatory of the agreement and the ceremony, which he compares to a wedding, notes that Netanyahu complained from the Oval Office about the Israeli press not gushing over the accords enough. But “the delay in publishing the agreements did not help public trust in him and only sharpened conspiracy theories around the issue.”
  • ToI’s Raphael Ahren, while calling the agreements “a rare diplomatic success,” notes the absence of the Palestinians from nearly all discussion: “Perhaps Tuesday’s ceremony may have really marked the beginning of the end of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as Jared Kushner, Trump’s senior advisor and one of the architects of the Abraham Accords, said. But the statements from Ramallah, and the rockets from Gaza, are a clear indication that the wider regional peace many people talked about on Tuesday still lies in the distant future.”
  • “Any diplomatic deal, especially with an Arab state, is praiseworthy. At the same time, it would be good to save the bombastic speeches about a new Middle East for other times, other agreements with other peoples. For the countries we are actually at war with, and not ones that Israel has had a form of ties with for decades already,” writes Yedioth’s Sima Kadmon.

5. White House or Weiss House? Netanyahu heralded the agreements as an accord not between leaders, but between people, a claim which some might find laughable given the fact that both the UAE and Bahrain are not democracies and do not generally allow free speech critical of decisions made by their regimes. (The UAE is very strict on this, Bahrain less so.)

  • Still there are signs that at least among the press corps, friendships are burgeoning. Yedioth Ahronoth, for instance, runs a column by the editor of al-Ittihad, a widely circulated Emirates daily, and places a column by its editor in al-Ittihad.
  • “This accord marks the starting point of a new path toward regional and world peace, a path in which the UAE stands as a central broker, with its strategic vision and strong faith that peace is the source of life,” writes Hamad al-Kabi, in a piece translated into Hebrew.
  • Channel 12 also got in on the fun, kicking off its prime time news broadcast following the accord with a joint broadcast along with anchors in Bahrain and Dubai.
  • While the whole of the joint broadcast is just the three anchors exchanging greetings and hopes for peace, Channel 12 still calls it “broadcast history.” (In fact it’s somewhat reminiscent of a live broadcast from the 2012 conflict in Gaza in which the channel showed a live feed of a channel in Gaza, which was showing a live feed of the Channel 12 broadcast, allowing Yaari to try unsuccessfully to interview his Palestinian interlocutor.)

  • A previous attempt by the channel to make “broadcast history” consisted of correspondent Dana Weiss on the White House lawn haranguing a poor Emirati reporter as he tried to do a live standup.
  • It’s even cringier from the Emirati side.
  • Weiss didn’t only annoy Emiratis. She also busted in on Kan’s Cohen, who was in the middle of a live shot interviewing Haim Saban.
  • “If we can have peace with the UAE we can have peace with Kan, right, Gili,” Weiss is heard saying.
  • Naturally, Weiss takes it on the chin for her behavior, which is derided on social and non-social media as an “embarrassment.”
  • “I assume that many viewers of Channel 12 felt yesterday a moment of doubling over, a huge vicarious embarrassment and afterwards anger and loathing, both of them absolutely justified, toward Dana Weiss in a moment of bursting Israeliness, free of any restraint, grace or recognition of professional codes of conduct,” chides Haaretz’s Arianne Melamed.
  • One Twitter user jokes that Weiss didn’t stop her buttonholing, splicing her audio into the UAE foreign minister’s speech.
  • Weiss, who is disliked by Netanyahu and Trump for her critical reporting, was herself the victim of being shoved out of the way during the Oval Office comments. As the leaders took questions, she rose above the din to ask about the F-35 deal, but both Netanyahu and Trump ignored her. Instead, Lital Shemesh from uber-right wing Channel 20 was called on, and she used her time to ask about other states that may establish ties with Israel, never mind the fact that the same question had been asked moments earlier.
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