Netanyahu needs to shorten his trip to the US

©The Jerusalem Post

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu removing his mask (photo credit: ELI DASSA)

The announcement on Friday of another normalization deal between Israel and the Kingdom of Bahrain is a huge achievement for Israel, the Trump administration and moderate Islamic forces in the Middle East and specifically in the Persian Gulf.
It is an additional sign of the changing regional tide and the idea that working with Israel will always be better than working against it or refusing to formally recognize its existence. Bahrain joins the United Arab Emirates in breaking that trend and showing the world what is possible when there is peace between countries.
Bahrain – even more than the UAE – is closely aligned with Saudi Arabia. Formalizing relations with Israel would not have been possible without permission from Riyadh and its crown prince Mohammed bin Salman. Does that mean the Saudis are next? Time will tell.
All of this underscores why Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu should travel this week to Washington DC to personally sign the normalization agreements with Bahrain and the UAE. It is true that those two countries will be represented by their foreign ministers and that according to diplomatic protocol, the agreements should be signed by Israel’s foreign minister as well. While that might be protocol, Netanyahu deserves the credit for these deals. They are his personal achievements. He forged them by recognizing the opportunity to invest in the Gulf and cultivated policy that helped make them possible. Yes, the seeds had been planted many years before, but they are his success.
The issue with the trip is also not the private jet that Netanyahu had planned to initially use to fly to the US under the pretense that it would protect him from the novel coronavirus. Netanyahu is in his 70s and Israel should do what is needed – within reasonable boundaries – to keep its elected leader safe and protected. If that meant him flying separately from the rest of the delegation, then so be it.
The problem is something else – the length of his trip. Netanyahu will arrive in DC on Sunday and remain there until Tuesday evening, landing back in Israel Wednesday afternoon. This is too long a trip at a time when this country is in the middle of a war and is unfortunately losing battle after battle.
Instead of being out of the country for some four days, he could leave Monday night, land in DC Tuesday morning for the signing and then fly right back home. No need for one night and definitely not two in the US capital.
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Imagine if Israel was at war and missiles were raining down on the country. Would it make sense for the prime minister to fly with his family to the US for a two-night, four-day break? Of course not. As a matter of fact, in March 2019, Netanyahu was in Washington for the AIPAC policy conference and cut his trip short after a single rocket was fired from Gaza and struck a Moshav in the center of the country.
This situation is no different. Israel is in the middle of a war. It is a war against a health and economic crisis that is costing lives every single day. Over 4,000 people are diagnosed daily with the virus and the death toll has long ago crossed 1,000.
Hospitals are packed and the nation is heading into a lockdown that will last anywhere from two weeks to four weeks and will likely put tens of thousands of people out of work, see businesses shut down and escalate the already dire economic situation in the country.
Is this the time to fly for four days to the US? Yes, the agreements with the UAE and Bahrain are important, but the country is in the middle of a war and is losing. A leader doesn’t leave when soldiers are still on the battlefield.
This is the true problem with Netanyahu – this disconnect between what is right and what his people need. Israel needs a leader today that is focused on the welfare of the people, not on embarking on a long trip to the US when too many people are suffering. That’s not right.
Bibi – cut the trip short.
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