JERUSALEM – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin deserves tremendous credit for nailing down four peace and normalization deals with four Arab countries in 2020.
Indeed, he deserves a Nobel Peace Prize for this, as does United Arab Emirates Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed (MBZ), Bahraini King Hamad, U.S. President Donald Trump, and Trump’s negotiating team.
But today Netanyahu just made a serious mistake by canceling his state visits to the UAE and Bahrain, which were scheduled for next week.
This is actually the third time Netanyahu has canceled – in November, in December, and now again.
This is wrong, and it looks terrible for Israel.
It was only Monday that Netanyahu publicly confirmed at least a three-hour meeting with MBZ in Abu Dhabi, and implied that details regarding his visit to Manama to meet King Hamad were still up in the air.
On Wednesday, I received firm confirmation from well-placed Arab and Israeli sources that the trip to the UAE was set, which I reported for ALL ARAB NEWS.
Yet at 9:38 a.m. on Thursday, the Prime Minister’s media advisor emailed reporters with the following statement: “Despite the importance of the trip to Abu Dhabi and Bahrain, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has decided to postpone the visit at this stage due to the closing of the skies. Prime Minister Netanyahu very much appreciates the invitations of Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed and King of Bahrain Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa and the historic peace that has been established between our countries.”
A senior Israeli official in the government was even more direct with me, saying, “It doesn’t look good for the PM to fly when the rest of his citizens can’t.”
I replied, “It doesn’t look good to cancel on Arab peace partners.”
Look, I get it, the COVID-19 pandemic is a serious problem.
But state business must go on.
And Israeli citizens need to be able to fly in and out of the airport for business or pleasure, so long as they have had all the proper testing and authorities are certain they don’t have the virus.
Closing the country’s main international airport sends a terrible signal to the world.
It is a decision that should be reversed immediately.
Netanyahu should go to visit our new Gulf allies.
And he should re-open Ben Gurion Airport immediately – at least for Israeli citizens and permanent residents.
If Netanyahu keeps bungling the COVID issue – and now our Gulf relations – he and the Likud Party will pay a price at the polls on March 23.
Joel C. Rosenberg is the editor-in-chief of ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS and the President and CEO of Near East Media. A New York Times best-selling author, Middle East analyst, and Evangelical leader, he lives in Jerusalem with his wife and sons.