Op-Ed, Caroline Glick: Talk of Biden’s joviality and personal warmth, and of moderates versus radicals, are soothing distractions for Israelis about to face the most hostile U.S. administration in history.
The day before the U.S. presidential election, the progressive Israel Democracy Institute published the results of a poll of Israeli Jews. The poll asked whether they believed President Donald Trump or former Vice President Joe Biden would be better for Israel. Some 70 percent named Trump, 13 percent chose Biden and 17 percent said they didn’t know.
Since U.S. networks proclaimed Biden the winner, Israel’s media, along with its diplomatic and security establishments and political leadership, went into guessing mode. They are busy scouring the lists of candidates for senior foreign policy positions in the Biden administration. And they are considering the implications of so-and-so’s appointment to national security adviser. The name game assumes that the appointment of one person over another will significantly impact a Biden administration’s Middle East policy either in Israel’s favor or to its detriment.
There is nothing new about the name game. Israel’s political and national security leaders and its media know-it-alls play it every four years. Indeed, often personnel has been policy. For instance, when Trump replaced his first secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, with Mike Pompeo, things changed. Tillerson opposed leaving the Iran nuclear deal and opposed moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. Pompeo supported both.
But in the case of the incoming Biden administration, who fills what job is basically irrelevant, and worrying about it is more or less futile. Biden’s policies are pretty much set in stone.
Biden, his running mate Kamala Harris and their team repeatedly set out their Middle East policies in detail during the campaign. And ever since it became clear that Biden is highly likely to win the presidency, his advisers have restated those policies. In some cases, they have already taken initial steps towards implementing them.
If statements and actions by Biden, Harris and their campaign before and after the
election were not enough to convince Israel’s leadership and media of the depth of their commitment, the Democrat Party as a whole stands behind them.
Following the election, Democrats, particularly in the House of Representatives, have been playing the blame game regarding their significant losses. Everyone was certain that the party would expand its House majority. But the Democrat majority has moved from comfortable to endangered, with the loss of at least 12 seats. Moderates now insist that the progressives took the party too far to the left and so caused losses in several districts. Radicals for their part note that nearly everyone who ran with their policies won their races and demand even greater say in future policy decisions.
But the rancor and infighting between moderates and radicals revolves around domestic issues like socialism and defunding the police. It has nothing to do with Israel or the wider Middle East. Policies on those issues are effectively consensual and not subject to debate.
They are consensual because Biden’s policies on Israel, Iran and the wider Middle East are those of the Obama-Biden administration’s. The Biden campaign, including Harris and the Democrat National Committee have made this very clear. A Biden Middle East policy will pick up precisely where the Obama administration left off four years ago. The new administration will unceremoniously annul, ignore, set aside, or render irrelevant Trump’s Mideast policies.
Biden is determined to restore the Palestinians to center stage and to reinstate U.S. funding to the Palestinian Authority. The Taylor Force Act bars the United States from funding the P.A. so long as it pays salaries to terrorists. Thus Trump ended U.S. financial support for the P.A. because it refused to stop funneling hundreds of millions of dollars to terrorists. Likewise, P.A. funding of terrorists caused Trump to close the PLO’s representative office in Washington, D.C., which Biden has committed to reopening.
Biden also committed himself to reinstating U.S. humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip. Such a move will be a boon for the Hamas terrorist regime, which currently relies on cash payments from Qatar.
The Obama administration’s endgame regarding the Palestinians was the devious lame-duck passage of U.N. Security Council Resolution 2234 in December 2016. Obama and his advisers claimed they had nothing to do with the resolution but simply didn’t feel right vetoing it. But, as we have learned over the past four years, that was a lie. 2234 was actually initiated, behind the scenes, by Obama and his U.N. ambassador Samantha Power. They pushed it obsessively, attaching the highest priority to harming Israel as much as possible before they left office.
The intent of Resolution 2234 was to set up Israeli leaders and civilians as war criminals in the International Criminal Court by claiming, baselessly, that Israeli communities in unified Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria are illegal. In the words of the resolution, those communities, home to more than 700,000 Israelis, have “no legal validity” and “constitute a flagrant violation under international law.”
President Trump recognized Israel’s sovereignty over Jerusalem, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo affirmed that Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria are not illegal. These moves indicated the Trump administration’s attempt to nullify Resolution 2234, at least from a U.S. perspective. But Biden will ignore the Pompeo Doctrine and the State Department’s legal opinion substantiating his position, just as Obama ignored then President-Elect Trump’s opposition to 2234 before its passage.
Also, Biden and his advisers have said they would reinstate the Obama administration’s position about “settlements”. They will demand that Israel bar Israeli Jews from asserting their rights to build homes in Judea and Samaria. This will be another move to continue where Obama left off.
As for Jerusalem, Biden has said that he would not close the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem and reinstate the embassy in Tel Aviv. However, he has pledged to reopen the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem to serve Palestinians. Before Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem had operated independently of the embassy. The U.S. consul in Jerusalem was not accredited by the Israeli president because the United States refused to acknowledge that Jerusalem was located inside Israel.
Biden did congratulate Israel, the UAE and Bahrain on signing the Abraham Accords—which Sudan has since joined as well. But his advisers have spoken of them derisively. This week, Tommy Vietor, who served as National Security Council spokesman under Obama, spoke derisively of the normalization deals. This, despite the fact that just weeks after the accords were signed, they have already borne fruit. They have blossomed into an enthusiastic partnership and alliance encompassing private citizens and government ministries in all participating countries.
Vietor said they were not peace deals but a mere vehicle for the UAE to acquire F-35s. Vietor then alleged that the UAE wanted to use the deals to help Saudi Arabia win its war against the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen.
Biden, Harris and their advisers have pledged to end U.S. support for Saudi Arabia in the war and to reassess the U.S.-Saudi alliance.
If that pledge becomes reality, these policies will not end the Saudi war against the Houthis. They will end the U.S.-Saudi alliance. For the Saudis, the war against the Houthis is not a war of choice, it is an existential struggle. The Houthis are an Iranian proxy regime. Their control over the strait of Bab el-Mandeb threatens all maritime oil shipments from the Red Sea. Houthi missile strikes already temporarily disabled Saudi Arabia’s main oil terminal and have hit Saudi cities. If the U.S. ends its alliance, the Saudis will continue their war and replace their alliance with the United States with an alliance with China.
Supporting Iran’s Yemeni proxy against the United States’ strategic ally is not the only way a Biden administration will help Iran against America’s Arab allies and Israel. Biden and his team have all pledged repeatedly to reinstate the U.S. to the nuclear deal that Obama concluded with the Iranian regime in 2015.
Various reports have emerged in recent days regarding how, precisely, Biden intends to achieve that aim. But it’s clear that the Biden-Harris administration will back Iran’s nuclear weapons program more or less from the outset. And with that commitment already in hand, Iran will hold all the cards in any future negotiation about a U.S.-Iran rapprochement.
It cannot be underscored enough that these policies are not simply Biden’s positions. They are the Democrat Party’s positions. And this is the big change that has happened in the past four years. Israelis remember that when Obama concluded the nuclear deal, it was opposed by a 2:1 majority in the Senate and a similar majority in the House. But the Democrat Party has changed since then.
After four years of Democrat Party radicalization, on Middle East and Israel issues there is no meaningful distinction anymore between “moderates” and “radicals”. Anthony Blinken, who served as John Kerry’s deputy, is reputedly moderate. And Susan Rice, Obama’s former national security adviser, is clearly anti-Israel. But it matters little if Blinken or Rice (or anyone else) is appointed secretary of state.
Because these are the positions of the party, they are not subject to change. If Biden’s radical plans somehow manage to destabilize the Middle East, Biden won’t be in a position to reconsider any of his policies. They have been grafted on to his party’s DNA. Pro-Israel House Representative Elliot Engel lost decisively in his primary race against new “squad” member Jamal Bowan. Standing with the Palestinians is a party position now. That’s why Obama’s former ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro told Israeli media that “the establishment of a Palestinian state will return as the strategic goal of the Biden administration.” Frustratingly but unsurprisingly, he didn’t even mention peace in that statement.
Likewise, appeasing Iran and giving it an open road to a nuclear arsenal is a domestic political issue for Democrats.
Talk of Biden’s “joviality and personal warmth”, and of “moderates versus radicals”, are soothing distractions for Israelis. But the facts are the facts: Israel is about to face the most hostile U.S. administration in history.
And therefore it will be a tough challenge a Biden administration will pose to Israel’s national and strategic interests. Israel must steel itself for what awaits it, not worry who will occupy which post in a Biden administration.