The wonder of human flight (to the UAE): What the press is saying on September 1
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The wonder of human flight (to the UAE): What the press is saying on September 1

Israel-based reporters marvel over the possibilities of peace from their perches on an extravagant junket to the UAE (me, jealous? never!) and some scoops fall short of first class

A flight attendant hands out chocolates with a greeting card to passengers on an El Al plane from Israel en route to Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Monday, Aug. 31, 2020. (Nir Elias/Pool Photo via AP)
A flight attendant hands out chocolates with a greeting card to passengers on an El Al plane from Israel en route to Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Monday, Aug. 31, 2020. (Nir Elias/Pool Photo via AP)

1. Am Yisrael fly: Israelis took a plane from Tel Aviv to Abu Dhabi on Monday, flying over Riyadh, and boy was it exciting, especially for the journalists aboard.

  • “I have witnessed the return of the remains of an Israeli MIA through Moscow, and traveled with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Uganda, Brazil, Ethiopia, and Beijing for his diplomatic visits. But the flight from Tel Aviv to Abu Dhabi was something completely different,” writes Israel Hayom’s Ariel Kahana. “It underscores the major breakthrough between the UAE and Israel. The fact that El Al’s Star of David flew over Saudi Arabia symbolizes the tectonic shift underway in relations between Israel and the Arab world. … The enormity[sic] of these developments was palpable among all those who were on board, not just the Israeli and US officials but also the flight crew and reporters. Everyone talked about how it was such a great privilege to be taking part in this historic event.”
  • “It was obvious this was no typical flight,” writes AP’s Aron Heller
    “The journey was steeped in symbolism. U.S. and Israeli flags adorned the tarmac at Ben-Gurion Airport as Israeli music played, and the word ‘peace’ was emblazoned in English, Hebrew and Arabic above the cockpit window of the Boeing 737. On board, the ‘Making History’ motto featured prominently on each seat’s headrest covering and complimentary fabric bags of the ‘Abraham Accord Inaugural Flight’ were distributed.”
  • Yedioth’s Itamar Eichner writes that “a wave of excitement” passed through the plane as it passed over Riyadh. “Out the window stretched a never-ending desert, and the screens on the flight showed the historic path: Riyadh below, Abu Dhabi to the east, Manama the capital of Bahrain within reach. Israelis over Saudi Arabia. Maybe 30,000 feet up, but the closest we’ve ever been,” he says.
  • Channel 12’s Ohad Hemo, reporting while grinning ear to ear on a shaky bus from the airport to a hotel, says, “It’s a feeling of a day of high excitement, a historic event.”
  • Haaretz’s Noa Landau tweets a picture of her menu aboard the flight, and in a subsequent tweet calls the sight of an Israeli plane in Abu Dhabi “unbelievable.”
  • One eagle-eyed commenter notes that “historic flight and all, but they still can’t spell bulgur.”
  • Chief ToI Jewish worshiper in Arab states correspondent Raphael Ahren writes not only about the the flight and blasting the shofar in Abu Dhabi, but also about all the wining and dining the Emiratis did for their visitors: “When I entered my room on the 37th floor of the city’s magnificent St. Regis hotel, I found some exquisite baked goods and several other gifts in a bag with the UAE’s official emblem on it. It contained a locally made dark amber and cardamon-scented candle, a jar of raw organic samr honey, and a rabaah — a spike fiddle traditionally used by nomadic Bedouins — in a fine leather bag.”
  • The New York Times writes that “the substance of [the] meetings seemed secondary, and not a close second, to the spectacle of the Israeli-marked El Al jet on the tarmac in Abu Dhabi.”
  • It’s not just Israelis: Maskless American officials Jared Kushner, Robert O’Brien and Avi Berkowitz are seen reacting with the giddy excitement of schoolboys as the plane readies to take off in a video tweeted by Ivanka Trump.

2. You almost Etihad me: Soon perhaps you too, simple reader, can enjoy the high-flying adventure of Israeli journalists soaring over Riyadh.

  • Foreign Ministry director Alon Ushpiz tells Army Radio that “in the last 24 hours we’ve worked on the direct flights issue. The goal is to get flights to the Emirates within a few weeks.”
  • Channel 13 news reports that Etihad has already started selling tickets to Israelis. Unmentioned by the channel, which claims the story as an exclusive, despite the fact that it is carried by several outlets, is the fact that the flights are not yet from Tel Aviv, which one would need to go to Globes to find out.
  • “These are not direct flights from Tel Aviv, which are still a dream for the future, but Israelis can now officially buy Etihad Airways tickets,” reports the financial daily, which itself does not mention that Israelis could already buy Etihad tickets, so long as the UAE was not their final destination.
  • Channel 12 news writes that it contacted the Israeli company selling the Etihad tickets to see if it could buy one. The response: “Are you joking me? We don’t have them in the country. Once they are available I assume they’ll be online. Lemme check with the management and I’ll get back to you.”
  • (Several more calls to the same company yield an admission that Israelis cannot actually buy tickets to the Emirates through it yet.)
  • Kan cites an Israeli member of the Israeli delegation to the UAE giving a more modest estimation that Israelis will be able to fly direct to the UAE before the end of the year.

3. The ties that bind: With the historic flight to historic Abu Dhabi out of the way, Israel’s ties with the UAE are ready to flourish … er, keep flourishing, according to the scads of Israeli journalists spirited away to the magical kingdom, as well as those watching from home.

  • “Israel and the United Arab Emirates were never at war, but the normalization of ties between these two countries, which is advancing at a dizzying pace, promises to become a very warm peace. At least that’s the impression the Israeli delegation to the Gulf country got on its historic first day here Monday,” writes Ahren.
  • He includes a mea culpa for having previously written that no Gulf state would agree to open ties before a peace deal with the Palestinians: “Monday’s historic nonstop flight from Tel Aviv to Abu Dhabi, and the care and enthusiasm with which Emiratis welcomed us to their country, show how wrong I was.”
  • Yedioth Ahronoth gets so excited about the burgeoning ties that it reports as a major exclusive on its front page that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself has made the trip to the UAE for talks with de facto ruler Mohammed Bin Zayed, two years ago.
  • A big scoop indeed. The only problem is it does not belong to Yedioth. As Kan reporter Moav Vardi points out, Israel Hayom reported three weeks ago that Netanyahu had made at least two trips to the UAE in the last two years, though the information was buried in a tiny sidebar and tossed in as an aside barely meriting mention.
  • Yedioth’s Smadar Peri gets caught up in the excitement as well, urging people to “leave behind the cynicism, lay down your accounts against Netanyahu, take a break from the protests at Balfour. Forget for a second all the caveats that we have, and rightly so, with Trump. What is about to occur between us and the UAE is truly historic.”

4. Emir bist du schoen: Israeli journalists also crow about how excited the Emiratis are, conveniently ignoring the fact that the country is a dictatorship with zero freedom of the press and that they had no access to actual people who could actually speak freely.

  • A front page on the local English-language Khaleej Times, with the headline “Salaam Shalom,” above a picture of a tripartite meeting between Israeli, US and UAE officials, gets wide play in the Hebrew press.
  • “Sky News’ Arabic channel, which broadcasts from the UAE, invited various analysts and experts to their studio, who praised the nascent deal and encouraged other Gulf states to take similar action,” reports Israel Hayom.
  • The paper also runs a hokey cartoon with two Emiratis marveling in excitement at an Israeli plane zooming near the Burj Khaleefa tower.
  • In Yedioth, Shimrit Meir claims that this is the first time the “the Arab side” is as excited as the Israelis about the deal. “In TV studios in Abu Dhabi they hosted celebratory broadcasts of the El Al flight landing. ‘Peace we have waited for along time,’ said one senior analyst. ‘This is peace in the light of day, not in the dark,’ said his counterpart. That’s perhaps the main difference here, even more than than the Arab concession on Israel giving up land or progress with the Palestinians. The open normalization is the essence of the matter. … the citizens of both states writing with the help of Google Translate and after  corona being able to meet each other at the Burj Khaleefa or the Old City of Jerusalem.”
  • Giving a bit more of a nuanced view, NPR’s Daniel Estrin reports that “Getting the view from Emiratis is a little bit tricky on this topic. There is a sense that if Emiratis here object to the deal, they would not say so publicly or even on social media. I have spoken to Emiratis who are thrilled about the deal. And this evening we met Emirati officials for a very festive dinner. We spoke at length about it, but they asked us not to repeat what they said. The US embassy even told us not to name who those officials are, that they could get in trouble with their country if we did so. But I will tell you one analyst I spoke to, Bader Al-Saif from the Carnegie Middle East Center – he told me that Emiratis see this as a geopolitical national interest to get the goodwill of the US and also to further position themselves as a regional leader in the Middle East.”

5. Sorry to burj your bubble: In Israel, where there is a free press, not everybody is as gung-ho about the deal being the bee’s knees.

  • In Haaretz, Yossi Melman notes that several major issues remain, from the technical to the far-reaching, as the two sides move toward a signing ceremony (which he says Bin Zayed is not likely to attend.)
  • “The biggest nut to crack somehow before the ceremony takes place is the Palestinian issue. The Palestinian Authority is now foolishly boycotting the Emirates (recalling yet again Abba Eban’s famous dictum that the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity). But even so, it has played an important role here. The prime minister and the right are hoping that peace agreements between Israel and Arab states will make it unnecessary to deal directly with the Palestinians, but that is not so,” he writes.
  • Channel 12’s Amnon Abramovitch says that the normalization deal “excites only the political elites and the media, including the undersigned of course, but not the public. To make peace with a country we were never at war with is like reporting on some schmo who died that nobody ever knew was alive.”
  • And of course there is the pesky F-35 deal. Foreign Policy quotes a Congressional staffer saying that Abu Dhabi is expecting to get the US planes now, and lickety-split: “I don’t see how the UAE would have agreed [to the deal] if it wasn’t happening in three to four months. They read the tea leaves, and they know things will change for them in the next administration.”
  • Perhaps former negotiator Aaron David Miller sums it up best in a piece for USA Today: “Will all this hoopla make a difference in an election only 60 days away? Probably not. But [as] my grandmother used to say about her chicken soup — it couldn’t hurt.”
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