It was the living embodiment of a cable news split-screen, as we glanced at the headlines popping up on our phones with trepidation, while listening to the officials on the White House’s balcony.
The sun shone brightly on the White House’s South Lawn, where hundreds gathered to witness history, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signed agreements with United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed and Bahrain Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Alzayani, the third and fourth ever between Israel and Arab states, witnessed by US President Donald Trump.
Politicians, rabbis and Jewish community leaders chatted, while the politicians met in the Oval Office.
The president and his wife Melania Trump greeted Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, outside the West Wing. None of the four wore a mask, but they didn’t shake hands.
Inside the Oval Office, Netanyahu looked overjoyed to be there with Trump, who handed him a “key to the White House” and called him a “great leader.”
The video went viral immediately after the leaders of Serbia and Kosovo signed their agreements with the US in the Oval Office last week.
US President Donald Trump says: “Serbia is committed to opening a commercial office in Jerusalem this month and moving its embassy in July. That’s fantastic! That’s a very big thing – we appreciate it very much.”
Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić starts paging through the agreement on the table before him, looks off to his side, and then pushes his hair to the side, in what appears to be an expression of discomfort.Many interpreted that reaction to mean that Vučić didn’t know he was supposed to be moving the embassy to Jerusalem and had been blindsided by Trump.
Vučić’s reaction was actually to the July date Trump mentioned for the embassy opening, which seemed far off, considering that Serbia plans to open its trade office this month.
Sources close to Vučić pointed out on Thursday that the Serbian president had already announced at the AIPAC Policy Conference in March that his country would open a trade office in Jerusalem, and the intention had been to take a first step toward opening an embassy in Israel’s capital.
Israel’s recognition of Kosovo on Friday came as somewhat of a surprise, after over a decade of ignoring overtures from Pristina.
When Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia in 2008, Jerusalem declined to follow the lead of many of its allies, including the US, in recognizing it. Israel was among other countries involved in territorial disputes, such as Spain, Cyprus and Georgia, in declining to recognize the fledgling Balkan state.
Kosovo offered to open an embassy in Jerusalem in exchange for recognition in 2018, but Israel’s official position was that it did not want to risk its strong relationship with Serbia – though plenty of countries that recognize Kosovo still have good ties with Belgrade.
The bigger reason why Israel was wary of ties with Kosovo was because of a concern over setting a precedent for the Palestinians.
Two major books envisioning a better future for Israel were published in 1993: The New Middle East, by Shimon Peres, foreign minister at the time, and A Place Among the Nations, by then-opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu.
Both saw a future in which Israel had relations with many more of the world’s nations than it had at the time, just as the Oslo peace process began, but they had a core disagreement on how they thought this would happen.
Peres wrote his book after the high of the Oslo Accords, which he believed would reshape the region for better, while Netanyahu named his chapter on the accords “Trojan Horse,” believing that it was a danger to Israel.
With normalization between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, kosher food is likely to be more in demand in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and beyond than ever before. Now, it will be certified by the Orthodox Union.
Rabbi Yissachar Krakowski, CEO of OU Kosher in Israel, was in the UAE this week to ensure a high level of kashrut for the local caterer, Elli’s Kosher Kitchen, which prepared meals for the observant Jewish members of the Israeli and American delegations.
The Israeli media delegation to the United Arab Emirates had a packed schedule for its less than 24 hours in Abu Dhabi – but not with the kinds of events one may expect from covering a government delegation for normalization talks.
Our hosts designed our visit to send a very specific message to the Israeli public about the kind of peace it wants with Israel. While we in Israel have been very fixated on F-35 jets and working together against Iran, the Emiratis wanted to relay a message of tolerance and of a connection between peoples.
ABU DHABI – Journalists are a cynical bunch, and when we waited on the tarmac in the sweltering Israeli summer heat for the senior members of the US-Israel delegation to Abu Dhabi to arrive, a couple of them pointed out that just about every trip we cover for our work is called historic.
But I was still very excited, I admit. So much so, that I did something almost embarrassingly earnest.
Once we were on the plane, I settled into a seat bearing my name. We started taxiing, with pilot Tal Becker announced flight “nisa saba wachad” (971 in Arabic) to Abu Dhabi – and, of course, that this was a historic occasion, the first El Al flight to fly over Saudi Arabia and to land in the United Arab Emirates. When he wished us all “salam, shalom, peace,” it sparked something in me.
I queued up a song on my phone: “Salam” by the Israeli band Sheva, a 1997 hit and perennial favorite of Zionist schools and summer camps around the world, whose title means “peace” in Arabic.
“Peace will come to us and to the whole world,” I bobbed my head as Mosh Ben-Ari sang. “Salam, to us and the whole world.”
From the Khartoum Resolution’s “three noes” – no peace, no recognition and no negotiations – to the 2002 Arab Peace Plan, most Arab states said they didn’t want anything to do with Israel until the Palestinians’ problems are solved to their satisfaction.
This is the source of the “linkage theory,” the argument that if Israeli-Palestinian peace is achieved, all the Middle East’s other conflicts will end, with the subtext being that Israel is somehow at fault for all of the region’s problems. If only Israel would once again give up a huge chunk of land – after successfully making peace in that way with Egypt and unsuccessfully with the Palestinians in Gaza – then there would be peace in the Middle East and we could all sing “Kumbaya.”Much of the foreign policy establishment went along with this theory as though it made sense. Year after year, Palestinian recalcitrance was bolstered by Western money pouring into their institutions with little to no demands on them, the perennial victims, along with warnings that Israel was isolating itself. Israel continues to be a monthly item on the UN Security Council’s agenda, even in relatively calm times, as though the conflict with the Palestinians were the most important problem in the world.
But over the decades, plenty of issues have cropped up in the region that have almost nothing to do with Israel.
The US set off on a risky diplomatic gambit last Thursday, triggering “snapback sanctions” on Iran, a week after losing a UN Security Council vote to renew the 2007 arms embargo on the Islamic Republic.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo cited “incontestable” evidence that Tehran has violated the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), as the 2015 nuclear deal between world powers and Iran is known. Those include enriching uranium beyond the 3.67% limit listed in the agreement, accumulating a stockpile of over 300 kg. of low-enriched uranium and more heavy water than permitted and restarting enrichment at the Fordow plant. Plus, Iran has blocked International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors from visiting suspected nuclear sites.
The JCPOA agreement allows for sanctions that would be alleviated in accordance with a number of “sunset” clauses to be reinstated if there is “significant non-performance of commitments” by Iran.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu commended the US for the move, calling it “the right decision” to counter the “fatal flaw” in the JCPOA, “the so-called sunset clauses. I urged the P5+1 not to agree to a framework which automatically lifts the restrictions on Iran and the sanctions on the regime’s import and export of armaments, its missile program and its nuclear activities.
The controversy over the possibility that the United Arab Emirates could purchase F-35 jets has continued despite a very firm denial by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. And that’s because, well, Netanyahu doesn’t really have the final say here.
Following reports that such arms purchases will be part of the peace deal between the UAE and Israel, the Prime Minister’s Office released an unusually detailed statement, including a timeline of the multiple times that Netanyahu and Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer raised their objections to the F-35 being sold to any other country in the Middle East, even if it has a peace treaty with Israel.