Simchat Torah 5781 – Chag Same’ach

Chag Same’ach!

As I wrote in my previous post there is not going to be a regular Simchat Torah this year, so I am not going to write a regular post.

If you want to know how Simchat Torah is normally celebrated see last year’s post.

I want to wish everyone Chag Same’ach! May our prayer for rain be answered, and may Hashem continue to hear our prayers and accept them for good.

חג שמח!

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The silver lining to the coronavirus lockdown during the Jewish Festivals

Capsules at the Kotel, dividing up the prayer area

We are at the height of Sukkot at the moment and I would love to write about the special prayers and celebrations that are taking place in Jerusalem and around the Jewish world, but with coronavirus still ravaging our population, we are in lockdown, synagogues are closed and prayer are being held in small outdoor gatherings instead. Even the kotel has been subdivided into “capsules” with only small groups of worshippers inside each capsule to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

But I’ve been doing quite a lot of thinking about the implications of the lockdown on our Jewish way of life.

On the one hand our synagogues are closed and the great yeshivot and even the Kotel and other holy places are practically empty.

And yet… what a wonderful feeling it is to walk in the street on a Friday night or Shabbat morning towards my brother’s “carpark minyan”. How many other minyanim (prayer gatherings) can I hear along my route (which is all of a 5 minute walk). Here a courtyard, there a balcony or public park, I hear prayers and gentle singing among the swings and slides and parked cars.

Aerial view of my brother’s “carpark” (or rather, garden) minyan set up for Rosh Hashana

On Rosh Hashana the prayers and then Shofar resonated throughout the neigbourhoods, each minyan slightly ahead of the next one. The non-religious neighbours paused in their walks or looked out of the balconies to listen to the blast of the Shofar as well.

On Yom Kippur the holiness of the day was felt not only in the actual prayer gatherings, but all along the streets where again, I could hear the tefilot being murmured or sung every few yards.

I felt inspired as I met people dressed in white, coming and going, all making a special effort to attend at least part of the prayers in the sizzling heat.

And I thought – Hashem! Can you hear Your people? Can you hear their prayers? Can You see? Look how they strive to fulfill the mitzvot of the day despite the hardship of praying outdoors in 35°C heat! See how Your holy people will not abandon the ancient prayers and their devoted connection to you?  As long as people were physically able, they joined minyanim – the vast majority of which complied with the strict rules of no more than 20 people per “capsule”, with masks and 2m distancing, and yet we, they, did it.

And then came Sukkot, with the lockdown still holding strong (or strongish. I won’t address the violations here). Suddenly Israelis who were used to going to their children (like we used to do) or went to hotels or flew abroad, or children who used to go their parents, were forced to build their own Sukkot.

Sukkah in my neighbour’s garden

Our own sukkah in our carpark

Several sukkot in a carpark down the road

And now like mushrooms after the rain, Sukkot have appeared everywhere! In places where I have never seen sukkot build before. On balconies, in gardens, on roofs, hundreds of them, thousands even. Sitting in our sukkah on Friday night, we could hear Shabbat songs being sung from sukkot in neighbouring buildings which added to our feelings of unity and festive celebration.

On Friday night, Sukkot ends and Simchat Torah begins. Usually this is an extremely joyous occasion, with hakafot – circuits of the synagogues – carrying the Torah scrolls, with exuberant dancing and sweets being thrown at the children. It is the absolute high-point of the Jewish calendar, where we end the cycle of reading the weekly parsha (portion) of the Torah, and start all over again with Bereishit (Genesis).

Again, this year it is going it look completely different. There won’t be the circuits of the synagogues or exuberant dancing. But people will still sing and dance in place, the Torah will still be read (outdoors), completed and restarted.

And the prayer for rain will be recited and we shall hope for another year of abundant rain like we had in the previous year where so much rain fell that the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) filled up to the brim and beyond.

And when this virus is behind us, will we miss these outdoor minyanim? Will we miss the special efforts we all made to pull together, pooling resources to enable the prayer services to be held in such odd places? Will we miss hearing tefilot being sung all along the street? Will we miss hearing the Shofar resound throughout the neighbourhood? Will we miss the celebrants sitting in their Sukkot all over the city?

I know I will, even though I look forward to being able to sit with my family and friends in our synagogue once more.

May Hashem grant a refuah shlema to all those afflicted and affected by this terrible plague, and may He also grant us the strength and unity to survive this together in one piece. May we be able to look back on this terrible time without regrets besides some bittersweet memories of the times we had to pray and celebrate outdoors.

Chag same’ach and moadim le’simcha!

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Sukkot 5781 – Chag Same’ach!

 

The festival of Sukkot, the most joyous festival in the Jewish calendar, begins tonight, lasting for 7 days (8 outside of Israel), running straight into the Simchat Torah festival on the 8th day (9th day outside Israel).

Sukkot is the last of the Shalosh R’galim (three pilgrimage festivals). Like Passover and Shavu’ot, Sukkot has a dual significance: historical and agricultural. Historically, Sukkot commemorates the forty-year period during which the children of Israel were wandering in the desert, living in temporary shelters. Agriculturally, Sukkot is a harvest festival and is sometimes referred to as Chag Ha-Asif Chag Ha-Asif (in Hebrew), the Festival of Ingathering.

 

On this festival Jewish households build a sukkah (pl. sukkot), a booth-like structure, where all meals are eaten, and people (usually the menfolk but not solely) even sleep there. The flimsy roof consists of leaves or branches, widely enough spaced so that one can see the stars at night, but close enough to provide shade during the day. It is considered “hidur mitzvah” – glorifying the mitzvah – if the sukkah is beautifully decorated, so of course this provides much entertainment, not to mention arts-and-crafts time, for the children to beautify their sukkah.

The sukkah is a commemoration of the flimsy huts that the Children of Israel dwelt in during their 40 years of wandering in the desert, with only the ענן הכבוד, the Cloud of Glory, to protect them by day and the עמוד האש, the Pillar of Fire, by night.

By leaving our safe and warm (or cool) houses just when autumn and the rainy season starts and going to live in a fragile hut for a whole week, it is also meant to remind us how fragile is our existence on this earth, and it is only by the grace and protection of G-d that we survive.

You can see a picture of our own rather simple sukkah in our car park at the top of this post. By comparison my sister’s sukkah is a fantastic glittering edifice which has been entered into our city’s Beautiful Sukkah competition. 🙂 Good luck!

The most beautiful, certainly the brightest Sukkah in PT!

This year, because of the coronavirus restrictions, we will each be celebrating in our own Sukkah, with no visits to or by friends and family, and as in the previous chagim, the prayer services are going to be held in small minyanim outdoors only. It’s not going to be the same, it’s going to be a lot quieter than usual obviously, but we must not be sad because one of the prime mitzvot of Sukkot is to be happy – ושמחת בחגך והיית אך שמח – And you shall be happy on your festival and be only happy.

One way to spread happiness is to share your joy. These families showed us how working together spreads the joy. Here is my niece’s building in Lod, where they ran one huge paper chain from one balcony to another to decorate the entire building! Note too the sukkah on every balcony. ♥

Paper chains link balconies with sukkot over a whole building in Lod

And here are some children in my daughter’s yishuv holding a 150m long paper chain to decorate the length of the street. 🙂

150m long paper chain decorates a street in Karnei Shomron on Sukkot

On Sukkot we also bundle together the Arba Minim – “The Four Species” consisting of a Lulav (branch of palm), branches of Hadass (myrtle), Aravot (weeping willow) and an Etrog (a citron, related to the citrus family) and during Shacharit (morning prayers) wave them together in all 6 directions to show G-d’s presence everywhere. Between Yom Kippur and Sukkot the streets of Israel are packed with markets and stalls selling the Arba Minim and sukka decorations. Many people take extra care when buying their lulav and etrog, examining them minutely as if they were buying a precious diamond.

In pre-corona days, the weekdays of Sukkot, as on Pesach, are called Chol Hamo’ed (lit. the weekdays of the festival) are a semi-holiday in Israel. Schools are closed, and many places of work are either closed or work half day, giving families the chance to go on trips, hiking or visiting. This year, as mentioned above, there will be no trips and no visits, and it’s going to be a very subdued festival. Please G-d our efforts will reduce the numbers of infections and enable the country to slowly open up again very soon.

This year there is no intermediate Shabbat (Shabbat chol hamo’ed) of Sukkot, since tomorrow is the first day, so Megillat Kohelet (the book of Ecclesiastes) will be read tomorrow in the thousands of minyanim around the country. We won’t be able to have the pleasure of hearing our son reading the megillah this year, as in previous years, but I’m sure he’ll do a great job!

If you want some extra insight into the meaning of Sukkot in the age of corona, then you could do no better than read Rabbi Jonathan Sacks:

Succot is the time we ask the most profound question of what makes a life worth living. Having prayed on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur to be written in the Book of Life, Kohelet (the book we read on Succot) forces us to remember how brief life actually is, and how vulnerable. “Teach us rightly to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Ps. 90:12). What matters is not how long we live, but how intensely we feel that life is a gift we repay by giving to others. Surely this is a message that resonates even more forcefully this year as we approach Succot in the midst of the global coronavirus pandemic.
Ultimately joy, the overwhelming theme of the festival, is what we feel when we know that it is a privilege simply to be alive, inhaling the intoxicating beauty of this moment amidst the profusion of nature, the teeming diversity of life and the sense of communion with those many others with whom we share a history and a hope – even if this year we cannot physically share a succah. We are all strangers on earth, temporary residents in God’s almost eternal universe. And whether or not we are capable of pleasure, whether or not we have found happiness, we can all feel joy.

May this Sukkot be a festival of pure joy, despite the restrictions, and may we merit to celebrate it in good health in the rebuilt Temple speedily in our days.

I wish all those celebrating a chag Sukkot same’ach!

!חג סוכות שמח

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Yom Kippur 5781 – Gmar Hatima Tova!

Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is upon us once again. It begins in a few hours time here in Israel, when we will be entering a 25-hour fast to pray for forgiveness for any wrongs we have committed towards G-d. It is a day when we must ask forgiveness from our fellow man if we have wronged them, forgive those who have wronged us if they ask to be forgiven, and pray that Hashem will seal us in the Book of Life. This year that prayer, along with the line in the Avinu Malkenu prayer: אבינו מלכנו, מנע מגפה מנחלתך- Our father, our King, prevent a plague among Your inheritance, will be recited with extra favour.

In pre-corona days, we would  attend services with day-long prayers, composed of beautiful, spiritual and emotional prayers and songs, being held in shuls and community centers throughout the Jewish world. This year all that has changed. In many countries shuls have been closed altogether. In Israel, while shuls were closed from this last Shabbat (yesterday), a special dispensation has been made for Yom Kippur. Small groups of 20-30 people are allowed indoors, and groups of 20 are allowed outdoors, with partitions between each group as long as social distancing can be maintained. Yesterday, because shuls have been closed, we all prayed outdoors as we have been doing since April.

In Israel, traffic comes to a complete halt throughout the country, even in the most secular towns, and a serene and holy calmness pervades throughout the land. Even the international airport and public transport close down for the day, starting from a few hours before the fast until an hour or so after the fast ends.

This year we don’t need Yom Kippur to halt the traffic as a complete lockdown has been imposed on the country to the huge rise in coronavirus infection rate.

This year we will have no problem praying with extra intensity and devotion, even though we will be sweltering outdoors in an oncoming heatwave of 35°C.

My younger brother wrote a great post on Facebook which I am reposting here with his permission. While he generalizes somewhat (not all the protestors, not all the haredim, not all the judges…), he expresses my feelings, and those of so many people I know.

I wonder if this would happen. ….
G-d comes down to Israel on Yom Kippur eve to look at how preparations are going for the holiest day of the year.
He goes to Balfour square, and sees crowds of people singing, dancing and chanting, and thinks oh they are preparing well. But as he gets closer, he sees that they are driven by hate. Hate for their leader, hate for the system, hate for religeous ppl, and hate for their brothers. He says to their leaders… Listen, i brought corona virus upon you to show how a meaningless virus can turn your life inside out, and show u how to be good to your neighbours and care for one another. Instead u have turned it to hate and disgust. G-d shakes his head, and moves on.
He then travels to Bnei Barak, to see how the ultra orthodox are doing. He sees them packed into yeshivot and kolellim attempting to serve Him, but none have listened to the medical rules and are infecting one another. He goes to their leaders and says, i brought the corona virus unto you, so that you could do further introspection, have respect for one and another, and also for the authorities of the land. But like before, you refuse to do your part. You are willing to take money from the state, but refuse to give back to the state. You dont even listen to the most basic of instructions, and you transgress my commandment of ‘you shall keep your soul safe’. G-d shakes his head and moves on.
He next travels to the newsrooms of Channel 12 and 13. He sees then preparing reports. He ask the editors, what are you doing? Oh we are preparing a report of how bad the government is (especially its leader Bibi) and how bad the land of Israel is to its residents. Wow, say G-d did you guys learn from the spies of Israel in the bible ? The last time they complained like that, i made them wander around the desert for 40 years in order to get their head straight. G-d shakes his head in and moves on.
He goes to the houses of Ester Hayut and Avihai Mandleblit. These are judges and honorable people he thinks, maybe they will know how to serve me correctly. But then He starts reading their judgements and sees how askewed they are from real justice. He says, You judges and lawyers have totally made a joke of the word ‘justice’, you have bent every rule to suit your whims. G-d shakes his head and moves on.
He then comes to us, the people of Israel and says how are you guys preparing for the holiest day ?
Ah we say, we are discussing how to serve you best, how to pray whilst keeping this virus at bay. We are looking at how we can help each other, helping the sick and helping poor. We are looking at how to make the world a better place. Mostly we are looking at ourselves and how we can become better people and have less hatred for one another and have less finger pointing.
Phew, says G-d, i almost gave up on my people. G-d sends them a loving smile and says ‘I am looking forward to hearing your prayers so that I can answer them, but look out for your bretheren who have fallen, they need help getting up’.
Wishing all of Am Yisrael, a gmar hatima tova, and a healthy 5781.

May Mark’s wishes and prayers be accepted along with all of ours.

In the spirit of the day, I would like to ask forgiveness from anyone whom I might have offended or hurt.

To those who are fasting I wish an easy and meaningful fast.

I would like to take this opportunity to wish my family, friends and readers Gmar Hatima Tova – May we all be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life.

גמר חתימה טובה

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Shana Tova Umetuka – 5781

Shana Tova Umetuka

Shana Tova Umetuka
שנה טובה ומתוקה

Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, begins tonight (Friday night), and lasts for 2 days, until sundown on Sunday night. The Jewish year follows the lunar calendar, and the number counts the number of years since Creation. This year we will mark the beginning of 5781.

This year is going to be completely different from any Rosh Hashana that anyone living can remember. It is not like during wartime when we took shelter, although the principle of isolation is somewhat similar. All over the world, shuls, synagogues, minyanim (prayer quorums) held in car parks, parks, back gardens and assorted public spaces, are going to be divided and subdivided into “capsules” as the Israeli government likes to call them. Plastic or plexiglass sheets have been put up to divide prayer spaces into groupings which will attempt to limit exposure to the coronavirus. In Israel, despite the very intense heatwave we’ve been suffering (G-d must really have it in for us this year!), we will have to leave the windows open in shul despite the air-conditioning trying to operate, in order to “dilute” the virus.

Tens of thousands of Israelis are in “bidud” – quarantine – after having been exposed to the virus and cannot take part properly in the Rosh Hashana prayers, so Shofar-blowers will be walking through the various neighborhoods to blow the Shofar for anyone who needs to hear it.

I myself will be attending the services in my brother’s car-park, where I have been going since the last lockdown was lifted straight after Pesach. It’s actually a very nice minyan, and the organizers have now figured out where to hang shading, and where to place chairs in maximum shade. Electric extension cables have been bought for a few fans to help cool us during the heat of the day, but in any event, on the instructions of the Chief Rabbinate, the prayers are going to be cut short. We are going to be starting very early, much of the beautiful poetic passages will be cut out altogether, and singing will be cut to the absolute minimum, again to prevent the spread of the virus.

I know that in years to come we will look back and laugh at what we had to go through, but at the moment it is very hard to see the funny side, especially with the enormously surging numbers of infected people in Israel, and a new lockdown beginning tomorrow afternoon.

I hope and pray that the Almighty gives our leaders the common sense, the logic and the wisdom to make the right decisions for us for a change, because up to now all of those characteristics have been exceedingly lacking.

To give us a bit of an optimistic view of what we hope and pray for next year, here are the Maccabeats with the Israeli classic “Bashana Haba’ah” (Next year), written by the “poet laureate” of Israel, Naomi Shemer. The lyrics were changed slightly to be more relevant to our current situation.. An English translation of the lyrics can be seen under the video (via Suzanne).

In the coming year we’ll sit on our porch
And we’ll count migrating birds
Children on holiday will play tag
Between the house and the fields

Soon you’ll see, soon you’ll see
How good it will be
In the coming year

Soon the day will arrive when we will sing together,
And the distance will just disappear
And the children will smile,
In a world that’s gotten better,
So let’s bring in a healthy new year

Wait and see, wait and see,
what a world there can be
And we know that there’s always tomorrow

In the coming year we’ll spread our palms
Against the white flowing light
A white heron will spread its wings in the light
And the sun will shine in them

Soon you’ll see, soon you’ll see
How good it will be In the coming year

To quote from previous Rosh Hashana posts, Rosh Hashana is not marked by great parties and merry-making for the Jewish New Year is also known as the Day of Judgement, the day when all humans are held accountable before Heaven for their good deeds and bad, and their fate for the coming year is decided. A good part of the two days of the festival is spent in emotional and uplifting prayers in the synagogue where we acclaim G-d as the King of Israel and as King of the whole universe, and where we ask Him to write us in the Book of Life, which remains open until Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) in 10 days time, giving us time to repent and atone for our sins.

The holiday is marked with the blowing of the Shofar (the ram’s horn), which is meant to literally sound an alarm to wake us up from our bad ways and return us to the righteous path.

Here’s a short clip to give you an idea of what the Shofar sounds like. In the synagogue it will be sounded altogether 100 times in two sets of 30 and 4 sets of 10.

We also eat sweet foods to symbolise our wish for a sweet New Year. A classic staple at the Rosh Hashana table is the apple, which is round, symbolising the cycle of the year, dipped in honey for a sweet new year.

Even our Challahs are baked in a round shape to symbolise the circle of life and the circle of the year. They are often extra-sweet and have raisins inside for added sweetness.On the second night of Rosh Hashana it is traditional to eat a fruit from the new season. The most popular fruit is the pomegranate, because of the beauty of its shape, because it is one of the 7 species of produce native to the Land of Israel, and because it is traditionally believed that it has 613 seeds, the same as the number of mitzvot (commandments) that a Jew is commanded to keep.

In normal times I usually quote the Israeli bureau of statistics with their morale-boosting numbers of olim and new births. This year however the only statistics that are dominating the news media are corona statistics and they are just too depressing to share on a festive post.

Instead I shall concentrate on the amazing good news – which I admit I was very ambivalent about – of the newly signed peace accord, the Abraham Accords, between Israel and the UAE, brokered by US President Donald Trump:

Like it or not, Israel, the Jewish state, is finally integrated into the positive narrative of the region. With actual smiles and handshakes, it has become a recognized Middle Eastern state – part of the landscape of its deserts, mountains, cities and Mediterranean coasts.

Airplanes will be able to fly freely between Tel Aviv, Abu Dhabi and Manama. Citizens of these countries will travel back and forth. Water will flow. Innovation in medicine, high-tech and agriculture will be shared. It’s a Rosh Hashanah miracle. The Messiah seems to be coming, after all.

“Hope and change” – the empty campaign slogan used by former US President Barack Obama – doesn’t do justice to what is happening before our very eyes. That Saudi Arabia is allowing its airspace to be used for flights between Israel and the Arab world is but one example.

Oman, too, has welcomed the normalization of ties between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain, as has Egypt. Kuwait is looking on with caution. Even Qatar, a friend and ally of Iran and Hamas, is trying to hedge its bets – as the current agreements have shuffled all the cards.

Other Arab countries expected to normalize relations with Israel in the near future include Saudi Arabia, Oman, Morocco, as well as Sudan, Chad and even Kosovo, a Muslim country, which wants to open an embassy in Jerusalem.

(L-R)Bahrain Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US President Donald Trump, and UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan participate in the signing of the Abraham Accords where the countries of Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates recognize Israel, at the White House in Washington (Photo: AFP)

Maybe we really are living in Mashiachzeit (the Messianic Age)? With so much hardship caused by the coronavirus on the one hand, and the breaking out of peace on the other – how can we fathom G-d’s plan?

All we can do is follow the instructions of the health authorities regarding the virus – wear your mask, wash your hands and keep your distance – and at the same time pray to Hashem for salvation from this plague, and for the continuation and widening of the peace circle in the Middle East.

May Hashem hear our prayers wherever they are held. And this year, as I said above, they are not being recited in grandiose synagogues and formal prayer halls. This year we will be gathering (if we are allowed to gather at all) in the most lowly and prosaic places: car parks, playgrounds, public parks and even street corners. And yet our prayers this year will be more fervent than ever.

If I have offended anyone during this past year I ask forgiveness of them and sincerely apologize.

May Hashem grant us good health, peace, joy and prosperity, and may He inscribe us all in the Book of Life.

תכלה שנה וקללותיה, תחל שנה וברכותיה

Let the current year and its curses be over, let the new year and its blessings begin.

לשנה טובה תכתבו ותחתמו

May you be inscribed in the Book of Life for a happy new year.

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The Israel-UAE treaty: is it good for Israel or bad?

https://www.israelhayom.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/AMOS-BEN-GERSHOM-laam_EPA_REUTERS-1140x570.jpg

Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, US President Donald Trump and Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu (GPO, EPA, Reuters)

I have been very much in two minds about the Israel-Emirates peace treaty which was announced last week. On the one hand it is indeed a very good thing, one less enemy in the Arab world and indeed one more ally, or at least a trading partner. On the other hand one of the conditions (or maybe just a clause) in the treaty was that Israel cease its plans to apply sovereignty (commonly but mistakenly referred to as annexation) over Judea and Samaria – and this is a very bad thing.

If two countries want peace and good relations, then what one country does within its own territory should be no business of the second party.

Then again, any Bibi-watcher could have told you that the Prime Minister was never going to actually impose sovereignty or annex any areas at all, let alone the entire Judea and Samaria. Netanyahu talks the talk, but is incapable of walking the walk.  We have seen it time and again, and what is strange is that for a very wily politician Netanyahu manages to enrage both his base and his opponents. He talks big and loud about legalizing or annexing the settlements and infuriates his adversaries, both from the Israeli Left and the international community. And then when push comes to shove he doesn’t actually carry out any of his promises, thus enraging his Likud and national religious supporters. He is a complete puzzle. I am just surprised every election cycle how right-wing Israelis fall into the trap of believing Netanyahu and his wild promises. He is not a leftist, but he is mostly interested in maintaining the status quo, not making any changes in the region, even if they would be good for Israel in the long run. His ethos seems to be that if you don’t do anything at all you also can’t do any damage. This is a mistake, but is the subject for another blog.

This being the case, that sovereignty was never going to happen anyway, the UAE deal seems to be a win-win situation for Israel. as Alan Dershowitz writes in the Gatestone Institute:

The agreement by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to normalize relations with Israel bodes well for the future of Israel and the dangerous region in which it lives. It was not the first such agreement — there were peace treaties with Egypt (1979) and Jordan (1994) — but it will probably not be the last. It is likely, though not certain, that other Gulf nations may follow. Even the president of Lebanon, Michel Aoun, has “hinted at the possibility of peace talks with Israel.” In any event, he has not precluded eventually joining other Arab countries in normalizing relations with Israel.

The deal makes clear that the Palestinian leadership no longer has a veto on the actions and attitudes of its Arab neighbors who will do what it is in their own best interest. It has also become clear that strengthening ties with the militarily, technologically and economically powerful Israel is the best protection against the dangers posed by an Iran that for decades has been seeking to have its own deliverable nuclear weapons capability.

The deal, however, is more than “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” The UAE will derive many benefits from closer relationships with the Middle East’s most stable and advanced country. These include economic and technological partnerships, military and intelligence sharing, mutual tourism and better relationships with the US and much of the rest of the world.

Haviv Rettig Gur, always a sane voice of reason, in the Times of Israel, explains the intra-Arab dynamic and the waning influence of the Palestinian problem, in his article The Palestinians weren’t betrayed by the UAE. They were simply left behind:

The Palestinian national movement is now at a crossroads. To be sure, the Arab world still cares about the Palestinians, sometimes deeply. But the Palestinian story has nevertheless shrunk from representing a broader Arab story to a tragedy that affects only the Palestinians, and in the process lost its grip on Arab policymaking. The oil-rich Gulf states are now respected global business hubs that view the West not as oppressor or competing civilization, but as a target for investment and a source of stability. The new threats that loom over the Arab world are regional — Iran, Turkey, Islamist factions of various sorts — or deeply local, from corruption to sectoral strife. The Arab world has changed, the Palestinian narrative has not.

The Emirati decision to normalize relations with Israel is thus a kind of liberation from the Palestinian question. To the desperate frustration of the Palestinians, the Emiratis don’t even seem embarrassed by it.

Yet in the normalization deal lies a lesson for the Palestinians. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who negotiated the agreement from the Emirati side, has demonstrated a key point about dealing with Israelis, a point the Palestinian factions, who spend surprisingly little time seriously studying how Israeli Jews think and feel, have yet to grasp. It is so simple it can seem cartoonish: To change Israeli Jews’ behavior, you must convince them they have something to lose.

A better way to put it might be that Israelis must be made to believe they have something to gain that could compensate for all they might lose.

Israelis — forgive the generalization, there are many kinds of Israelis with all kinds of views, but the term serves for the moment to describe the very large majority of them — do not actually believe that Palestinian politics are capable of offering them peace. That’s not just a convenient conceit, it’s a real, driving assumption for most Israelis when they come to think about the conflict with the Palestinians.

Then came the Emiratis. A fascinating Sunday poll conducted by Direct Polls for Channel 12 revealed the dramatic effect on Israeli opinion and politics that a sliver of hope could bring.

Asked explicitly whether they preferred the normalization deal with the United Arab Emirates to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s promised annexation in the West Bank (the Emiratis conditioned the deal on stopping the annexation), fully 77% of Israelis preferred the peace agreement with the UAE. Just 16.5% favored the annexation.

Even among self-described right-wingers, Netanyahu’s constituency, the Emirati deal won handily, with a whopping 64% to 28%.

Palestinians lost a great deal last week. They weren’t “betrayed,” as some PA leaders have complained, but simply left behind. They didn’t lose vital allies who cared deeply for their cause, but one-time supporters who still vaguely support them but are tired of the intractability of their cause.

I was surprised to see so much support for this peace deal from the Israeli right wing, considering the price was the suspension, if not the cancellation, of any sovereignty plans. But Ruthie Blum, a very staunch right-wing columnist, praises Netanyahu’s bold move:

In answer to critics on both sides of the spectrum, Netanyahu penned an op-ed on Monday to “remind [readers] that in the current agreement, not only has Israel not withdrawn from so much as one square meter, rather the Trump plan includes, at my request, the application of Israeli sovereignty over extensive territories in Judea and Samaria. It was I who insisted on including sovereignty in the plan, and this plan has not changed. President Trump is committed to it and I am committed to conducting negotiations on this basis.”

He went on to say, “At the U.N. in 2013, I said that for years, many believed that Israeli-Palestinian peace would advance a broader reconciliation between Israel and the Arab world. I said that I was of the view that peace would be achieved in the opposite fashion: It was expanding reconciliation between Israel and the Arab world that would likely advance an Israeli-Palestinian peace.”

There is no question that Netanyahu was right all along that the root of Middle East strife was not a lack of Palestinian statehood. Only liberal Jews continued to believe that fallacy, to which even most Arabs have stopped paying lip service. Proof that they only used the Palestinian “cause” to bash Israel lays in the appalling treatment of Palestinians in their own countries.

This is something that members of the Israeli right never doubted. Many, however, have cast serious aspersions on Netanyahu’s convictions where preserving Jewish rights in the land of Israel is concerned. They see the UAE deal as a form of capitulation to foreign pressure.

They are wrong to perceive his actions in this light. He is not caving to Washington. Rather, he is buying time and creating optimal conditions for Israel’s road ahead. As Movement for Governability and Democracy managing director Daniel Seaman so aptly put it in these pages on Sunday: “While most politicians are busy playing checkers, Netanyahu has always been playing three-dimensional chess.”

The journalist David Suissa has similar praise for the move:

In the Gulf, compared to the rest of the Arab world, economic dynamism is a greater priority. This makes Israel, with its innovative spirit, an ideal partner. That is why in recent years, we’ve seen more and more Gulf business conducted with Israel. A shared desire to confront the Iranian threat has only reinforced this mutual interest.

But this business was always unofficial. As often happens in the Middle East, if you’re cooperating with Israel, better not be too loud. Even with Egypt and Jordan, any business with Israel is usually discreet.

The highly public deal with the UAE has broken that ice.

For decades, the world community indulged the Palestinian myth that the “key to Mideast peace is the Palestinian conflict,” as if there are no other countries or conflicts in the area. The Arab Spring of 2011, which exposed deep grievances throughout the region that had nothing to do with Israel, was a big crack in that myth. So was the rise of the Islamic State and the civil war in Syria.

The deal with the UAE is yet another.

From this day forward, the new message to the Arab world is: Israel is not your enemy. Israel is part of the solution. Israel can be your partner. Don’t give the corrupt Palestinian leadership a veto on your growth and progress. Encourage them to make peace with Israel.

And if you live in Dubai or Abu Dhabi, you won’t have to hide that you’re going to a water conference next week in Tel Aviv.

A cursory search around the internet, including the vast majority of Israeli sites, will yield many similar articles in praise of this new peace treaty and/or in praise of Netanyahu.

One of the lone voices against the deal is the blogger Vic Rosenthal in his blog “Abu Yehuda” who expresses my own qualms at the deal as he looks at the downside of the UAE deal:

My immediate reaction was that I am happy to see normalization of relations with the anti-Iranian faction of the Arab world. Anything that facilitates cooperation against Iran is a good thing, although I have no illusions that there is any fundamental change in the Arab consciousness. It is still Islamic doctrine that Jewish sovereignty over what they believe is rightly Muslim land is unacceptable. Islam, however, permits temporary alliances – even with Jews – when they are expedient, and certainly the situation in the Middle East today makes it highly expedient. But Islamic antisemitism, as well as the overlay of Nazi Jew-hatred imported from Europe, won’t go away so easily (just at look at our “peaceful” relations with the Kingdom of Jordan for an example of de jure peace and de facto hatred).

On the other hand, we have to start somewhere, and Israelis really like the idea of visiting those fancy hotels.

But – you were waiting for this – I have one big concern about the process, and that is the suspension of plans for extension of civil law or sovereignty to the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, as well as the Jordan Valley.

Many observers suggest that since there was already no chance to implement sovereignty, then Israel gave up nothing by agreeing to the demand to suspend it. But this ignores the very important political significance of the decision.

The official Israeli position is that the territories belong to Israel by international law. But Israeli officials have always been ambivalent about this. The decision to treat the Arab population in accordance with the law of belligerent occupation, as though the land were occupied, seems to sometimes have been understood by elements in Israel’s government, Foreign Ministry, and judicial system as implying that the status of the territories in fact is that they are under occupation.

And don’t think that the Emiratis don’t see it this way. Listen to Hend al Otaiba, Director of Strategic Communication for the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs, when asked “why now?”

Annexation was our immediate concern. We felt it would kill the prospects for a two-state solution, which has been the basis of almost all past peace-making efforts, and set prospects for regional peace back decades.

Israeli public diplomacy should push back against this idea. It should stress that the land belongs to us, and while we might under some conditions cede some of it for a Palestinian entity (something less than a state!), there is no a priori Palestinian right to it.

That is why agreeing to suspend the application of civil law indefinitely (which really means forever) is a big deal.

However one final item that I would bring to your attention (sorry for the plethora of articles here!), is a very interesting opinion staunchly in favour of the deal davka by a very right-wing opinion maker, Dan Schueftan who sees the deal as Israel and the Arab states against Iran and Turkey:

The proposed agreement with the United Arab Emirates is important, and more importantly, symbolizes a trend. The delay in applying sovereignty is much less crucial, since Israel’s strategic needs are wider and immensely more important than its needs in the Palestinian arena, and also because in this arena, the agreement and this trend strengthen Israel’s negotiating position.

The willingness of the Gulf states to establish ties with Israel conveys the strength and reliability of the Jewish state in the eyes of the Arab nations; the timing shows the fear that an Obama-like administration in Washington will again endanger the Gulf states through its reconciliation towards Iran. In the 1950s and 1960s, Israel strived to free itself from isolation and the threat of its Arab surroundings with the “periphery alliance” with Iran and Turkey; today it works mainly with the Arab nations against the aggressiveness of both these non-Arab regional powers.

Beyond the diplomatic deed and the great potential for economic cooperation, this is a dramatic regional achievement. This breakthrough, with Egypt’s blessing and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s heartwarming rage, establishes the strategic axis of Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Bahrain and Oman – and in other ways also Greece and Cyprus – against the radical regimes of Iran and Turkey.

The glee of the center-left and the mourning on the deep Right over the suspension of applying sovereignty is peculiar. The Center-Left is wrong for objecting to the annexation of the Jordan Valley since it allows for the security conditions to disengage Israel from most of the territories in Judea and Samaria and the establishment of a “state” that will have no territorial contiguity with the radical elements threatening Israel.

The deep Right is wrong because the agreement with the UAE harms the Palestinian negotiating position after it was devastated on the issues of Jerusalem, UNRWA and the Trump plan. The Palestinians are expected to thwart any plan in Judea and Samaria that any government in Israel can accept. Therefore, whatever hurts their ability to harm Israel is something that should be welcomed by all wings of the Israeli political map. The ignoring of Palestinian objection and the establishment of the joint axis with most Arab elements are described in Gaza, Ramallah and Ankara as a “stab in the back.”

In that case, those significantly harmed are Iran’s stature, Erdogan’s hopes, and the illusions of the Palestinians. What more could one ask for?

What more indeed? Let’s hope all these learned journalists and researchers are right. This could be the dawning of a new age of warm relations if not outright peace. Then again…

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