The Biden Administration and Israel

The election is over. Or not. There are anomalies in the vote counting process in several key states that seemingly can’t be explained. There are lawsuits filed, dismissed, pending. Are there serious investigations into the anomalies? Is there anyone sufficiently competent and free of bias to investigate them? Is there the will and the focus to do so before evidence, if any, is destroyed? If someone asks me if America had a fair election, I have to say that I have my doubts, but there isn’t a smoking gun (please don’t send me links to smoking guns; I’ve seen most of them and I still am not prepared to bet more than 10 shekels (US $2.96) either way).

Joe Biden got more votes than Barack Obama did in 2008, the previous record for the popular vote in US history. And this is despite the fact that Biden – never inspiring, a liar and plagiarist, no less a narcissist than Trump – is clearly suffering from age-related decreasing mental capacity. These votes (unless they really are fraudulent) are anti-Trump votes. Nobody but Biden himself thinks he should be president.

Biden is at best an empty suit, which raises the question of who will be animating him, especially on foreign policy, the area in which the president has the most latitude for action independent of Congress and the courts. His foreign policy advisors include Daniel Benaim and Ely Ratner, both of whom are connected to think-tanks closely associated with Barack Obama. Benaim was a speechwriter and Middle East advisor for Biden during his stint as vice president; Ratner was Biden’s East Asia expert. Another is Jake Sullivan, who was Biden’s national security advisor in the Obama Administration, and a campaign advisor to Hillary Clinton. He also was part of Obama’s negotiating team that gave birth to the JCPOA, the horrendous nuclear agreement with Iran. Probably Tony Blinken, a former official in the Obama and Clinton Administrations, will have an important post in Biden’s White House. There are numerous others with similar backgrounds.

It appears, then, that Biden’s foreign policy, particularly in the Middle East will echo that of the Obama Administration – with the proviso that the extreme Left of the Democratic party, which has gained increasing influence since the 2018 midterm elections and the surprisingly good showing of Bernie Sanders in Democratic primary contests, will likely make its weight felt. There is also Obama’s own organization, sitting in Washington only 2.93 km from the White House, loaded with cash and influence and doubtless ready to direct Biden in whatever direction it finds appropriate.

One factor whose impact is mostly unknown is Biden’s VP, Kamala Harris. Although she has been accused of being far-left, at least in connection with Israel she is much closer to the center. She opposes BDS and has said that Israel “meets international standards of human rights.” But like Biden, she wants to restart the Iran deal.

The problem in predicting the behavior of an administration like this is that the personalities are not strongly ideological. Their actions will not be guided by a long-term vision; they will respond to external events. For all his supposed lack of focus, Trump and his administration have been remarkably consistent in their treatment of the Israeli-Arab conflict, and have been responsible for the first actual progress toward a solution since 1948. I don’t expect this from Biden-Harris.

The most important consequence of Donald Trump’s policies have been the “Abraham Accords.” Whether you see them as the dawning of a new age of Arab-Israeli cooperation or as a temporary alliance against the threat of Iran, they represent the creation of a new power bloc in the region which could be a force for stability against pyromaniacs like Khamenei, Assad, Erdoğan, and the leadership of Hamas and the PLO. It is essential to nurture and develop this relationship.

Obama’s plan was the opposite. His administration tried to weaken Israel, shrink its borders, and empower Iran to become the “enforcer” in the region. Although his motives are hidden from view, it seems to me that in addition to reducing conflict – which he would accomplish, in theory, by supporting an Iranian hegemony – Obama had other goals. He was very sympathetic to the Palestinian movement, likening it in his mind to the struggle of African-Americans with whom he identified. His post-colonial outlook caused him to relate strongly to the idea that Israel was an outpost of European settler-colonialism in a region of “indigenous” Arab “natives.” Justice, he thought, would be served by acceding to Palestinian demands. Did he go so far as to realize that this meant the destruction of the Jewish state? I think he did.

Joe Biden has said that he supports the traditional “two-state solution” based on pre-1967 lines, and a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem, the same bad idea that has been around since Jimmy Carter. Bill Clinton took it as far as it would go, until it exploded into the Second Intifada. Clinton, unlike Obama, wanted an agreement that would create a sovereign Palestine while still protecting Israel’s security. Biden seems to share this conception. Does he have the flexibility to understand that it didn’t work because it was oxymoronic? I am not sure.

A frequent Obama tactic against Israel was to express anger toward her as though she were a misbehaving child, and suggest that the relationship between the nations had been damaged by her actions. Afterwards, he would demand concessions to restore the relationship, which Israel would hurry to provide. This also had the desired effect of reducing American popular support for Israel. One of the more serious incidents of this kind happened in 2010, and involved Biden.

Lenny Ben-David, writing in the Times of Israel, reminds us what happened. Biden was visiting Israel when Peace Now informed the Americans that an Israeli official had announced the completion of a step in the approval process for some 1600 apartments in eastern Jerusalem. The White House and the State Department responded with angry condemnations, and Israel apologized obsequiously in response. After several days Biden and Netanyahu spoke and “agreed that the crisis was behind them.”

But the next day, and for some time after, the White House, State Department, and friendly media attacked Israel and Netanyahu over and over, including a famous 43-minute telephone call from Hillary Clinton in which she ranted to Bibi against the “affront.” Obama surrogate Martin Indyk said that Biden had been deliberately “humiliated.” J Street got into the act, demanding to “turn this crisis into an opportunity for progress on two states.”

Biden was not insulted and didn’t want a crisis. But Obama did. And this may be the paradigm for American-Israeli relations in the next Administration. It may not matter what, if anything, Biden thinks, because he will be guided by unseen hands.

If they are Obama’s, as appears likely, we can expect a rocky four years.

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2 Responses to The Biden Administration and Israel

  1. sabashimon says:

    No Vic, Kamala Harris is NOT closer to the center, by any means. Non-partisan organizations have ranked her, based on her voting record, as the farthest left of anybody in the Senate, and that includes Bernie Sanders. I guarantee that the plan is the invoke the 25th amendment at the first possible opportunity and see to it that she will finish out Biden’s term.

  2. Shalom Freedman says:

    It does seem that we are headed for four very difficult years. This also has our own internal dimension when it is not all clear who will be leading us in this time. Mordechai Kedar and Manfred Gerstenfeld suggest that we should try to enhance the Abraham Accords and in the process take advantage of likely dissolution of the Palestinian Authority by dealing with the tribal clan territorial nature of Palestinian society and constructing a series of ‘Emirates’. I have no idea if such an idea has any feasibility whatsoever.
    The picture you give of the incoming Biden-Harris Administration with its ties to the former Obama Administration is far more detailed than the one I had, but is in the same direction. Worrisome, indeed.

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