The importance of Israel, UAE, Bahrain deals ceremony - analysis

The ceremony – and Netanyahu’s attendance – is not going to move the needle regarding his standing in Israel, but sends a message to Palestinians, the region, and the world.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sarah take off for the signing ceremony of the peace agreement in Washington (photo credit: AVI OHAYON/GPO/FLASH90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sarah take off for the signing ceremony of the peace agreement in Washington
(photo credit: AVI OHAYON/GPO/FLASH90)
Life is full of ceremonies: Birthdays, bar or bat mitzvahs, graduations, weddings and anniversaries. They mark, and draw attention, to the end of one era, and the beginning of another.
And just as they are important in one’s personal life, they are important in the life of a nation. They help build unity, solidarity, national pride.
Ceremonies – especially signing ceremonies – are also important in diplomacy. Here, too, they mark the end of one era and the beginning of another. But they also serve other purposes – they bring public attention to events and trends, they send messages to various audiences, they build enthusiasm, and they create a historical record of events.
This is why the ceremony at the White House on Tuesday, where representatives of Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain will sign normalization accords, is so important. Even today, even just three days before Israel faces a three-week coronavirus lockdown, even just 50 days before the US election.
As former US ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro, no fan of US President Donald Trump, and someone whose former boss, Barack Obama, was often at odds with Prime Minister Netanyahu, tweeted on Saturday: “Normalization between Israel and Arab states is a good thing, full stop.”
It’s a good thing when there is a pandemic swirling around the world, and it’s a good thing when there isn’t a pandemic swirling around the world. And it deserves to be celebrated in a ceremony.
But, say those pouring cold water on Tuesday’s ceremony, isn’t Trump using the ceremony for his own political purposes on the eve of the elections? Sure he is. But that does not diminish from the importance of the agreements – and the way they will realign the Middle East. And that is something worth celebrating, even if you don’t like Trump.
And, it should be recalled, these accords did come about under Trump’s watch, and were nurtured by his team.
For years, pundits and experts at think tanks said something like this could never be done, at least not until there was an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. Former State Department officials scoffed at Jared Kushner for even trying – arguing that if much weightier diplomats than him could not bring something like this to fruition, how could an upstart without any diplomatic experience have the audacity to even try. Yet here we are.
And, like Trump, is not Netanyahu going to try and use this ceremony for his own political purposes, to deflect attention from his government’s failures in dealing with the coronavirus? Sure he is. But that, too, does not detract from the importance of the agreements, and the fact that having normal relations with the wider Arab world is something Israelis have dreamed about for decades, and which is very good for the Jewish state.  Now that it is here, doesn’t it deserve to be celebrated for one afternoon, even amid the coronavirus, and even if it means the prime minister will be out of the country for 60 hours?
In truth, Netanyahu’s presence at the ceremony in Washington will likely have little impact on his political fortunes at home. It might have made a difference had there been any Israelis left who have not already made up their minds about him. The impact of this type of event on the nation’s perception of its leader would be great if the leader was largely a blank slate whom people were still trying figure out.
But that is definitely not the case. Half the country loves Netanyahu, and the other half loathes him.
The loathers are going to loath Netanyahu and accuse him of being detached even if he had skipped this ceremony in Washington and decided instead to spend all of Monday and Tuesday hosting zoom calls with small business owners on the verge of bankruptcy.
And the lovers are going to love him even were he to remain in Washington until the end of Rosh Hashanah, saying that he and his family deserve some rest and relaxation.
In other words, this ceremony – and Netanyahu’s attendance – is not going to move the needle regarding his standing in Israel.
But where the ceremony does have significance is in the message it sends the Palestinians, the region, and the world.
It tells the Palestinians that the jig is up, that their strategy of trying to pressure Israel by isolating it, by casting it as an international leper, has failed. Yes, they have convinced Roger Waters, Ilhan Omar and some members of the Irish parliament. But they haven’t convinced the UAE’s Mohammed bin Zayed or Bahrain’s King Hamad. This ceremony makes that clear to all.
The event sends a message to the Iranians and the Turks – in a very public way – that their designs for regional hegemony will be met by a firm wall of pragmatic Mideast states who want stability. A very public ceremony on the White House lawn also tells other Arab and Muslim states that, yes, ties with Israel are acceptable.
And the ceremony sends an important message to the world – long locked into the idea that peace will come to the region only if the Palestinians get everything they ask for – that this need not be the case, and that significant progress can be made even if the Palestinians refuse to show any flexibility.
The agreements to be signed Tuesday are proof that different results are possible if different methods are tried. And that is a message worth broadcasting by way of an auspicious ceremony at the White House – even in the age of coronavirus.


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