To say that Israel is reeling today is a cosmic understatement.
All of Israel–left, right, center–was dealt a knockout blow by the indefatigable Netanyahu on Thursday when the Oval Office announced on Thursday the agreement between Israel and the UAE to immediately formalize “full normalization” of diplomatic, economic and all relations.
The revelation was so surreal, in fact, that in this hopelessly gossipy nation, where everything leaks, nothing did. It was the equivalent of an atomic bomb. In terms of sheer force, not devastation. A good atomic bomb.
For the Emiratis to engage openly, fully, and proudly has left this nation stunned. In the best way. It was totally unexpected.
Perhaps it was best expressed in a tweet by former MK Einat Wilf, who wrote: “Israeli Jews are keenly aware of their minority status in an Arab and Islamic region and so yearn for peace with the Arab and Islamic world. The #UAE showed today yet again that when the Arab world comes to us with offers of genuine peace, they always find in us willing partners.”
Mired in an evergreen domestic political morass, PM Netanyahu, “the magician,” has clearly worked for years to pull off the impossible, as he was sliced and diced six ways to Sunday by local scandal and subterfuge.
Peace, in the vernacular. With one of the most important, progressive, influential Middle Eastern countries, the UAE.
Israeli media reports that this agreement has been brokered by Jared Kushner, Mossad Chief Yossi Cohen, and others. But foremost, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, ruler of the UAE, has boldly led the Middle East into what will not just re-align the region’s geopolitics, but quite likely those of the world. And, in a flash, the notoriously aggressive Israeli media was rocked back on its heels, collective mouths agape, at the unsurpassed brilliance of Bibi.
If Shakespeare were alive, he would have to reinvent his canon, which has become the literary foundation of Western story-telling. With Bibi, there simply is no Act V–no denouement. We are stuck in Act III, where the hero is unstoppable. Where his brilliance and unsurpassed triumphs continue, mere human frailties notwithstanding.
This moment is no less astonishing than the breakthrough peace treaty with Egypt in 1979, for which President Anwar Sadat paid with his life. Every Israeli remembers that time, when President Sadat spoke to Israel–and the world–from the Knesset dais. They remember it with total clarity, as they will do with this momentous occasion.
There are dissenters, to be sure, but they are marginal and increasingly irrelevant. Hardline leadership of Jewish West Bank settlements (not all) and certain hard-right political figures are decrying Bibi’s “treason.” In June, they were beyond pumped by his bellicose calls for the full annexation of the West Bank. The global community responded and bellowed in protest.
But the UAE led the hollering pack with muted sophistication and brilliance. Bibi has been known to say that while everyone else plays checkers, he’s busy at the chessboard. And so, it seems, is Sheikh MBZ.
His vision, pragmatism, and courage have landed the defining move in the best way. Check. Mate.
As Bibi’s push for annexation was building momentum in Israel in May and June, the UAE Ambassador to the U.S., Yousef al Otaiba, was out front in a very public way, urging Netanyahu to reconsider.
On Thursday night, Israeli expat and influencer, Haim Saban, spoke to Yonit Levy, an anchor on Israel’s most-watched television station. Saban recounted his conversation with al Oteiba in the midst of the annexation hubbub. As he tells it, al Oteiba intended to publish an op-ed in the Washington Post about the certain calamity that annexation would bring. He warned that it would set back all progress between Israel and its Arab neighbours, irreversibly and incalculably.
Saban said that he suggested to al Oteiba that he reconsider and publish his views in the Israeli press, in Hebrew, and speak directly to the Israeli people.
He did just that. On Friday, June 12, in a stunning op-ed that ran in the largest circulation Israeli newspaper, Yediot Ahronot.
It was, then and in retrospect, a game-changer, to put it mildly. Set aside any thoughts of annexation, he wrote, and look to a future with the possibility of “normal” relations with your Arab neighbors.
It seemed impossible. A pipe dream.
And yet, here we are.
Annexation is not happening. But Bibi, never one to raise the white flag, has been adamant with the Israeli media that annexation is not dead, just deferred. It may never happen. It may. But, he told the nation on Thursday night, that any future annexation of West Bank territory will occur only in a manner consistent with the terms set out in the Trump Peace Plan.
Israeli pundits are in collective shock. Across the board, they have celebrated Bibi’s truly historic achievement. And any significant domestic challenges he faced yesterday are now pulverized. The reign of King Bibi is quite secure.
There is, however, an intransigent fringe in Israel that is enraged. They accuse Bibi of treason, as did so many with Prime Ministers Begin, Rabin, and Sharon.
Palestinian leadership, not surprisingly, is apoplectic. Hopefully, they will process this shift and understand that their “zero-sum,” absolutist approach to negotiations with Israel will only yield bitterness and defeat, as it has done until now.
May this extraordinary moment truly herald a brighter future for all. War and hatred do no good for anyone.
May peace be upon us all.