WASHINGTON (JTA) — Benjamin Netanyahu has complained for years about Arab leaders telling their people one thing in Arabic and diplomats saying another to Western audiences in English.
Not on Tuesday.
Abdullah bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates, was on the White House lawn speaking — in Arabic — about the “innate principle” of peace and thanking the Israeli prime minister for helping to bring it about.
If the agreements signed Tuesday by leaders of the UAE, Israel, the United States and Bahrain were historic, it was because of this: Two Arab leaders were praising peace not simply as a means of ending bloodshed, the precipitate for the cold peace that Israel has had for decades with Jordan and Egypt, but as an end in itself.
“We are witnessing today a new trend that will create a better path for the Middle East,” bin Zayed said. “This peace accord, which is a historic achievement for the United States of America. The State of Israel and the United Arab Emirates will continue to have a positive impact as we believe that its reverberations will be reflected on the entire region.”
It was shining moment for Netanyahu — and he was pleased to bask in the vindication.
“This is not only a peace between leaders,” Netanyahu said. “It’s a peace between peoples.”
Or “peace for peace,” the slogan Netanyahu has long favored and invoked when news broke last month of an impending deal.
Except bin Zayed clearly saw it as peace for something more than just peace.
“Thank you for choosing peace, and for halting the annexation of Palestinian territories, a decision that reinforces our shared will to achieve a better future for generations to come,” bin Zayed said.
Netanyahu, who did not mention the Palestinians in his remarks, could not quite shake them or their claims to territories he hopes to annex. The agreement with the USAE calls for a “just, comprehensive realistic and enduring solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
Reports were circulating that the United States had provided assurances to the UAE that Israel would not move ahead with annexing parts of the West Bank until at least 2024.
The deals, released hours later by the White House, did not mention annexation, instead pledging cooperation in a number of areas including security, trade, tourism, the economy education and health care.
That didn’t stop a smiling Netanyahu from posting a video on Twitter saying in Hebrew, “I have in my hands the draft of the historic peace treaty between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, as well as the historic peace declaration between Israel and Bahrain.” Except on close examination, it appears he was holding several blank sheets of paper.
Gilad Erdan, the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations who was present at the ceremony, said Netanyahu’s pledge to annex parts of the West Bank was not moribund, but acknowledged that it was dependent on the Trump administration.
“He said ‘the stopping’ and not ‘canceling,'” Erdan told The Jewish Telegraphic Agency, referring to bin Zayed’s comments about annexation. “And I spoke with the prime minister and I know we never gave up on our sovereignty, and that is for now, and we understand everyone understands that when we want to extend our sovereignty over to Judea and Sanaria, we need the support and the cooperation of the American administration and right now they have decided upon their priorities.”
The other matter of substance that may have unnerved Netanyahu were the talks between U.S. and UAE officials over the sale of F-35 stealth combat jets. The Israeli government is opposed to the sale. Trump made clear he was not.
“We’re going to work that out. We’ll work that out,” Trump said at an appearance with Netanyahu prior to the signing ceremony when he was asked whether he would press ahead with the sale even if Israel objected. “That’s going to be an easy thing.”
The day was marked repeatedly by signals that Netanyahu owed much to Trump. He sat silently as Trump disparaged his rival in the November presidential elections, Joe Biden, as “sleepy Joe” three times, effectively becoming a prop for Trump in his reelection campaign. Netanyahu, having just shut down his country for the second time since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, appeared maskless alongside Trump, who continues to reject strictures to contain the pandemic, and did not maintain a social distance from the president.
For all of those concessions, there was much for Netanyahu to celebrate. As Trump put it, “There’s less isolation right now for Israel than there’s ever been.” The Trump administration teased some of the contents of the deals in a news release, saying the UAE, Israel and Bahrain “have committed to the exchange of embassies and ambassadors, and to begin cooperation across a broad range of fields including education, health care, trade and security.”
More poignantly, after the ceremony broke up, a TV crew from the Emirates filmed an unusual scene: Jewish celebrants, one wrapped in a tallit, praying the afternoon Mincha service on the South Lawn.