President Biden’s First Trip to the Middle East Produces Mixed Results
Not a single diplomatic breakthrough for the American leader
President Joe Biden has concluded his four-day trip to the Middle East; his first stop was in Israel, where he reaffirmed his commitment to the country’s security, signing a landmark agreement – the Jerusalem Declaration – with caretaker Prime Minister Yair Lapid, committing the US to maintain its military edge and technological superiority in the region.
The two leaders signed the declaration on Thursday.
It reaffirms the United States’ position “never to allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon,” adding that it “is prepared to use all elements of its national power to ensure that outcome.”
President Biden made it clear that he supports the Abraham Accords signed under his predecessor, saying he will work to expand on them and integrate Israel into the region.
Nevertheless, Prof. Efraim Inbar, president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security, told The Media Line that the trip wasn’t a total success.
“The Israelis were quite disappointed because they were not successful in convincing the Americans to agree with them on two important issues: one, to put a deadline to the negotiations [in Tehran’s nuclear efforts]; second, to annunciate a red line concerning the Iranian progress on the nuclear program.”
Also on Thursday, Lapid warned that “words” and “diplomacy” would not be enough to block Iran’s nuclear aspirations.
“The only thing that will stop Iran is knowing that if they continue to develop their nuclear program the free world will use force,” he said.
The president also visited the West Bank where he met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem, in a session that lasted about 75 minutes.
President Biden offered his long-standing support for a two-state solution. He acknowledged, however, that “the goal of the two states seems so far away.”
He gave no details on what his administration would do to make a Palestinian state become a reality.
“There must be a political horizon that the Palestinian people can actually see or at least feel. We cannot allow the hopelessness to steal away the future,” the American leader said in Bethlehem.
President Biden also made a quick stop at Augusta Victoria Hospital, where he announced $100 million in aid to a network of Palestinian hospitals located throughout east Jerusalem. He added that his administration will provide an additional $200 million for the United Nations agency serving Palestinian refugees.
Omar Rahman, a fellow at the Qatar-based Middle East Council on Global Affairs, told The Media Line that’s not what the Palestinians were going after; they didn’t get what they wanted from President Biden.
“Of course not. I don’t think they will return funding for hospitals, for UNRWA [the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees], but at the same time the Palestinians are looking for commitment to their political horizon, they are looking for an end to occupation, and none of that was addressed by Biden in any real terms,” Rahman said.
President Biden reiterated his position demanding a full US effort toward accountability over the killing of Palestinian-American Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh.
He concluded his Middle East tour by meeting with the leaders of nine Arab nations − including a long-awaited visit with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The president came to Saudi Arabia 18 months after taking office, vowing to remain engaged in the region, helping countries there resist the drives for influence by Iran, Russia, and China.
He wanted more oil production from the Gulf states and was hoping to announce a security alliance to confront Iran.
Many are skeptical about whether he was able to achieve all or even part of his agenda.
“There were no concrete promises on oil production bringing down oil prices, there was no advancement of normalization, especially between Saudi Arabia and Israel,” said Rahman.
President Biden faces mounting political challenges back home, including soaring inflation tied in part to spiking energy prices, so he’s pushed Gulf states including Saudi Arabia to ramp up oil production to bring down fuel costs.
“The kingdom will carry out its role in this field, as it has announced an increase in its production capacity to 13 million barrels per day. Thus, the kingdom will not have any additional capacity to increase production,” Prince Mohammed told the Jeddah summit.
Another goal of the president during his tour was to reaffirm Washington’s leadership role and commitment to the region.
“The United States is not going anywhere,” President Biden said on Saturday during his speech to the nine Arab leaders, adding, “It’s only becoming clear to me. … We will not walk away and leave a vacuum filled by China, Russia, or Iran.”
But he emerged without a single diplomatic breakthrough.
“Whether his commitment to the region holds much weight to convince American allies of US credibility is up in the air,” said Rahman.
President Biden was hoping to lay the groundwork for a regional security alliance composed of Arab states and Israel to stand in opposition to Iran and its allies.
But some of the countries attending the summit made it clear even before they arrived in Jeddah that they want nothing to do with any military pact targeting Iran.
“I must say that I’m not surprised by this attitude by the Saudis, even by other Gulf states that have relations with Israel such as Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. After all, those states are afraid of Iran. As long as this threat is lingering, they are not going to appear openly in a defense pact with Israel,” said Inbar.
High hopes preceded President Biden’s visit to the Middle East, but the prevailing feeling here is it fell short of meeting its stated goals.
For Palestinians, their modest expectations were not met, and the feeling is not exclusive to them.
“They were disappointed, the Israelis were disappointed, the rest of the Middle East was disappointed. So maybe the Americans should do some rethinking about their policy in the Middle East,” said Inbar.