Israel’s PM, Naftali Bennett, is already in the US and will be meeting with US President Biden on Thursday.
There are some who think that Bennett should have stayed home. While it is unlikely that the administration can be convinced to turn aside from its path of appeasement toward Iran, it is expected to pressure Bennett on several other issues, like construction in Judea/Samaria, the re-opening of the American consulate in eastern Jerusalem, and who knows what else.
The issue of the consulate is particularly painful. Before Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, it served as the de facto US Embassy to the “State of Palestine.” A country locates its embassy in the capital of the state that it serves, and the significance of an embassy to Palestine located in Jerusalem, is that Jerusalem is the Palestinian capital. Trump – or his Ambassador to Israel, David M. Friedman – realized this and closed the consulate, transferring its functions to the new US Embassy to Israel in Jerusalem. Reopening the consulate and resuming its function as a mission to the Palestinians, in effect walks back Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and at the very least supports the division of Jerusalem into Israeli and Palestinian sovereignties.
The Biden Administration also considers any Israeli construction east of the Green Line as undesirable, because it prejudices the possibility of obtaining a “two-state solution,” that is, an Israeli withdrawal from territories it gained control of in 1967. Somehow there is less excitement when Arabs illegally build in Area C, where Israel has full civil control, according to the Oslo Accords, which still have the force of international law. Biden has already restarted aid to the Palestinians that Trump cut off due to policies such as anti-Jewish indoctrination in Gazan and Palestinian Authority schools, and payments to convicted terrorists or the families of “martyrs.”
After the realism of the Trump Administration, it feels like swimming underwater to hear the familiar platitudes about “two-states, living side by side in peace” coming from Biden’s officials. Today there are only two kinds of people who support an Israeli withdrawal from Judea and Samaria: those who are entirely disconnected from reality, as it has unfolded in the past century (and particularly in the past three decades), and those who want Israel to be replaced by an Arab state, and see the reversal of 1967 as a step on the way. Biden himself, to the extent that he thinks about anything at all, is in the former category; but many administration officials fall into the latter one.
Biden and the Democrats are in big trouble now, because the debacle in Afghanistan has made it impossible to maintain the fiction of a competent government and chief executive. Even some of the formerly sycophantic media are beginning to sound discordant notes. The fact that the mighty US was (and apparently still is) unable to even rescue its citizens – not to mention the thousands of Afghans who had worked for it and whom are already being targeted by the Taliban – sends a signal of weakness and even cowardice, which Biden only made worse by unconvincingly blaming Trump and the Afghan army.
China has already made propaganda hay out of the situation, warning Taiwanese that American support can’t be depended upon. And Islamic terrorists of all stripes have been cheering loudly.
Biden’s people will be looking for a foreign-policy achievement to help make Americans and others forget the humiliation, especially one that will send a message of strength and control. How better to get one than to bully Israel, which – unlike the Taliban – is unlikely to shoot back?
In an interview this week with the NY Times, PM Bennett made it clear that his top priority is to get the US to work together with Israel and its Sunni allies to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons. He also insisted that he would defend construction policies in Judea/Samaria (although he has already preemptively cut building plans to avoid irritating Biden) and that he is not interested in any new Palestinian peace initiatives.
Perhaps Bennett thinks that if he throws Biden a news-cycle lifeline, Biden will be grateful enough to give him something in return. Bennett is very unpopular these days in Israel – the Right thinks he has sold out to the Left, and the Left dislikes him for his right-wing ideology. Some crumbs from Biden’s table might be politically useful to him.
So I’m sure Bennett will return brimming with accomplishment over some encouraging words about Iran that he will have received; but the possibility that there will be any substantive change in US policy is negligible, given the cast of characters in the American administration. If, as I suspect, the administration is strongly influenced by the circle around former president Obama, that is even more reason to think that Israeli concerns will not affect American Iran policy.
The phrase for “negotiations” in Hebrew is literally translatable as “give and take.” But when one side holds all the cards, there is mostly give and very little take. Anything that Bennett does get from the meeting, even if it is only insubstantial promises, he will pay for, probably in concessions regarding the Palestinians.
There are plenty of crises in Israel right now – for example, hospitals are claiming to be out of money and refusing to take more Corona patients – that could serve as legitimate reasons to stay home. Bennett should have picked one of them and not gone to America.