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Yesterday was a historic day in the Middle East. Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met the de facto leader of the United Arab Emirates, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, during the first ever official visit to the UAE from Israel. This took place 15 months after the Abraham Accords normalized diplomatic relations between Israel, the UAE and three other Arab countries. The latest season of the Axios "How it Happened" podcast has new reporting on the backstory from Barak Ravid.

  • And, the creator economy boomed in 2021.
  • Plus, federal student loan payments are coming back.

Guests: Axios' Barak Ravid and Sara Fischer.

Credits: Axios Today is produced in partnership with Pushkin Industries. The team includes Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Julia Redpath, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Alex Sugiura, Sabeena Singhani, Lydia McMullen-Laird, Jayk Cherry, and David Toledo. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at podcasts@axios.com. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

Go deeper:

NIALA: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s Tuesday, December 14th.

I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s what you need to know today: the creator economy boomed in 2021. Plus, federal student loan payments are coming back.

But first, today’s One Big Thing: new insight into Donald Trump, Benjamin Netanayhu and the historic Abraham Accords.

NIALA BOODHOO: Yesterday was a historic day in the Middle East. The Israeli prime minister, Naftali Bennett, met the de facto leader of the United Arab Emirates, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed during the first ever official visit to the UAE from Israel.

This is happening 15 months after the Abraham Accords. The biggest breakthrough in Middle East Peace in a quarter century. It normalized diplomatic relations between Israel, the UAE and three other Arab countries.

It turns out this important agreement was almost accidental and that story is the focus of Season 3 of Axios’ podcast “How It Happened” reported by Barak Ravid. Hi, Barak.

BARAK RAVID: Hey, Niala.

NIALA: How important was the relationship between former president Trump and former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu when it comes to achieving the Abraham Accords?

BARAK: It's actually pretty amazing that they were at the lowest point of the relationship dealing with the real clash between Israel and the US at the time, and they managed to turn this huge potential crisis into a historic diplomatic breakthrough. And it was never planned like that. At that point in time, Trump was not the big fan of Netanyahu anymore. It built on a lot of frustration that Trump had about Netanyahu starting with the launch of his peace plan in January, 2020 at the white house. As one former white house official told me, Netanyahu gave the speech and turned Trump into a potted plant.

NETANYAHU: Israel will apply its laws to the Jordan valley, to all the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria. And two other areas that your plan designates as part of Israel in which the United States has agreed to recognize as part of Israel.

BARAK: And Trump really didn't like it.

TRUMP: That was really going too far. That was going way too far. And we were not happy about that.

BARAK: So if Netanyahu would have taken a unilateral step without the green light from Trump, and go ahead with this annexation plan, this would take us to really uncharted territory when it comes to US-Israel relationship. That we would have gotten to an unprecedented clash between the US and Israel.

NIALA: But we got the Abraham Accords instead?

BARAK: Yeah, when the UAE came with this idea and they said, you know what, put annexation on hold, take it off the table, instead we want to normalize relations with Israel. And when the white house special Envoy at the time said, it was like, it was godsend. Here's what we needed to solve this crisis and to take it to a much more productive direction. And this is exactly, uh, what happened. They negotiated those deals for another few weeks and denounced them on August 13th. And the entire world was completely surprised mainly because everyone was still thinking that the annexation crisis, is actually going to happen. And all of a sudden we had an announcement on a diplomatic breakthrough.

NIALA: Now, I think that the conventional wisdom or people who I would think, especially an American audience, when they think of president Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu, they think of really good friends.

BARAK: Take what you just said, multiply it by thousand. This is what people in Israel thought about Trump and Bibi. Okay. What Trump told me was, that he when he assumed office, what he knew from before and what his people told him when he started being the president was that the Palestinians were rejectionists, obstructionists, and the Israelis really wanted peace. And he told me the story is much more complicated, and that while the Palestinians are difficult, the Israelis are no angels, and they are much more interested in maintaining the status quo instead of trying to change it in return for some sort of a, of a peace deal. And when the time came to present it, Trump realized that Netanyahu wasn't really interested, you know, trying to get the two-state solution. He was just interested in a land grab in the west bank. And I think that this was this aha moment for him when it came to Natanyahu.

NIALA: Barak Ravid is the Axios Middle East correspondent based in Tel-Aviv. And his reporting, as we've been talking about, is featured on the third season of the Axios podcast, “How it Happened” - which is out now. And he’s also the author of a new book “Trump’s Peace: The Abraham Accords and the Reshaping of the Middle East.” Thanks for joining us, Barak

BARAK: Thank you, Niala.

NIALA: In 15 seconds, Sara Fischer joins me to talk about the biggest media trends this year.

NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today! I’m Niala Boodhoo. All this week we’re talking to Axios reporters about the biggest stories and trends of 2021 -- today let’s turn to our friend, Axios media reporter Sara Fischer, for what stood out this year in media. Hey, Sara.

SARA FISCHER: Hey, Niala

NIALA: Okay, Sara in smart brevity-style. You've got three big themes for us for this year. What's the first one?

SARA: So, the first big one is consolidation. Entertainment firms have been racing to merge and acquire other smaller companies in order to prepare themselves for the ongoing streaming wars. So you saw on Monday, Fox Entertainment announced the purchase of Marvista, which is a smaller, independent studio. We're waiting next year for Warner Media and Discovery's merger to close. There've been a ton of these smaller deals as Hollywood looks to produce more content for streaming services. The other big deal that we're looking out for is Vox Media is expected to acquire Group Nine Media, and that would create one of the largest digital media holding companies that there is today, if that deal were to close.

NIALA: Okay, so media consolidation was a big theme of 2021.What else?

SARA: Press freedoms have taken an unprecedented hit during the pandemic. And this is especially true in poorer nations and in countries that are teetering on the edge of democracy. The committee to protect journalists said last week that more journalists were jailed in 2021 than any time before. The pandemic has really provided cover for autocrats that are looking to go after the free press using measures like fake news laws and internet blackouts. Those measures are really meant to silence dissent.

NIALA: What's your final trend of the year, Sara?

SARA: The creator economy has totally boomed during the pandemic, and especially in 2021. A record number of people online are making money as creators. More platforms from Spotify to Instagram to TikTok are investing in opportunities to help people connect with their audiences and monetize their audiences online. The big trend for 2021, of course, was live audio and then vertical video. So many platforms introduced both of these features into their products this year.

NIALA: Before we let you go, what's one big thing you're going to be watching heading into 2022, Sara?

SARA: I'm curious to see whether or not regulators are going to become more involved in some of these media mega-mergers. You're starting to hear senators call out the Warner Media-Discovery merger, because potentially it would be so big that it would limit competition for smaller voices. This was not a concern a few years ago but fast-forward to today when misinformation is a huge problem and diversity is a huge problem. Regulators are starting to be more vocal about these big deals.

NIALA: So we, we’ll also continue to see regulators come down on social media for these same reasons.

SARA: Regulators are expected to continue to investigate social media platforms and put pressure on them. Yes, for reasons involving antitrust, but also for some bigger theoretical issues like hate speech and misinformation. Also, things like data, privacy and security.

NIALA: Sara Fischer is Axios media reporter. Happy holidays, Sara.

SARA: Thank you, Niala. Happy holidays.

NIALA: One more thing before we go: Starting next year, federal student loan payments are back. After first pausing loans in March 2020 and extending the pause four times since, the Biden administration has confirmed that monthly payments will resume on February 1st, 2022.

If you are a borrower who is facing financial hardships, you do have a few options available to make monthly payments more bearable for you -- you can go to studentaid.gov for details.

And in the meantime we would love to hear how the student loan payment pause affected you this past year. You can send your thoughts by email to podcasts@axios.com or text me at (202) 918-4893 and we’ll pick up this conversation in the new year.

That’s all we’ve got for you today! I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

Go deeper

Jan 14, 2022 - World

Possible Netanyahu plea deal could force him out of politics

Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo: Amit Shabi/Pool/AFP via Getty

Israeli opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu has for several weeks been negotiating a plea agreement with Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, according to Israeli media reports.

Why it matters: One key sticking point is whether the deal, which would require Netanyahu to plead guilty to corruption charges, would also require the former prime minister to step away from politics. Any deal would create a political firestorm in Israeli and could bring down the current government.

Starbucks drops worker vaccine mandate after SCOTUS ruling

Photo: Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Starbucks announced in a memo to employees Tuesday that it has dropped plans to implement a vaccine mandate for all U.S. workers, AP reported on Wednesday.

Why it matters: The company's decision comes in response to the Supreme Court's ruling last week to block the Biden administration's COVID-19 vaccine-or-test requirement for large employers.

1 hour ago - Health

Omicron hits American hospitals disproportionately hard

Expand chart
Data: Our World in Data; Chart: Will Chase/Axios

America is seeing more COVID hospitalizations than other wealthy countries during the Omicron surge, according to Our World in Data.

Why it matters: Vaccines keep the vast majority of COVID cases out of the hospital, but vaccination rates are also lower in the U.S. than these other countries.

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