‘Peace for Peace,” Bibi repeated several times amid his brief remarks to the nation on Thursday evening.
Celebrating the announcement of the “full normalization” of relations between the United Arab Emirates and Israel two hours earlier by President Donald Trump on Twitter, Netanyahu was downright giddy. “Together, we have a fantastic future,” he enthused, even lapsing from his customarily formal and polished delivery and laying on a little slang.
Benjamin Netanyahu, by any measure, is an extraordinarily accomplished, brilliant, polished, and unpredictable man. So many times, he has been at the brink of political destruction, and each resurrection is more astonishing than the last.
On Thursday morning, Netanyahu woke to a nation that was slaughtering him in the polls and beyond exasperated with his mismanagement of the Coronavirus crisis. The economic devastation in Israel is widespread and, likely, in the early days yet. His government was in danger of immediate collapse.
There’s no doubt that the truly historic agreement announced late Thursday afternoon, Israel time, had been in the works for some time, but I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that its announcement may have been pushed ahead a touch by the sharp-edged reality of Israeli politics.
It was important to all involved that it be announced and implemented on Netanyahu’s watch. For all its unpredictability, the Middle East craves and needs stability. A ground-breaking agreement and moment like this would be best served with the principals in power.
And now, the chances of Netanyahu becoming much more popular in Israel, overnight, are very real.
Netanyahu told Israelis that not only is the UAE one of the wealthiest, most progressive countries in the region, but the mutual interest in collaborating on a wide range of matters is robust and set to begin within days. In fact, he boasted, one of the first joint UAE-Israeli projects they will be the development of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Unquestionably, the vast financial resources of the UAE represent unprecedented investment stimulation for Israel and, as Bibi quite rightly put it, herald a new era for the region.
Israel’s triumph, of course, is a sharp rebuke of the Palestinian leadership and tired, absolutist approach to any peace or “two-state” talks. Ramallah was quick to issue venomous harangues highlighting Emirati treachery and treason, withdrawing their diplomatic representation to the Gulf state.
They would be well-advised to heed then-Ambassador Nikki Haley’s early warning in the UN: “There’s a new sheriff in town.” Like it or not, Mahmoud Abbas, you do not control the rules of engagement between the Arab nations and Israel. As Bibi openly gloated with reporters on Thursday night: “I proved to you. It can be done.” He was referring, of course, to the Israeli media’s Book of Truths, which has asserted, until today, that Israel must choose between West Bank annexation or peace with the Palestinians and Arab countries.
Not so, baited Bibi. He reminded reporters, and the nation, that in return for peace and normalization, Israel gave up nothing. It is an agreement between equals. “Peace for Peace.”
Also tight-lipped at press time is the EU, typically among the first to criticize Israel, no matter the initiative. Well, it seems they’re in a bind. Because they certainly do not wish to antagonize the wealthy, powerful Emiratis, who are now perceived as the most forward-looking, courageous, and progressive of Arab nations.
Recognized by all parties as having been instrumental in negotiating this breakthrough moment, Jared Kushner hinted Thursday evening that another regional country might soon follow the UAE’s lead. And, unlike the rather frosty peace between Israel and Egypt and Jordan, the UAE arrangement and, presumably, the next one, is predicated on extensive economic and technological synergies and growth.
This morning, the Opposition members in the Knesset awoke, likely feeling a spring in their step, given their meteoric spike in the polls and Bibi’s miserable fortunes. Tonight, they will likely be nursing pounding headaches. As does the nation, Bibi’s political enemies rejoice in this breakthrough moment. And, as do we all, because we’re Jewish and can’t help ourselves, they probably also are mulling where when and how it can all go sideways.
The first reporter to ask a question tonight began in an unusually deferential tone, to which the prime minister is not accustomed, saying: “Blessings, prime minister.” And he proceeded to commend this momentous achievement.
Until Bibi lightened the moment and politesse by asking, with cheek: “But…?”
Hopefully, there will be few “buts” in the coming months and years.
If all goes according to plan, embassies will be established in Tel Aviv and Dubai imminently, and delegations will begin the detailed work of scoping out trade, investment, science, and technological collaboration.
And Bibi will likely survive his most recent poll scare, rebound and continue to confound his nemeses.
Israel is braced for the best and always prepared for anything.