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At the White House, Netanyahu Is Building His Legacy and Ignoring the Coronavirus

When Israelis gather around their holiday tables on Friday during the lockdown, without their loved ones, a selfie in front of the UAE’s royal palace won’t be the first thing on their minds

Yossi Verter
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, stands with U.S. President Donald Trump after signing the Abraham Accords at the White House, September 15, 2020.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, stands with U.S. President Donald Trump after signing the Abraham Accords at the White House, September 15, 2020. Credit: TOM BRENNER/ REUTERS
Yossi Verter

With a fashionable delay of a quarter-century, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s diplomatic legacy took off Tuesday. It isn’t the legacy the annexationists in his ruling coalition and the settlers on their hilltops had hoped for. Rather, it’s a moderate legacy, devoid of crazy, disastrous dreams. If the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain are joined soon by other Muslim countries, as U.S. President Donald Trump predicts, Netanyahu will be added to the rolls of Israeli leaders who made history.

Even if he hadn’t gotten carried away, as usual, and portrayed the normalization agreements with countries whose relations with Israel go back many years as the end of the a regional war – complete with bizarre mentions of his own war wounds and the death of his brother and friend – he still deserves credit. Sometimes, trying to enhance merely detracts.

As noted, these relationships began long before his time. Over the years, they have grown stronger and expanded greatly. But they emerged into the light on his watch.

This was a twist in the plot. It wasn’t a planned, logical move on his part, but “compensation” for the imbecilic annexation (which isn’t “on the table,” or even in the refrigerator or the freezer, but in the garbage can of the greater Land of Israel). Netanyahu’s abandonment of annexation is what paved the way for the production we witnessed Tuesday on the south lawn of the White House.

The event, like many before it, was darkened by bloody reminders of the Middle East jungle, in the form of rockets launched from the Gaza Strip at Ashkelon and Ashdod. They reminded anyone who was sunk in delusions that the Palestinian problem didn’t climb to the top of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai and kill itself. It will continue to be present in our lives even if Morocco, Sudan and Oman send Netanyahu, his wife and “the kids” off to Washington for additional ceremonies.

The Gazan signal that disrupted our televised pictures of the party with the Home Front Command’s orange logo also brought us back to the days when Netanyahu promised to destroy Gaza’s Hamas government. That was long before he fantasized about flying freely to the Persian Gulf.

Trump asserted that “five or six” countries will follow suit. He also used the opportunity to lie and insult his Democratic presidential rival. We can only hope that this wasn’t just dubious campaign ammunition, and that his words have some grounding in reality – or at least firmer grounding than his terming Sara Netanyahu “the first lady.” That title doesn’t exist in Israel, but if it did, it certainly wouldn’t belong to her.

There’s no doubt that Tuesday was mainly his show. Around six weeks before the election, he needed an achievement that would look good in the campaign videos. He failed resoundingly against the coronavirus, in both health and economic terms. Anything that can obscure that, even a little, will help him.

In this regard, he’s in the same boat as Netanyahu. The prime minister will return Wednesday to a country on the eve of a second lockdown. This is a crushing badge of shame for his performance and that of his government over the past six months.

On Friday night, when Israelis gather around their holiday tables with people missing, a selfie in front of the UAE’s royal palace won’t be the first thing on their minds. Their empty bank accounts, the closed schools, the hundreds of thousands of additional unemployed people, the thousands of additional businesses that will close, the virus testing system that has collapsed, the hospitals that are filling up – those are the thoughts with which they will begin the new Jewish year.

Tuesday’s ceremony was just a festive break in a long, tragic drama – one that preoccupied us before the historic signing ceremony and will unfortunately continue to preoccupy us for many months after it. The timing didn’t benefit Netanyahu. Had the ceremony taken place a week ago, before the government decided on another lockdown, it would have been viewed differently.

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