The real reason Netanyahu's trip to the UAE was canceled - analysis

The Emiratis were always reluctant to have Israel's prime minister appear ahead of the March 23 election.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the opening ceremony for the Sha’ar Hagai Memorial on the road to Jerusalem on November 29. (photo credit: ALEX KOLOMOISKY/POOL/VIA REUTERS)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the opening ceremony for the Sha’ar Hagai Memorial on the road to Jerusalem on November 29.
 Thursday’s saga over whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would or would not fly to the UAE for a meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed (MBZ) revealed two things to the Israeli public: Israel’s ties with Jordan are on the rocks, and MBZ has no intention of playing the role of former US president Donald Trump for Netanyahu before the coming election.
First about Jordan.
It is not every day that the Prime Minister’s Office will admit a diplomatic incident with the Hashemite Kingdom. Generally when issues arise with the Jordanians – and they do arise – there is a concerted effort to sweep them under the rug, play them down, not admit to them in public.
But that is precisely what the Prime Minister’s Office did on Thursday, releasing a statement saying that Netanyahu’s visit to the UAE was postponed due to difficulties in coordinating his flight with the Jordanian authorities.
“These difficulties apparently stemmed from the cancellation of the Jordanian Crown Prince’s visit to the Temple Mount due to a disagreement over security procedures at the site,” the statement continued, referring to an incident the previous day when Israel refused entrance to Crown Prince Hussein to pray at Al-Aqsa Mosque because the prince’s security detail was too large and heavily armed.
With Israel now 11 days away from Election Day, Defense Minister and Blue and White head Benny Gantz – who reportedly met with Jordan’s King Abdullah last month – saw a perfect opportunity to make some political hay.
Against the background of Netanyahu election spots claiming that he is the only one who can bring peace with additional Arab states, Gantz said that he has essentially destroyed relations with Jordan.
“Netanyahu’s conduct in recent years has done significant damage to our relations with Jordan, causing Israel to lose considerable defensive, diplomatic and economic assets,” Gantz said in a statement.
He had said just the night before that if Netanyahu had only managed the relations with Jordan better, Abdullah would not have opted out of annexes from the 1994 peace treaty and demand Israel return Naharayim and Tzofar to Jordan.
In other words, Gantz placed all responsibility for the poor relations between Israel and Jordan now on Netanyahu’s shoulders, giving Abdullah a free pass. And though Netanyahu may have contributed his share to the worsening of ties – publicly welcoming to his office in 2017 an Israeli security guard who killed a Jordanian assailant and a bystander at the embassy compound that year – the Jordanian king also has much to answer for.
For instance, it is Abdullah who has reportedly refused to take calls from the prime minister for four years now; it is Abdullah who insisted on the return of Naharayim and Tzofar; and it is Abdullah who has refused US requests to extradite Ahlaim Tamami, one of the masterminds of the Sbarro Restaurant suicide bombing in Jerusalem in 2001 that killed 15, including two American citizens, and wounded 122.
Most of all, it is Abdullah who has done next to nothing during his more than two decades on the throne to promote people-to-people ties with Israel. Sure, he wants Israeli security, intelligence and water assistance; but he does nothing when Jordanian labor unions call for a boycott of Israel, and paint a picture of an Israeli flag on the floor of their headquarters in Amman to be used as a mat.
The 1994 Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty never filtered down to the people of Jordan, and Abdullah bears much of the responsibility for that.
The accords with the UAE and Bahrain signed in September show what a warm peace can look like if the leaders promote it among their people. Abdullah did nothing of the kind.
Thursday’s incident demonstrated just how bad the Israeli-Jordanian bilateral relations have become. But it definitely is not – as Gantz would have the country believe – primarily Netanyahu’s fault.
Tellingly, the announcement of the cancellation of Netanyahu’s trip because of an inability to receive permission from the Jordanians to fly over their airspace came a few hours after reports already emerged that the trip would be canceled because Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, was hospitalized with appendicitis.
Something seemed odd about that story, however: why would Netanyahu cancel such a significant diplomatic trip that would only take him away from his wife’s side for a number of hours in the afternoon? It seemed almost as if someone was looking for a reason to call off the visit, already postponed three times in the past.
According to Axios’ Barak Ravid, Netanyahu raised the possibility of the visit in a call with the crown prince 10 days ago, but the Emiratis were reluctant because of concern that it would appear as interference in the Israeli election. According to this report, the Emiratis preferred that the visit take place after the election, but were pressed by Mossad chief Yossi Cohen to hold it now.
In a statement in the afternoon announcing the postponement, the Prime Minister’s Office said Netanyahu and MBZ “agreed to coordinate on another date” for the visit.
No date was given, however, a sign that the Emiratis have no intention of giving Netanyahu a gift before the March 23 election.
During the last three election campaigns, Netanyahu was showered with pre-election gifts from Trump as well as from Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Prior to the April 2019 vote, the prime minister visited both Washington and Moscow, winning US recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan from Trump, and a return of the remains of missing IDF St.-Sgt. Zachary Baumel from Putin.
And prior to last year’s election, he again visited Washington and Moscow just weeks before the voting, getting the Deal of the Century from Trump and a pardon for Naama Issachar from Moscow.
A visit now with MBZ – the first ever public visit by an Israeli prime minister to the Gulf state – would be no less a diplomatic coup, and would burnish claims Netanyahu has made in recent days in his election spots of a special relationship with regional leaders, including some with whom Israel does not even have formal relations.
But by not immediately scheduling a new day for a visit from Netanyahu, the Emiratis signaled they were not interested now in getting into the thick of Israeli politics.