I have a good friend who will say to me now and again:
“You just put one foot in front of the other and keep going.”
Most of the time I’ve responded by sighing, and saying, “Yes, I know…”
But in recent days, as I have struggled to wrap my head around events here and abroad, I have thought more seriously about how wise this simple advice is: figuratively, we must stand on our feet, face forward, and keep moving.
The news is certainly not all bad, my friends. Yet with regard to events of late, the word that occurs to me is schizoid. It doesn’t all come together; often one element seems to work against the other.
But let’s start with some good news.
The diplomatic exchange between Israel and the UAE took a major step forward this week, when Foreign Minister Yair Lapid travelled to Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates, for the official inauguration of the Israeli Embassy. This was the first visit to the UAE by an Israeli minister since the signing of the Abraham Accords.
I am not exactly one of Lapid’s biggest fans, but when he does good, I will say so. And my sense of matters was that he did very well in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday (June 29). His tone seemed to me just right, and I was pleasantly surprised:
He thanked former Prime Minister Netanyahu, who was “the architect of the Abraham Accords and who worked tirelessly to bring them about.”
Then he declared: “We are standing here today because we chose peace over war, cooperation over conflict, the good of our children over the bad memories of the past.
“Agreements are signed by leaders but peace is made by people…The UAE and Israel are creating a new paradigm of cooperation in the entire region.
“Our two countries will usher in a next phase that will be a model for countries everywhere….Israel wants peace with all its neighbors.
“We aren’t going anywhere. The Middle East is our home. We’re here to stay. We call on all countries of the region to recognize that, and come talk to us.” (Emphasis added)
Lapid said that there were discussions aimed at forging relationships on-going with other nations, but they could not yet be mentioned.
A day later, Lapid inaugurated a consulate in Dubai (a major city and one of the emirates in the UAE). While there, he visited the Israel Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai, which was delayed by corona and is set to open in October. The Pavilion is being designed without walls to reflect Israel’s sense of belonging in the region and an openness to her Arab neighbors.
To get a feel for it, see: https://www.avscreative.com/work/exhibitions/expo-2020-dubai/
The fact that the Abraham Accords withstood our recent hostilities with Gaza seemed to me a very positive sign. The response to Lapid’s visit reinforces that impression. There was not only progress made in terms of forging economic and commercial agreements, there was also a reinforcing of a relationship on a human level, much as Lapid articulated. I think that we truly are on the cusp of a new time that could not have been imagined a few short years ago.
While the Embassy was officially inaugurated this week, an Israeli diplomatic mission has actually been in place since January; it is headed by Eitan Na’eh, former Israeli ambassador to Turkey, who will serve in the role of ambassador for some months until a formal appointment is made.
The UAE Embassy was opened in Tel Aviv in May – in the building of the Israeli Stock Exchange. Mohammed Mahmoud Al-Khaja (pictured) has already been appointed Ambassador to Israel and has been in the country since March. His family will be joining him.
I found an analysis by Lazar Berman – “Playing Joshua to Bibi’s Moses, Lapid looks to take UAE ties into promised land” – regarding the respective roles of Netanyahu and Lapid in forging a relationship with the UAE to be particularly helpful in understanding the current situation (emphasis added):
“Netanyahu’s diplomatic experience, credibility in standing up to Iran, and influence in the halls of power in Washington, DC were recognized and respected across the region, and helped Israel seal the agreements with the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco, and Sudan.
“But other [of] Netanyahu’s traits as Israel’s leader — including his pattern of seeking political advantage everywhere and of undermining political rivals — kept the deal with the UAE from developing further.
“He kept crucial information from senior ministers, including his agreeing not to hold up a US sale of F-35 fighter jets to the UAE.
“Netanyahu repeatedly sought to fly to the UAE to celebrate the deal himself, and refused to allow then-foreign minister Gabi Ashkenazi to make the trip, sources on Lapid’s delegation told the Times of Israel, to keep him from stealing the spotlight.
“But the UAE wasn’t eager to be used in Netanyahu’s reelection campaign, and pushed for the trip to be postponed…
“With the Emiratis preferring to wait on Israel’s elections results, and Netanyahu barring other ministers from making the trip, follow-on agreements with the UAE couldn’t take place.
“Lapid’s visit ‘opened the bottleneck,’ for more agreements, an Israeli diplomatic source who made the trip told The Times of Israel. This was the sit-down between foreign ministers that the Emiratis were waiting for, and in the near future tourism, agriculture, environmental, and other ministers can make the journey and advance further accords.”
So there you are: call it hubris, or a tragic flaw or narcissism.
This analysis rings very true for a variety of reasons, but I note in particular the signing of the Abraham Accords in Washington: the other nations sent their foreign ministers but Netanyahu was bent on going himself.
He is hated by those who have been pushed aside by him, and this is at the heart of the reason why he is not prime minister today.
I feel a great sadness for this. For Netanyahu has huge experience and so much to offer. And yet…
A brief aside here. Following Netanyahu’s failed efforts to establish a right-wing coalition, Yuli Edelstein (pictured), who had remained a Netanyahu loyalist during the negotiations, came forward with harsh criticism – suggesting it was time for him to go: “He made every mistake possible.”
Edelstein’s critique was this: At various times during negotiations, Netanyahu offered Gantz, Bennett and Sa’ar an opportunity to be prime minister in a coalition on a rotating basis. But he was never willing to step aside, even temporarily, and allow someone from inside Likud to head the party, which would have made it possible for Sa’ar and Bennett to join in a coalition. Same pattern: Netanyahu would not relinquish control of the party, even as this defeated right-wing efforts to retain control. Now Edelstein says he will challenge Netanyahu when there is a Likud primary, as, undoubtedly, will others.
Having praised Lapid’s performance in the UAE, I circle back now to a time just a few days prior, when he made what I consider to be misguided and troublesome statements.
On Sunday, two days before Lapid inaugurated the Embassy in the UAE, he met Secretary of State Blinken in Rome. Lapid said to him, “In recent years, mistakes were made. Israel’s bipartisan status was hurt. We will fix this together.”
As much as his tone struck me as appropriate in Abu Dahbi, so much was it off the mark it Rome. What Lapid was saying was that Netanyahu made a “mistake” in having a closer relationship with President Trump than with Democrats – Obama, when president, and members of Congress.
It was not necessary for Lapid to criticize Netanyahu, in any event, even if he disagrees with what had been his policy. He might simply have said, “We hope to strengthen our ties with you because we are interested in sustaining a bi-partisan policy.”
But even more significant is the wrong-headedness of his position.
Netanyahu knew what he was doing. Obama was an enemy of Israel, while Trump was the most pro-Israel president of all time.
The Republicans during the Trump administration got it right on several scores: cancelling the dangerous agreement with Iran, demanding accountability of the Palestinian Authority and cutting funds to them, acknowledging that Jewish building in Judea & Samaria is not “illegal”, and recognizing that Israel has rights there.
A serious look at how far left “progressive” the Democratic party has become can cause nightmares. The Squad in Congress is blatantly anti-Israel, and House Speaker Pelosi does nothing to chastise them, never mind removing Ilhan Omar from the House Foreign Relations Committee. Biden has declared full intention to forge an agreement with Iran, and has already restored funds to the PA that were cut by Trump – without demands for accountability. There is a push for that “two-state solution,” especially by Blinken, who seems to have close to zero perception of the realities here – realities such as the ideology of the Jihadists. US policy stands against Jewish building in Judea & Samaria and also against demolition of illegal Arab building in Area C. The US is espousing the notion of drawing on UNRWA, which is in bed with Hamas, for reconstruction in Gaza. I could go on, but I will cite Jonathan Tobin on this issue:
“…there is no escaping the fact that liberals who have been crucially influenced by critical race theory are never going to be allied with the Jewish state, and that conservatives who reject those toxic ideas are its closest and best friends. Israel’s diplomatic dilemmas have never been about personalities, even one as abrasive as that of Benjamin Netanyahu. They are rooted in dangerous ideologies that optimism and kind words won’t fix.”
It is difficult to define the political position of our new government. Prime Minister Bennett calls himself right-wing. To the very left, we have Meretz and the Ra’am party.
For Foreign Minister Lapid, who is centrist-left, at least some of what is embraced in the US on the left today may be acceptable. Some, but certainly not all. Once supportive of the Iran agreement, he has now expressed “serious reservations.”
For years he has been in favor of “two-states,” and now in Abu Dhabi, he indicated that Washington “says that [normalization agreements with Arab states] require us to make an effort with the Palestinians.”
But he qualified this: “The Palestinians have to want progress themselves for someone to be able to help them, and that’s not the situation now in the Palestinian Authority or Hamas.
“Don’t shoot 4,000 rockets at Israelis if you want to get help.”
A stance of good relations with the US requires maintaining a certain amount of daylight. And I am not convinced that Lapid, in his eagerness to “fix” matters, will know how to maintain this. We must have a government that knows how to say no, and to remain independent in policy. As Jonathan Tobin indicated, good will alone will not do it.
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by independent journalist Arlene Kushner. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.