The new normalization: What the press is saying on September 13
Israel media review

The new normalization: What the press is saying on September 13

Netanyahu registers 2nd peace deal with Arab state in 29 days, but Bahrain accord somewhat overshadowed by coverage of locked-down Israelis he’s leaving behind as he heads to DC

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

The face of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seen through a multitude of umbrellas during a memorial for Israel's former Premier Levi Eshkol held on February 23, 1997, in Jerusalem's Har Herzl cemetery. (AP/Nati Harnik)
The face of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seen through a multitude of umbrellas during a memorial for Israel's former Premier Levi Eshkol held on February 23, 1997, in Jerusalem's Har Herzl cemetery. (AP/Nati Harnik)

1. Twice as nice: US President Donald Trump’s announcement that his administration had convinced Bahrain to become the second country to normalize relations with Israel in less than a month came on Friday evening, evidently leaving too much time for the viciously quick news cycle to pack Saturday evening broadcasts and Sunday morning papers with other items, but the story is still too big to ignore completely.

  • The pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom leads the top of its front page with the headline “Twice as nice” while the often sensational Yedioth Ahronoth prefers “Gulf of peace.”
  • The Walla news site provides plenty of nuggets for how the deal came about, starting with the phone call “senior Bahraini officials” made to White House senior adviser Jared Kushner and special envoy Avi Berkowitz with the message, “We want to be next.”
  • That tidbit was strikingly similar to the way Kushner recalled the effort in a briefing with journalists Friday, when he expressed surprise at how quickly the Bahrainis had gathered interest in following in the Emiratis’ direction.
  • Walla sites another “source familiar with the matter” who says Kushner had a Torah written in the Bahraini king’s honor, which he gave to him during his trip to Manama last week to iron out the deal — another detail mentioned by Kushner in the phone briefing.
  • What Kushner did not mention though, is that “Berkowitz entered the meeting with the king holding the Torah and presented it,” according to Walla — a fitting gift for the latest partner in the Abraham Accords.
  • Few take the time to explain the deal’s strategic importance, save for Haaretz’s Zvi Barel who notes that “Bahrain is an important part of the Persian Gulf’s strategic defense against Iranian influence. It hosts a US Navy base with around 6,000 service members, and could serve as a launch pad for attacks on land and sea threats from Iran.”
  • “Bahrain sees Iran as not only a regional strategic threat but also as a threat to its own regime. More than 60 percent of Bahrainis are Shi’ite Muslims, who are at best seen as a subversive population and at worse as an Iranian fifth column,” he adds.

2. Thank you, next: And just in case you mistakenly assumed the Trump administration might be finished, Channel 12 reports that US President Donald Trump is looking to following up the normalization deals with the introduction of direct flights between Israel and Morocco.

  • The unsourced report also says Washington is continuing to push for Oman and Sudan to forge diplomatic ties with Israel, as part of an effort to rack up as many accomplishments on the global stage as possible before the November 3 election.
  • The Times of Israel notes that as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu heads to Washington for another historic ceremony, just nine months after he stood by Trump’s side as he unveiled the administration’s peace plan, he’ll be leaving settler leaders at home. “Indeed, many of the West Bank mayors wouldn’t agree to tag along if invited,” the report notes.
  • Reflecting on the settlement movement’s current standing, Efrat Mayor Oded Revivi tells ToI, “I think we’re in a worse place.”He says the plurality of mayors who campaigned aggressively against the Trump peace plan over its inclusion of a Palestinian state were responsible for the movement’s sudden fall from grace.
  • Left in the dust once again are the Palestinians. PLO Secretary General Saeb Erekat tells Al Jazeera, “We were in communication with the Bahrainis, and we spoke with our Bahraini brothers … the king issued a statement saying that they would adhere to the Arab Peace Initiative, and that there won’t be peace, all this was a week ago!”
  • To pour more salt in the wound, Israeli media picks up on a leaked passage from Bob Woodward’s new book in which Netanyahu in 2017 showed Trump an apparently doctored video in which PA President Mahmoud Abbas seemed to call for the murder of children, in order to sway the American leader to the Israeli side.

3. The real deal’s in Riyadh: But forget about the Palestinians, the Emiratis or the Bahrainis, analysts from all sorts of outlets are convinced the real story is Saudi Arabia.

  • Walla cites Israeli officials who say the White House wanted Riyadh to give Bahrain a green light before the latter went ahead with the normalization agreement.
  • “Bahrain’s king, who is entirely dependent on Saudi Arabia, to which it is linked via a 25-kilometer causeway, received a Saudi ‘license’ to move forward with normalization, but Riyadh itself is still waiting for its commission, which will include the exoneration of the crown prince in Washington and the rehabilitation of the kingdom’s reputation on Capitol Hill,” writes Barel in Haaretz.
  • The New York Times quotes unnamed Trump administration officials who have been pushing the Saudis to recognize Israel, saying that this possibility remains remote at best for now.
  • “Bahrain’s move to formally establish relations with Israel could not have happened without Saudi Arabia’s green light, another step in what observers call Riyadh’s ‘alternative normalization’ of ties with the Jewish state,” AFP reports.
  • “Though Saudi will remain slower on this path, it’s clear the kingdom is open to normalization and will explore growth in the relationship through increasingly public, though likely indirect ties,” Ryan Bohl, of the US geopolitical think tank Stratfor, tells the wire agency.
  • “Saudi Arabia often uses Bahrain as a testing ground for its future policies,” Kristin Diwan of the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington tells AFP.

4. Smoke screen: But of course, some are not impressed by the pomp and circumstance set to take place in Washington and adamantly believe that Netanyahu should not be boarding any plane, let alone a private one, as the rest of the country runs around with its head chopped off given the lack of a clear game plan to curb the pandemic.

  • Following massive uproar, Netanyahu announced that he and his family would forgo their private jet and head to Washington with the rest of the normie press pool and advisers. But Channel 12 reports that the real reason for the change of heart was that the jet’s owners asked the Prime Minister’s Office to reconsider in the wake of public criticism.
  • The PMO says in a statement to Channel 12 news that “no such message reached the office,” adding that the private flight was canceled “so as not to allow media to divert public attention from the historic peace accord with the UAE, and potentially with other Arab nations.”
  • “It’s difficult to decide what was more shocking, the fact that Netanyahu is planning to fly to Washington for a ceremony to which he could have sent his foreign minister, as the UAE is doing, while Israel is in a state of emergency and headed for another full lockdown, or that he had planned to fly there on a private plane, with his wife and their two sons, rather than with the rest of the Israeli delegation,” writes a rather disgusted Iris Leal in Haaretz.
  • “The cancellation of the private flight proved that Netanyahu realized that the optics of the Netanyahu family, including the slacker son, on a private plane while Israeli Jews are dipping their Rosh Hashanah apples into melancholy, is something that even his supporters will not tolerate,” she adds.
  • Her equally unimpressed colleague Chemi Shalev writes, “The agreements about to be signed between Israel, Bahrain and the UAE at the White House on Tuesday aren’t about ‘peace’ but merely ‘normalization.’ Israel and its two Gulf partners are simply coming out of the closet with the clandestine strategic ties they’ve maintained for years. Nothing to write home about.”
  • In Yedioth, Ra’anan Shaked pens an op-ed titled “The out of touch ones,” which includes a cartoon of the Netanyahus flying off in their private plane, telling the countless little COVID particles below that they’ll be back in time for the ceremony kicking off the lockdown slated to begin at the end of the week.
  • “So yes, we are sour about that. But don’t let that bother you as you head off over there, to the pomp and circumstance of Washington. Because what is life itself if not honors in Washington. Go, Bibi, go. The people here are sick, but the sun here is shining,” Shaked writes, in a biting final paragraph.

5. Plenty of blame to go around: With a lockdown looming, along with good old-fashioned Rosh Hashanah-inspired Jewish guilt, much focus is on many failures that allowed the country to mess up the coronavirus fight so badly.

  • “Where did we go wrong? The better question is where did we not,” writes Sarit Rozenblum in Yedioth, running down a laundry list of screw-ups from the lack of coherent policy to overconfidence to people not following the rules.
  • “There’s no nice way to say this: If we listened to the guidelines, we would not have gotten to 4,000 cases a day. This insane number, which is just the tip of the iceberg, come from the populace’s continuing apathy toward the rules,” she writes.
  • While Rosenblum blames the people and the government, in Yaakov Ahimier’s column for Israel Hayom, one of those factors is missing: “The truth needs to be told, and this is also the opinion of medical professionals: Had we only safeguarded ourselves, had we only been careful to cover our mouth and nose, the number of dead would be lower, even much lower. The ignoring of the guidelines, that’s the big, group sin that we need to ask forgiveness for.”
  • In Haaretz’s lead editorial, meanwhile, the problems can all be boiled down to one person: “The decision on a lockdown is the result of a chain of abject failures in the government’s management of the coronavirus crisis by the prime minister, who is too busy dealing with the ‘Netanyahu crisis.’ Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government failed to use the first lockdown to prepare for the second wave, and the series of steps they took were always too little too late, leading Israel downhill to a state of helplessness.”
  • The anger at the government over the lockdown is unsurprisingly shared by anti-Netanyahu protesters, notes Anat Peled in ToI.
  • “Today people are in a financial hardship that is so difficult that no one has asked what the repercussions of it will be financially, socially and mentally. Now they are talking in the government about another lockdown, which is an unnecessary lockdown in my opinion. They [the government] need to sober up and make a proper plan in order to get out of this crisis,” a Tayibe lawyer at the protest tells her.
  • Walla notes that many business owners angry at having to close down without adequate compensation were also at the rally, including Roee Cohen, who heads an umbrella group for self-employed people, some of whom are threatening to not abide by the lockdown.
  • “We aren’t law-breakers, but when a business-owner needs to decide between closing down or opening in order to make a living and get food for his kids, there’s no question what he will choose,” he’s quoted saying.
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