President Joe Biden’s mid-July trip to Israel and Saudi Arabia was a net plus for Israelis, analyst David M. Weinberg told the Jewish Policy Center’s July 26 webinar. “Despite an unconscionable lack of clarity and commitment” on halting Iran’s nuclear weapons program “and very unhelpful remarks” alongside Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem, the American leader did reassert “bone deep” U.S.-Israel ties. And he did so “in an era of growing radical discourse” within his Democratic Party that characterizes the Jewish state as a burden if not an “apartheid,” “colonialist” enterprise, Weinberg said.
Biden’s effort to repair strained U.S.-Saudi relations also was a plus for Jerusalem, according to the analyst. The president attempted to get the Saudis to pump more oil to help offset high gasoline prices and to “outflank the Chinese” with Sunni Muslim states of the Persian Gulf.
“Did he achieve it? … We don’t know,” Weinberg said. A regular columnist for the Jerusalem Post and Israel HaYom, a contributor to the JPC’s inFOCUS quarterly and senior fellow at Israel’s Kohelet Forum, Weinberg contrasted Biden’s Israel visit with those of immediate predecessors Barack Obama—for whom Biden served as vice president—and Donald Trump:
He didn’t hector Israel about the Palestinian Arabs, as did Obama, but neither did he bolster Israel’s position through acts like Trump’s moving the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, closing the U.S. consulate—the so-called “embassy to the Palestinians”—in eastern Jerusalem and imposing punitive economic sanctions on Tehran.
On the other hand, Biden “returned and expanded funding for UNRWA [the United Nations’ Relief and Works Agency that subsidizes Palestinian Arabs]” and “did not visit the Western Wall” though he did stop at Palestinian institutions also in eastern Jerusalem, Weinberg noted. The American’s speech accompanying Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem was “absolutely terrible,” Weinberg said. It included a false comparison of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to that between British and Irish, Protestants and Catholics in Ireland.
Biden implied that the Israelis were colonialist oppressors, Palestinian Arabs subjugated indigenous people, he added. Further, Biden spoke of a “two-state solution” on the pre-1967 Six-Day War armistice lines, with land swaps. “This moves the United States closer to the European position.” Weinberg said “that’s not helpful” and ignores facts on the ground, including Jewish villages and towns in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria).
The U.S. leader brought “nothing new” regarding preventing Iran from becoming a threshold nuclear power, Weinberg said. “Almost two years of this administration” have passed, but “the signals coming out of Washington on Iran have been wrong.” While the United States talks about climate change and human rights topping its foreign policy agenda, that’s not how Israel, the Saudis or the rest of the Middle East see it, Weinberg said.
The Trump administration mediated the Abraham Accords among Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain (later including Morocco and Sudan)—likely with Saudi approval. These depended on Sunni Arab states perceiving Israel as military, economically and diplomatically strong, backed by the United States and able to counter Iran, said Weinberg. So, the Biden administration’s early reluctance even to use the term and its desire to reengage the mullahs in the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action temporarily limiting their nuclear drive weakens the accords.
Israel’s political instability, holding its fifth parliamentary election in less than four years in November, also might be seen in the region as a sign of weakness. Gulf Arabs are “hedging their bets,” Weinberg said, exploring talks with Iran “which wasn’t the case in the last 10 years.”
Such perceptions could be “especially dangerous” as Israel’s conflict with Iran comes to a head, Weinberg said. Recent statements by Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Avi Kohavi on the necessity of stopping Iran might be an effort to build consensus in Israel, Weinberg believes. “I know the Israeli military is engaged in very serious preparations for a strike on Iran. … But I don’t think Israel can do it on its own.”
Nevertheless, Weinberg said, Israeli society is healthy, young, enthusiastic, growing economically and, as public opinion surveys indicate, “a happy people.”