Column JN August 28 2020
There’s a joke in Israel — admittedly not a very good one, but you take what you can get these days — that the best job in the country is held by the person who changes the lightbulbs in the front of Tel Aviv City Hall.
And my, hasn’t this person been busy recently? If it’s not lighting up the front windows with the Lebanese flag, in solidarity with those suffering from the aftermath of the Beirut bomb on August 4 (thankfully nothing to do with Israel), then it’s illuminating the very same windows with the flag of the Emirates, to celebrate the most recent deal made with the UAE.
Even now, I bet, the lightbulb man is setting out the correct pattern for the flags of Sudan, Bahrain, Morocco, Qatar, Oman, and possibly the biggie, Saudi Arabia, in anticipation of other diplomatic accords, falling like dominoes into Israel’s lap. I imagine that Israel’s orchestras are currently practising unfamiliar national anthems for the first of these visitors to land at Ben-Gurion Airport. (After a diplomatic debacle in the 90s when the anthems of Slovakia and Slovenia were confused — easy mistake to make — everyone is bound to be very, very careful).
I am, of course, happy, as who could not be, that leaders of the Arab world are coming to the conclusion, however reluctantly, that Israel is a neighbour that is here to stay. Add to that the somewhat startling decision by Ukraine to name Rosh Hashana, Pesach and Chanukah as national holidays, and you might think that Israel had everything to celebrate.
And yet, and yet. The signature at the bottom of such deals is that of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and with Bibi, there is always another agenda.
As I write, there has been yet another massive demonstration outside the prime minister’s official residence in Jerusalem, a demonstration of ordinary Israeli citizens who are completely fed up with Bibi and his machinations. Not least of their anger is directed at him for dropping the heaviest of hints that he is ready to spring a fourth election on the weary, cash-strapped Israelis, caught in what now seems to be abysmal mismanagement of the corona virus crisis.
More than 10,000 people are said to have taken part in this latest demonstration, furious that Bibi is pronouncing “business as usual” while he is facing serious corruption charges. It also hasn’t helped that part of the UAE deal appears to be a trade arrangement between the United States and the Emirates, to sell the Emiratis the state-of-the-art F35 fighter jets, thus cutting into Israel’s long-standing qualitative military edge in the region.
The other signature on these deals is, of course, that of the current incumbent of the White House, Donald Trump, desperately doing what he can to be re-elected as America’s president come November this year.
I hope, of course, that mutual loathing of Iran and a recognition of Israel’s military and technological superiority will outlast the pawprints of both men.
But it should be recognised that the huge losers in all of this are, of course, the Palestinians, mown down by their former Arab allies in their rush to get a bite of the goodies on offer. Will the proposed peace deals be enough to secure Trump and Bibi longer in office? I’m not a prophet, but I doubt it.
Keep an eye on the front of Tel Aviv City Hall for a reliable barometer as to world events, though.