Joe Biden Is Not Barack Obama
Israel and the Middle East will not be a top priority for action by a Biden administration
Joe Biden is not Barack Obama.
President Obama viewed Israel as a colonial force, an outsider, occupying Arab-Muslim lands. And that perspective colored his foreign policy.
That is not President-elect Biden’s perspective. He is not going to rush off to Cairo and make a big-splash speech. Israel and the Middle East will not be a top priority for action by a Biden administration.
To get a handle on Biden’s first concerns and just where dealing with Israel and the Middle East fits in precedence and importance, first we must understand the somber domestic political situation he faces.
America is divided. The election results were razor thin. The US is geographically divided, culturally divided, politically divided. And not just a little bit. According to the latest Economist/YouGov poll, 89% of Republicans believe voter fraud affected the outcome of the election. Think about that: Nearly nine out of ten Republicans say a Biden presidency won’t be legitimate and that voter fraud absolutely occurred. Meanwhile, 90% of Democrats believe the 2020 election was free and fair.
A newly elected President Biden is faced with a fiercely divided country.
Biden just doesn’t need the tsoris of dealing with Israel or the Middle East.
Add to that equation the fact that there is no huge wave of popular American political pressure or sentiment or screaming masses yelling in Joe Biden’s ear to get involved with Israel or in the Middle East. There is simply no particular pressure even from his left wing to put Israel at the top of, or even near the top of, his to-do list.
President Biden’s number one concern will be domestic policy. He will be immediately judged on how he handles the pandemic. He must get that right. A lot is riding on the vaccines. And Biden must focus on the economy and recovery. The economy remains the number one response in every opinion poll. And he faces a wealth of other domestic crises.
Yes, it’s true Biden believes in a “two-state solution” as the way forward and he is going to present his Middle East and Israel policy in those terms. But that doesn’t mean any big movement on the two-state solution will happen. Bet on the Palestinian Authority being disappointed. They think they have a bosom buddy in Biden.
He will offer to do something with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or Iran nuclear deal, but Egypt, the Saudis, the Gulf states, even Jordan and a number of significant Europeans have already advised Biden to go very slow . . . and he will. There is no big political imperative in America clambering for movement on the Iran front. None. Zero. Nada. If anything, Americans don’t trust Iran. Not to mention, there will be a compelling and cogent argument from Israel. In concert with others, Biden will make Iran a JCPOA offer. Iran will not be happy with his offer. And round and round we will go.
Biden will pursue foreign policy goals, but they won’t be focused on Israel.
He wants to engage globally on climate change. There is a constituency in America that will be anxious and pushing him to do just that. He will want to reach out to European partners and reassure them. And he will want to rejoin the World Health Organization.
Friends of Israel can take some comfort in knowing that, as it relates to Israel, Biden’s appointments have been absent extremists or radicals. Alejandro Mayorkas at Homeland Security is very good. Ron Klain as chief of staff is a moderate. Antony Blinken as secretary of state is a moderate. Linda Thomas-Greenfield at the United Nations gets very high marks from many. Jake Sullivan as national security adviser is a moderate. The likely appointment of Michèle Flournoy as defense secretary is an excellent choice.
Keep in mind that if the Republicans hold the Senate, Biden’s foreign policy will have to contend with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and their very pro-Israel chairman, Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho.
Lastly, as a caution: While a President Biden may not want Israel to be a center of attention, there are other actors and events that might intrude … Hezbollah, the collapse of Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, Iran, Hamas or an attack on Israel’s natural gas field in the Mediterranean Sea, as examples.
As the famous quote goes: “This is the Middle East, not the Midwest.” Stuff happens here.