Netanyahu Departs for Washington for Signing of UAE, Bahrain Normalization Deals

Anti-government protesters gather at airport ahead of flight ■ U.S. officials hope Tuesday ceremony would draw officials from more Arab states ■ Text of agreements not published yet

Noa Landau
Bar Peleg
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President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu at the White House in Washington, January 27, 2020.
President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu at the White House in Washington, January 27, 2020.Credit: SAUL LOEB / AFP
Noa Landau
Bar Peleg

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his family departed for Washington late Sunday, ahead of the signing ceremony of Israel's normalization agreements with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

Mossad Chief Yossi Cohen said ahead of departure that Israel was “working on more states” to join UAE and Bahrain in normalizing ties with Israel. “I hope we carry on with these positive efforts towards peace,” he added.

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The White House ceremony on Tuesday will be overseen by U.S. President Donald Trump, and Netanyahu will be joined by the UAE's Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Bahrain's Foreign Minister Dr. Abdullatif bin Rashid Al-Zayan, after the announcement Friday that the small island state would establish full diplomatic relations with Israel.

American officials hope that the ceremony will be attended by other senior officials from Arab states, at least in the form of ambassadors to the United States from other Arab and Muslim countries. In addition, the administration still hopes to mobilize Sudan, Oman and Morocco for the normalization initiative with Israel. In the meantime, however, there is no further official signal on the matter.

The Israeli delegation does not include any representatives from Benny Gantz's Kahol Lavan party, though representatives from the Foreign Ministry, headed by senior Kahol Lavan member Gabi Ashkenazi, will be responsible for drafting the agreements between the countries.

The wording of the agreements has not yet been published, and several opposition lawmakers have voiced their opposition. Former minister Moshe Ya'alon demanded that the details of the agreement be discussed by Knesset committees, but legal experts say that there is no obligation to do so and that the agreement will follow the previous precedents, relying on retrospective ratification.

The prime minister is flying to Washington in the same plane as the rest of the Israeli delegation, following sharp public criticism of Netanyahu's plan to fly on a separate plane.

Netanyahu and his wife Sara were initially expected to use a private plane, while the rest of the Israeli delegation would use a leased plane from company Israir, in order to reduce the risk of exposure to the coronavirus, Israel's Channel 13 reported on Thursday.

"In order to prevent the media from diverting public attention away from the historic peace agreement with the UAE and possibly other Arab countries, the prime minister will fly with the delegation in a more spacious plane, with strict separation arrangements to maintain his health," a statement by his office said on Friday.

Meanwhile, the first official visit to Israel by a United Arab Emirates delegation on September 22 may be postponed or conducted under restrictions, an Israeli minister said on Friday. This is due to a likely coronavirus lockdown, an Israeli cabinet minister said on Friday.

Airport protest

Tuesday's ceremony, however, has elicited anger, both among the Israeli and Bahraini public. Ahead of Netanyahu's flight, anti-government protesters have gathered at Ben-Gurion Airport under the title: "If we are in lockdown, you should be locked down too." 

Anti-Netanyahu protesters at Ben-Gurion International Airport, September 13, 2020.Credit: Meged Gozani

Hundreds of protesters, who complained that the accords are a "political mission," blocked one of the entrances to the airport and disrupted traffic in the area. In an invitation to the event, they wrote: "A true leader would remain to guard and strengthen his people. Instead of staying in the country, and managing the crisis and instilling confidence and hope in the public, Netanyahu chooses to fly to make unnecessary headlines, leaving us to deal with his failures."

Struggling against a surge of coronavirus infections, Netayahu's pandemic taskforce on Thursday approved a rolling national lockdown. The lockdown is expected to go into effect following a cabinet vote on Sunday, and span major Jewish holidays that run from September 18 to October 10.

A demonstration by Israeli expats is also expected in Washington on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, in contrast to the UAE, Bahrain's normalization announcement has come under heavy fire by the Shi'ite majority, who are ruled by a Sunni minority. Israel is hoping a public campaign with Bahraini authorities will calm the public.

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