Moving White House ceremony starts to relegitimize a precious little word: Peace

26 years after the Israel-Jordan treaty, a whole generation of Israelis and Arabs witnesses something it had simply never seen before

(L-R) Bahrain Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US President Donald Trump, and UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan hold up the documents they signed at the Abraham Accords ceremony where Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates recognized Israel, at the White House in Washington, DC, September 15, 2020. (Avi Ohayon / GPO)

“In Israel’s entire history, there have previously been only two such agreements. Now we have achieved two in a single month. And there are more to follow.” Thus spoke US President Donald Trump near the start of his remarks to hundreds of people at the White House, and untold numbers around the world, watching on Tuesday as Israel established relations simultaneously with both the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

Our first, earth-shattering peace agreement came in 1979, when Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat — having restored his country’s self-respect in the 1973 war, after its six-day humiliation in 1967 — shattered three decades of intransigent Arab hostility to the very fact of Israel’s existence and signed the Camp David Accords with prime minister Menachem Begin.

And then came… nothing.

Israel had wanted to believe that after Egypt, the floodgates of normalization would open. Instead, Egypt was boycotted by the rest of the Arab world for its crime in legitimizing Israel, and Sadat was soon gunned down.

Only 15 years later, in 1994, did Jordan’s King Hussein dare to become our second full peace partner, liberated to publicly acknowledge his hidden alliance with Israel because prime minister Yitzhak Rabin had pledged to try to resolve the Palestinian conflict and had warily shaken hands with Yasser Arafat on the White House lawn.

And then came… nothing. Nothing, this time, for a full quarter century

Until Tuesday’s dual wedding.

And so, when Trump noted that he was overseeing the doubling of Israel’s entire history of peace alliances, he was also telling a whole generation of Israelis and of Arabs — a generation that has simply never witnessed such a ceremony before — that, yes, Israeli-Arab peace is actually possible. It can be achieved here and now. It’s not something that happened a couple of times long ago and then froze over, or that dreamers talk endlessly about being almost within reach.

And it’s hopefully not something that, after it is ostensibly attained, disintegrates into conflict and bloodshed, as was the case with the Israeli-Palestinian “peace process” and the strategic Palestinian terrorist onslaught of the Second Intifada.

For once, “let us put all cynicism aside,” Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in his remarks. And for a rare few hours, in the midst of a pandemic, and even as Hamas tried to spoil the show with rocket fire from Gaza, everything about the ceremony encouraged us to do precisely that.

What Netanyahu called “the pulse of history” was tangible in the warmth of the separate interactions between Trump, the two Gulf foreign ministers, and Netanyahu that preceded the main event. If Tuesday’s widening of the circle of peace was insufficient, Trump vouchsafed to Netanyahu that “five or six” other states are waiting in line. “Frankly, we could have had them here today,” he said, but that would have been disrespectful to the UAE, which had shown the courage to go first, and to Bahrain, which had been so determined to join the festivities.

It was tangible in the content of all the leaders’ speeches — their individual declared commitments to genuine and lasting peace between our peoples — and the sincerity and warmth with which they delivered their remarks.

It was tangible in the little-noticed moments, such as when UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah Al Nahyan, having completed his address, walked over to where Netanyahu was standing, and, with attention focused elsewhere, they smiled at each other and exchanged a few words. Or when everybody — and especially the joyful star of the show Al Nahyan — laughed good-naturedly at the logistical complexities that inevitably arise when two-to-four leaders are signing and/or witnessing three accords.

If Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel was the first vital step toward the acceptance of modern Israel’s revival in the Jews’ ancient homeland, Tuesday’s ceremony may come to signify our belated acceptance by those further afield who, as Trump noted, have for decades been fed lies and falsehoods about Israel, and especially Israel’s ostensible religious intolerance.

The Palestinians are still absent, of course, dismally led in the West Bank by President Mahmoud Abbas into what appears to be a deepening alliance with the Gaza-ruling terrorists of Hamas. Still, the US president who brokered these accords remains insistently optimistic that, as he told the press pack during his Oval Office session with Netanyahu, “at the right time, they’ll be joining too.”

“We’re here this afternoon to change the course of history,” Trump said at the very start of his speech. “After decades of division and conflict, we mark the dawn of a new Middle East,” he went on, and “thanks to the great courage of the leaders of these three countries, we take a major stride toward a future in which people of all faiths and backgrounds live together in peace and prosperity.”

Trump delivered these hitherto mind-boggling claims in tones that were almost matter-of-fact. These new peace allies are “going to work together; they are friends,” he said, as though this was the most normal thing in the world.

But for a whole generation, 26 years after any of us last saw anything like it, Tuesday’s ceremony was anything but normal. It was, rather, unprecedented, surprising and heartening. For once in the tortured context of Israel and the Arab conflict, it was a pleasure to put all cynicism aside.

For after 26 years, Tuesday’s ceremony tentatively relegitimized that precious little word: Peace.

The article was published on The Times of Israel


Trump yelled at Abbas in meeting for ‘lying about commitment to peace’: report

US President Donald Trump is said to have yelled at Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during their meeting in Bethlehem last week after Israel reportedly showed Trump evidence that Abbas was “personally responsible for incitement” to violence.

A report by Israel’s Channel 2 television on Sunday cites Israeli sources quoting Trump as having angrily accused Abbas of lying “about commitment to peace” during an earlier meeting between the leaders at the White House in April.

“You lied to me in Washington when you talked about commitment to peace, but the Israelis showed me you were personally responsible for incitement,” the sources quoted Trump yelling.

The outburst was reportedly followed by several minutes of silence before the meeting resumed, albeit with a great deal of tension.

Palestinian sources told Channel 2, however, that the meeting between the two leaders was calm.

Trump had urged Abbas to clamp down on anti-Israeli incitement in the Palestinian education system during their meeting in Washington and also criticized the Palestinian Authority’s policy of handing out social welfare payments to the families of Palestinians imprisoned or killed perpetrating attacks against Israelis.

Following their meeting in Bethlehem last week, Trump reiterated that terrorism must not be “rewarded”, but expressed confidence that both sides were ready to reach for peace.

“I had a meeting this morning with President Abbas and can tell you that the Palestinians are ready to reach for peace,” Trump said in a joint press conference with Abbas.

“And by meeting with my very good friend, Benjamin, [I can say that] that he is reaching for peace, he loves peace, he loves people, he especially loves the Israeli people. Benjamin Netanyahu wants peace,” he added.

Israel considers the strong anti-Israeli messages in Palestinian education to be one of the stumbling blocks for a peaceful resolution of the long-standing conflict.

The Article was published on I24news


Israel and its self inflicted tremors

When no one understands, that’s usually a good sign that you’re wrong.” – Victoria Schwab

And so it was this past week. As a lobbyist I spend a lot of time speaking to people. And the chorus from my friends, acquaintances and the occasional barman leaning over the counter was the same: “Alex, seriously, why does Israel thinks that this is good idea, and how can you possibly defend it?”

The people asking this are not loony leftie Israel haters, or BDS supporters. In fact the overwhelming majority were pro-Israel, even if they don’t shout it from the rooftops. And that was the scariest bit. When those who usually side with you pull you to one side and say, look this is a bridge too far for me, you better sit up, listen and act.

And it got me wondering if the Israeli government is suffering from a collective bout of Hans Christian Andersen’s the Emperor’s New Clothes. Is there nobody around to reign them in and say people, this is nakedly hostile, unnecessary and wrong?

I am of course talking about the recent bill that gives a green light for Israel to appropriate Palestinian land in the West Bank by paying for it, regardless if it is for sale or not.

Everyone here in EU institutions, restaurants, bars and newspaper shops can see it for what it is. And even in Israel the Prime Minister didn’t even vote for it, nor seek to properly explain it.

This week I spoke to a group of students from the Hebrew University. The represented a broad range of Israeli society, some religious, some not, some pro-settler, some not. But I got a very strong impression that the majority just want the Israeli supreme court to rule it out so that we can all get back to normal.

But as I explained to them it’s not that easy. When things like this happen, it undoes so much of our good work on presenting Israel in the best possible light in the EU Institutions. We build beautiful political structures around high tech, Israeli medicinal advances, environmental wonders, agricultural genius, cybersecurity miracles etc, etc. in short we show the EU the Israel that we love, the Israel that we want the world to see, the one that makes us puff out our chests with pride.

But then a big self-inflicted political tremor like this Knesset Bill just comes and shakes the whole edifice to smithereens, meaning we have to spend a long time rebuilding.

But do you know what the most frustrating thing is? Yesterday, we saw the Mahmoud Abbas motorcade roll into Brussels , having come from Paris, with another few stops scheduled after dropping past the EU capital. He got to put his side of the story, unhindered, unchallenged to a receptive audience.

We didn’t see a single Israeli politician in Brussels this week. So we lost. Again. By default . Or sheer bloody mindedness on the part of our ‘emperors’.

Things don’t have to be this way.

“I believe that if Israel were to put an end to the settlements in the West Bank tomorrow, as it did in Gaza, there would still be reluctance on the part of the Palestinian Authority to recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish secular democracy.”

Alan Dershowitz is right. The Settlements are an excuse by the Palestinian Authority for inaction and continued incitement. Anybody with half a brain knows that Arik Sharon’s ballsy Gaza pull-out in 2005 was ample proof that the problem of getting the Palestinians engaged in a peace process run much deeper than housing developments past the 1967 borders.

But for the EU the settlement issue has become ‘the’ principal impediment to peace.

Whether we like it or not, these are the rules of the game here. We try and push back on them, we try to get the focus elsewhere, but this is one enormous, stubborn political boulder that can’t be shifted for now. But it could be, relatively easily.

We need high ranking Israeli representation in Brussels to properly articulate the issue. To explain it properly, warts and all. To show the EU Institutions the erroneousness of the PA position. That settlements are an excuse and absolutely not the main obstacle to peace.

That’s why throwing the Knesset Bill into the political debate makes Donald Trump’s visa ban look like a supremely well-oiled bit of political manoeuvring.

How did we get here? There was a time when Israel’s leaders and politicians looked outwards and sought to show the best of Israel, a country that makes us, and our supporters proud. The late great Shimon Peres was a great advocate of this approach, and possible the best lobbyist that Israel could ask for.

Is this Knesset bill – that will almost certainly be quashed by the supreme court anyway – really the best we can do? I’ll leave any Israeli politicians reading this with a quote from Leo Tolstoy to ponder: “Wrong does not cease to be wrong because the majority share in it.”

Can we get back to being right again? No more tremors please. We got some serious rebuilding to do. And we need your help to do it.

The piece was written by EIPA director Alex Benjamin and was also published on The Times of Israel and on The JPost


When two neighbours speak to the same House one day apart.

On Wednesday 22nd of June, the President of the State of Israel Reuven Rivlin will visit Brussels and address the European Parliament’s Plenary. On Thursday 23rd of June, the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas will visit Brussels address the same plenary.

Here, at EIPA we are looking forward to hear Mr Rivlin’s discourse, as it is quite rare for an Israeli politician to address the whole assembly and we are hoping Mr Mr Abbas will condemn the Tel Aviv attacks as it was asked by 23 Members of the European Parliament in a letter last week.