Sep 14, 2020 - World

Netanyahu offsets historic UAE, Bahrain accords with Israel's return to COVID lockdown

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a news conference on Sept. 13.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a briefing on coronavirus developments in Israel at his office in Jerusalem, on Sept. 13. Photo by Yoav Dudkevitch / POOL / AFP via Getty Images

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was balancing his greatest achievement against his greatest failure as he arrived in Washington on Monday.

Why it matters: Netanyahu on Tuesday will be among those at the White House to sign historic and strategic agreements normalizing relations between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, while back home, Israelis grapple with the economic and health crisis brought by a second lockdown to contain the coronavirus. The virus has made many Israelis indifferent to the big event at the White House.

Israelis demonstrate against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's handling of the coronavirus.
Demonstrators in Jerusalem protest against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his failure to combat the COVID-19 pandemic on Sept. 12. Photo: Mostafa Alkharouf/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The big picture: Netanyahu’s corruption trial has alienated many Israelis and led to demonstrations at the airport several hours before his departure.

  • The criticism increased with reports that Netanyahu had planned to fly to Washington with his wife and kids on a private jet, Israel's three big television channels announced they would not cover the trip, and he was forced to give up the private plane.
  • Some of Netanyahu’s confidants are concerned that television stations will air a split-screen tomorrow, with Netanyahu walking the red carpet in Washington on one side and images of Israelis preparing for the general lockdown on the other.

What they're saying: In a press conference before flying to Washington, Netanyahu explained the agreements will lead to huge investments in Israel, improve the economy and create jobs. He's repeated that message several times.

Driving the news: Two hours after Netanyahu arrived in Washington his office released a photo of him on the phone. His office said he was speaking with the Israeli minister of health and the coronavirus czar, getting updates on the latest infection numbers.

  • In a video subsequently released, he acknowledged he “knows people are going through difficult times” and said he is dealing with the economic situation while he's in Washington.

Details: Netanyahu was the only politician on the plane that flew the Israeli delegation to the historic ceremony in Washington.

  • He invited neither his main coalition partner, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, nor Foreign Minister Gabbi Ashkenazito to join him.
  • The UAE and Bahrain sent their foreign ministers to the event.
  • Not even loyal ministers from his own party were invited, not to mention members of the opposition.
  • An Israeli official said Netanyahu didn’t want to share the red carpet with anyone but his wife, Sara.

Quick take: The prime minister didn’t speak to reporters traveling on his plane. Right after takeoff he tweeted his main talking point: “I am traveling to bring peace for peace.”

  • Regardless of Netanyahu's claims, the peace agreements with the UAE and Bahrain came with a price—taking his West Bank annexation plans off the table.
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