We here in Israel knew we were doing very well with regard to corona, as compared with the rest of the world. And there were reports of Pfizer using Israel as a testing ground. Now it is all officially reported.
“Albert Bourla, CEO of Pfizer revealed [Thursday night] why Israel was the first to receive a significant inventory of vaccines against COVID-19.
“’We knew it would be good for humanity if we chose one country where we could demonstrate what the complete vaccination of the population could contribute to the health of its people, and also to the economy – because the economy could be reopened…
“’Of course I talked to several heads of state, including Netanyahu, and he convinced me that Israel is a place with the right conditions for an experiment. I was impressed by your prime minister’s obsession – he called me 30 times.’
“Data collected following the vaccination campaign in Israel, which is considered the fastest and most successful in the world, shows that Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine is even more effective than previously thought, and its effectiveness in preventing serious illness or disease with symptoms is 97 percent…
“A statement issued by Pfizer and BioNTech said that the data collected from the vaccination campaign in Israel is critical to the global vaccination campaign, and gives hope to many countries that they will be able to leave the crisis behind soon.” (All emphasis added)
“…former national coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu said he agreed with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s comments to Fox News this week that ‘the coronavirus as a pandemic is behind us.’
“However, Gamzu warned that as a sporadic disease with outbreaks, the virus could not be fully eradicated.”
While all of the above is real, and Israel has made stunning progress in combatting corona, there is no doubt in my mind but that the timing of the announcement regarding our success has a political component. In just nine days we go to election, folks! And I’ll have more to say about this below.
There have been libelous charges about Israel not having inoculated Arab Israeli citizens, and so it’s important to set this issue straight. Every citizen is equally entitled to inoculation, and, in fact, Arab Israelis have been encouraged to take the vaccine, as numbers were high in their communities. Below, inoculations being administered in the Israeli Arab town of Baka al-Garbiyeh:
Additionally, we are encountering erroneous charges about Israel’s responsibility to provide inoculations for all Palestinian Arabs. Most recently we have heard from Bernie Sanders on this. But according to the Oslo accords, the PA is responsible for providing health care in the territories it administers.
For the record: Israel has shared some vaccine supplies with the PA, starting about six weeks ago. Arabs who are not citizens but residents of Jerusalem have been receiving inoculations. And Arabs from the PA-administered areas who have permits to work inside of Israel are about to start receiving the vaccine; this campaign would apply to some 130,000 Arabs.
There is considerable speculation at present regarding the continued stability of the Abraham Accords in the face of the changes in US policy being initiated by Joe Biden (or, more accurately, those who direct him). One area in which we see encouraging signs of strengthening ties between the UAE and Israel is the economic sector:
“A $10 billion fund has been established by the United Arab Emirates, aimed at investing in specific sectors throughout Israel, including space, healthcare, water, manufacturing, energy and agricultural technology, the Emirates News Agency (WAM) reported on Thursday.
“The fund is the result of a phone call between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi.”
Netanyahu was scheduled to fly to the UAE last Thursday to further solidify our connection. It would have been his first trip, but it was cancelled, or, more accurately, postponed. Whether it will happen before the election remains to be seen. Doing it prior is, obviously, what Netanyahu would prefer, while the Emiratis – so as not to appear to be involved in influencing an election – would prefer it be done after. As the visit was planned to take place in the airport in Abu Dhabi and last only a few hours, it seems logistically it might still be possible.
The first news reports that Netanyahu would not be going suggested that it was because Sarah Netanyahu had appendicitis. But, while this may have been a factor, in the end it was because Jordan had not approved Netanyahu’s flight in Jordanian airspace. Many sources reported that Jordan denied approval. The Times of Israel – reflecting the announcement from the prime minister’s office – said that “Jordan delayed approving his flight path over the Hashemite kingdom.” Apparently that approval did come in the end, but not in a timely fashion, so that plans had already been cancelled.
The flight going via Jordanian airspace, is about three and a-half hours; going around adds a considerable amount of time.
This Jordanian stance, on the face of it, would appear to be surprising in light of the fact that Israel and Jordan have a peace treaty. But the “peace” is very cold. This decision by Jordan was reportedly in response to a recent incident in which Israel (and apparently Netanyahu directly) did not approve a full security contingent for the Jordanian Crown Prince Hussein bin Abdullah (pictured below with his father, King Abdullah) to enter Israel in order to go to the Temple Mount:
“The visit had been coordinated with Israeli authorities and a large police presence was deployed to secure the prince’s visit.
“As part of the agreement for the trip, Jordanian security guards, including some who were to be armed, were permitted to accompany the prince [according to a report from a Kan news broadcaster].
“However, the security delegation that arrived at the border was both larger and more heavily armed than had been agreed.
“When Israeli authorities insisted that the Jordanians keep to the terms of the agreement, Hussein canceled the visit.”
There is a great deal being written these days about the fragile nature of Israel’s peace treaty with Jordan and the tensions specifically between Prime Minister Netanyahu and King Abdullah. Some analysts see Netanyahu as shouldering part of the responsibility for the tension. Seth Frantzman says that King Abdullah feels taken for granted by Netanyahu, although the stability of Jordan is important to the region and particularly Judea and Samaria. What is often suggested by commentators is that there would be ways to cool matters down.
But what occurs to me is that the king would not be on his throne if it were not for protection against radicals provided by Israel. It has also occurred to me that this king is not what his father, King Hussein, was.
The issue of control over the Temple Mount is a key element of King Abdullah’s concerns.
Within the Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty of 1994 is an acknowledgement regarding Jordan’s role on the Temple Mount: “Israel respects the present special role of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in Muslim Holy shrines in Jerusalem.”
Over time, there has been competition between the PA and Jordan regarding control of the Wakf (the Muslim Trust), which is responsible for the day-to-day administration of the Temple Mount; today Jordan is in control. The recent presence of visitors from the UAE on the Mount further exacerbated matters – there is a bid for other Arab nations to be involved.
What always concerns me is the tendency of Jordan to define the entire Temple Mount as a “Muslim Holy shrine” and not just the Al Aksa Mosque, the Dome of the Rock, and the recently constructed huge mosque (Al-Marwani) at Solomon’s Stables.
To claim the entire Mount as a Muslim holy shrine is to attempt to entirely squeeze out Israel – which retains sovereignty over the Mount. With all of the talk about the need for sensitivity to Jordan with regard to the Mount, there is the breathtaking lack of sensitivity to the Jewish right to pray on the Mount, Har Habayit, Judaism’s holiest site, where the Temples stood. That Jewish right is denied.
Do not imagine, however, that the situation regarding the Temple Mount is simple or clear-cut, or that what I’ve just described above even begins to cover the subject. Just last week, surprising tweets were emanating from Saudi Arabia that minimized the importance of the Temple Mount for Muslims:
“The direction of the prayers of the Jews is not important to us, what is important to us is only our homeland (Saudi Arabia).”
“Our Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, did not leave us with a commandment, even with one word, that Jerusalem must be liberated. The only two holy mosques are in Mecca and Medina.”
These messages – which emphasized the religious importance of the Saudi-administered cities of Mecca and Medina, and played down the importance of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount for Muslims – were seen by many analysts as an attempt to diminish the importance of PA involvement with Al Aksa Mosque. This was interpreted as being a Saudi response to Palestinian insults online and in chants heard at demonstrations on the Temple Mount. The PA is said to be infuriated by the Saudis quiet support of the Abraham Accords.
(“In the end,” said a delighted Tom Nissani, CEO of the Temple Mount Heritage Foundation, in response to the Saudi tweets, “it is becoming increasingly clear that the main obstacle to achieving the realization of the cry ‘the Temple Mount is in our hands,’ is us ourselves.”)
But wait, Nadav Shragai, one very well-informed analyst, has another take:
Unsubstantiated rumors had been circulating that when Netanyahu went to Abu Dhabi, the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) might meet with him.
This is significant for a host of reasons, many of which I must save for my next posting. What I want to consider here is what Shragai says (emphasis added): “When it comes to talks with the Saudis, the Temple Mount is also a priority …
“Saudi Arabia has shown increasing interest in gaining a significant foothold at the Al-Aksa Mosque… Riyadh is looking to create a new status quo at the site and is willing to invest tens of billions of dollars in Jerusalem and the Temple Mount and agree to some form of normalization of ties with Israel to this end.
“In return, Saudi Arabia wants a senior role, alongside Israel, in running the mount, instead of or alongside Jordan, among other things. Riyadh is poised to reap huge dividends from such a move. It will gain the status of a religious power that controls the three holiest sites in Islam as well as ensure the defeat of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey, who has been unrelenting in his attempts to ‘liberate’ the mount from Israel.”
This is potentially huge, and might play very well for Israel in a host of ways. Except, as Shragai explains, there is a serious proviso. King Abdullah, is, of course, furious. (The importance of his son making an appearance on the Temple Mount at this time becomes clearer in this context.)
“For Jordan, which affords us a quiet eastern border and extensive bilateral economic and security ties, the mount isn’t just a historical symbol but the anchor that guarantees the stability of the kingdom’s rule; a rule against which radical Islamic forces often rise. And so, Israel finds itself straddling the divide, maneuvering in the inter-Islamic struggle between Amman and Riyadh…”
I must say “stay tuned” here: I will pick up the intrigue involving the Saudis in my next posting.
In closing I report that the polls, which we must continue to consider only tentatively, show Likud doing well, with a very solid possibility that Netanyahu might form a solid right-wing coalition. Bennett’s Yamina is ahead of Sa’ar’s New Hope, and it seems very likely that Smotrich’s Religious Zionists will pass the threshold.
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by independent journalist Arlene Kushner. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.