With this accord, I thee normalize: What the press is saying on September 15
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With this accord, I thee normalize: What the press is saying on September 15

A White House wedding with the UAE and Bahrain is hailed as historic, but there is plenty putting a damper on the party, like Israel’s raging virus problem and looming lockdown

The flags of the US, the United Arab Emirates, Israel and Bahrain seen on the side of a road in Netanya, September 14, 2020. (Flash90)
The flags of the US, the United Arab Emirates, Israel and Bahrain seen on the side of a road in Netanya, September 14, 2020. (Flash90)

1. The Gulf foursome readies to hit the links: All aboard the peace train. Next stop Washington, DC. Israel is gearing up to mark the historic signing of a historic peace accord with historic UAE and excitement in Israel is … well … it’s in the news.

  • While some of the sheen of the original announcement of the UAE deal has worn off since it was announced a month ago, thanks to F-35 deals, father time and more (and Bahrain’s agreement to establish ties is regarded as little more than a cherry on top), the planned White House signing ceremony still merits widespread coverage Tuesday morning.
  • The front page of Yedioth runs a simple three-word headline, “Peace” written in Hebrew, Arabic and English.
  • Israel Hayom meanwhile, decides to mark the event with a Yom Kippur pun, “Hatima Tovah,” which literally translates to “good signing,” and is a traditional New Year’s greeting (as in, “May you be sealed in the Book of Life.”)
  • It’s okay to celebrate, writes Ari Shavit in Yedioth. “You can lift your head up from the coronavirus, from politics and shame and see how history is starting to flow in a new, secure channel. The Israeli-Arab conflict starts to end today. Peace.”
  • Kan’s Roi Kais points out that papers in the Emirates are also pumped. Al-Ittihad, for instance, has Israel, UAE and US flags, and pictures of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump, calling it a “historic day.”
  • The station reports that Netanyahu will use the White House stage to deliver a “message of peace” in the region and that the agreement will be termed a peace treaty (though it is not technically ending a state of war).
  • You can read a rundown of all the planned goings-on here.
  • Even Haaretz’s lead editorial calls the signing ceremony “an extremely important event in the history of the Israeli-Arab conflict.”
  • “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is entitled to reap the credit for this breakthrough, and Israel owes US President Donald Trump its thanks for his efforts and the pressure he exerted, without which this ceremony wouldn’t be taking place. These agreements will serve the interests of both Israel and the Arab signatories for many years to come, long after Netanyahu and Trump have left office,” it reads.
  • In Israel Hayom, publisher and Donald Trump devotee Miriam Adelson writes that “today will be glorious, historic – a day of high rhetoric, large personalities and splashy headlines.” She means it in a good way.
  • While Adelson gushes over the men (yes, all men) behind the scenes that made the deal happen, Avraham Ben Tzvi devotes his column in the same paper to praise for Trump, whom he credits with “chang[ing] the face of the Middle East.” He means it in a good way.
  • “Today’s summit in Washington is one of considerable importance. Not necessarily because of the precise content of the Abraham Accords slated to be signed there, but mostly in the context of how they might influence the image of President Trump as a decisive, daring, and consistent leader who is able to take full advantage of an opportunity presented to him to create a major change in the character of the Middle East and the accepted rules of the game there,” he writes.

2. Secret treaty: It would be hard for Ben Zvi to actually judge what’s in the agreement, because it is still being kept secret as of this writing.

  • An official with Netanyahu’s entourage tells ToI that it’s completely standard for an agreement to be kept secret before it’s actually voted on by the government or Knesset.
  • But former Oslo Accords negotiator Gilad Sher tells Army Radio, “It would have been correct to involve at least the cabinet, if not the whole government, on the details of the agreement before leaving for Washington.”
  • Minister Gila Gamliel tells Kan that it would not have mattered. “What’s the difference what’s written in the agreement. I trust the prime minister.”
  • Channel 13 notes that the agreements will be released to the public after they are signed.
  • But Haaretz notes that whatever is released will not really be the accord, with more changes and additions expected later. The paper’s Noa Landau writes that the secrecy has led to rumors and fears on the right and left of what the deal may contain, even though they appear to be unfounded.
  • “Repeatedly, even under seemingly favorable circumstances such as the signing of peace agreements with Arab states which up to now only had unofficial relations with Israel, Netanyahu insists on hamstringing his own efforts through a policy of concealment, which by now has become routine for him,” she notes.
  • On Twitter, reporter Noga Tarnopolsky points out that a propaganda video put out by Netanyahu to ballyhoo the agreements apparently had him holding blank pieces of paper and claiming that they were the treaties, a conclusion she comes to after giving the video the Zapruder treatment.
  • Kan’s Gili Cohen tweets that she has seen photos proving that the pages were not blank, noting that in one outtake, he waved the papers toward the camera and words could be seen.
  • Blank or not, Army Radio has a little morsel, reporting that the deal will include some sort of mention of the Palestinians, but does not have much more information.

3. Will more ties untangle the Palestinian knot: The Palestinians are in fact front and center in Israeli coverage of the accords, which critics say essentially leaves them behind.

  • “Using what we managed to achieve, we encourage the Palestinians to reach out to the Israelis and the US authorities and to rethink what might be possible,” UAE Assistant Minister for Cultural and Public Diplomacy Omar Saif Ghobash tells ToI’s Jacob Magid. “While we discovered that we have new interests, that doesn’t mean that we give up on our traditional loyalties.”
  • “We are not going to negotiate on their behalf, but we are saying that there is space [to move forward], and we believe that we have created that space [with this agreement],” he adds.
  • In Haaretz, Ephraim Sneh, who became the first minister to visit the UAE when he took a clandestine trip in 2001, writes that while the Gulf leaders are on board with Israel, the people are not: “Anger at Israel is still prevalent although muted; what’s happening in the territories strongly influences these feelings.”
  • “The treaty with the Emirates is likely to turn into a piece of paper, into archival photos, if there is no diplomatic continuation. And that must revolve around the fraught issue of the future of the Land of Israel, Israel’s final border and its relationship with the Palestinian people,” he writes.
  • Channel 12’s Or Ravid writes on Twitter that overnight activists took down UAE and Bahrain flags that had been strung up in Netanya to celebrate the deal, and replaced them with “flags of those with whom peace is more important to the future and security of Israel and the future of the region — the Palestinians.”
  • In Israel Hayom, Amnon Lord claims that the agreements with the Gulf states will help the Palestinians by making them realize that they should just give up.
  • “Anyone who really ever wants peace with the Palestinians should also be pleased. Because that will happen only when the Palestinian leaders recognize that their tactics have failed. Peace will arrive when the Palestinians acknowledge the limits of their identity, as well as the legitimacy of the Jewish state,” he writes. “The peace deal with the Emirates brings us closer to the Palestinians recognizing that.”
  • And in Yedioth, Ben-Dror Yemini writes that “the Palestinians are insisting on going backwards. The Arab world is taking hesitant steps forward.”

4. The ties that blind: The press also does not shy away from raining on Netanyahu’s parade, noting all the domestic woes he left behind to exult in his peace-making abilities on the South Lawn.

  • “The coronavirus lockdown and rising infection rates, the economic crisis and Netanyahu’s legal cases have made it so many Israelis are viewing with apathy what is happening at the White House,” writes Barak Ravid in Walla. “Netanyahu said that the agreements will bring billions in investments and help for the economy. He is correct. But the average Israeli dealing with existential health and economic worries will have a hard time seeing that. What are Dubai’s luxury hotels to someone who can’t make it to the next paycheck.”
  • Haaretz’s Aluf Benn criticizes those criticizing the agreement, but at the same time recognizes that what’s happening is Trump’s show, not Netanyahu’s.
  • “Netanyahu may be exaggerating the enormity of the historic achievement, even if his motives are understandable, but not (only) because he is a fabulist and a PR hack, but mostly because this strategic move exposed Israel’s complete dependency on the United States,” writes Benn. “It was not born because of a far-reaching strategic vision in the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, but because of the desire of the present administration in Washington to sell warplanes to the UAE, and enjoy a bit of diplomatic prestige before the presidential election.”
  • “Today we’ll see Netanyahu the statesman, at home at the White House, embracing the world,” writes Yedioth’s Nahum Barnea. “Yesterday and tomorrow we see Netanyahu the politician, leading Israel toward a colossal failure in the war on the coronavirus.”

5. Death of 5,000 cuts: The words “colossal failure” were written on Monday, before Health Ministry figures Tuesday morning showed Israel close to 5,000 new coronavirus cases in a single day, only days after hitting 4,000 for the first time.

  • The crisis is large enough that it almost completely overshadows the White House signing ceremony Tuesday morning. On Channel 12 news’s homepage, the only mention of any normalization comes via a story about the owner of the Beitar Jerusalem soccer team shopping for investors in the Gulf.
  • “We want to stop gatherings. We want to stem the infection chain, but we can never do that with 5,000 sick a day,” Health Ministry head Chezy Levy tells Kan.
  • He adds that it’s unlikely schools will be able to close again once Israel emerges from this lockdown.
  • But with ministers and others pushing for parts of the lockdown to be eased, there are questions about its effectiveness.
  • Prof. Gabi Barbash, a former head of the ministry, tells Army Radio, “If you are going to make a decision to go into a lockdown, you need to do it as it needs to be done. Don’t ease up on anything, and we won’t find ourselves after the lockdown with nothing to show for it.”
  • A letter from coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu to Health Minister Yuli Edelstein and Education Minister Yoav Gallant, criticizing the government for not listening to his recommendation and urging that schools not wait until Friday to shutter, gets wide attention.
  • Ynet’s Adir Yanko writes that the note appears to be unprecedented, at least for Gamzu. “It seems he’s been worn out by this affair and it has largely broken him,” he tweets.

6. Shop till you drop: Meanwhile, others are still looking to find a way to get around the lockdown.

  • Channel 12 reports that Tourism Minister Asaf Zamir is pushing for special exemptions to help vacation cottage owners, as well as allowing Eilat a get-out-of-lockdown-free card.
  • The channel notes that after the Mahane Yehuda outdoor market in Jerusalem won permission to remain open, Tel Aviv’s Carmel Market is pushing for the same. “What’s the difference between markets? Are we a special market,” the head of Carmel’s sellers’ association says.
  • Haaretz reports on special rules for prayer gatherings, under the headline “Israel’s Coronavirus Lockdown Rules Don’t Apply to Many Holiday Worshippers.”
  • Channel 13 quotes anti-lockdown maverick MK Yifat Shasha Biton telling hospital administrators that “hospital heads called me one after the other yesterday and asked — stop the lockdown. A lockdown will do incredible damage to public health, the health system has been starved out for years.”
  • In a column for Channel 12, though, the head of Wolfson Hospital says a lockdown is a good idea, kinda. Dr. Einat Angel thus pens the rarest of all creatures in the Israeli press, a piece in which the author admits that there are two sides to a story and they may not have all the answers.
  • “If there is no ability to enforce, then the people won’t enforce themselves, and there will be overcrowding in the hospital. I have to admit that as the director of Wolfson Hospital, which is committed to providing everyone who comes in the best care possible, and from this point of view alone, a general lockdown is preferable. But I can’t not see what it does to Israeli society, to people’s mental health, to the economic threat faced by millions, that our children are losing the stability of routine and social exposure that is so important,” she writes. “And so I ask myself all the time, is a lockdown the only answer? Some sort of restart for all of us? This time I choose not to answer.”
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