A Middle East Policy Guide for President-Elect Biden
As I wrote last week, Joe Biden will enter the White House with more experience in Middle East affairs than any of his predecessors; nevertheless, some Israelis and friends of Israel fear he may repeat his predecessors’ mistakes.
Here are 20 suggestions for how President Biden can avoid them, strengthen US-Israel relations, and advance America’s broader interests in the region.
- Keep disagreements with Israel private. Public condemnation will sour relations with Israel and encourage Palestinian intransigence.
- Appoint original thinkers rather than retreads who want to return to the failed policies of the past.
- Choose a UN ambassador who will vigorously defend US interests and make it clear that one-sided condemnation of Israel will not be tolerated. Commit to vetoing anti-Israel resolutions proposed by any UN body and reduce or end financial support for agencies that demonize Israel.
- Focus on building on the momentum of the Abraham Accords, and encourage Arab/Muslim states to normalize relations with Israel rather than an Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative.
- Recognize that the present leadership of the Palestinian Authority (PA) has neither the will nor the ability to reach any agreement with Israel, acknowledge that Palestinian intransigence is the obstacle to peace, and reject the idea that one-sided pressure on Israel will change the Palestinians’ position.
- Do not expect the Israeli government to accept earlier proposals requiring a withdrawal from more than 90% of the West Bank after the Trump plan allowed Israel to annex 30% of the area. No Israeli government will evacuate more than 100,000 Jews from the West Bank, which would be necessary in previously conceived two-state solutions.
- Expect Israel to show restraint in settlement construction and to limit new building to the settlement blocs that the US agrees will be part of Israel in the future — but do not insist on a settlement freeze as a condition for resuming peace negotiations.
- Continue isolating Hamas. It will not change its raison d’être of calling for the destruction of Israel.
- Demand that the PA immediately end incitement and its “pay for slay” policy of providing salaries to terrorists and their families. Do not reopen the PLO mission or provide aid to the Palestinians for anything but security cooperation and humanitarian needs until they satisfy this demand. Hold out the possibility for the improvement of relations if new leaders emerge who are genuinely interested in peace.
- Agree that Palestinian refugees be given the option of living in a future Palestinian state, but not the right to live in Israel. If Palestinians are offered compensation, Jews who fled Arab countries should also be compensated.
- Keep the US embassy in Jerusalem, and encourage other nations to move theirs. No separate consulate is necessary for the Palestinians.
- Maintain a credible military threat to ensure Iran does not build a bomb. Any negotiations must be undertaken with the clear-eyed realization that Iran is an enemy that will not alter its orientation without regime change. Continue the “maximum pressure” campaign and inform allies they will not be allowed to circumvent sanctions. Insist that Iran give up its nuclear program, sponsorship of terror, ballistic missile development, and destabilization of the region before easing any sanctions.
- Keep troops in Iraq and Syria as a deterrent to Iran, to fight terrorists, and to promote stability. Respond forcefully to any attacks on US forces or interests.
- Increase military aid to Israel and ensure its qualitative military edge (QME) is maintained.
- Review proposed arms sales to Arab states to ensure they do not threaten Israel’s QME and are compatible with US strategic interests.
- Continue to hunt and kill terrorists.
- Halt military aid to Lebanon unless and until Hezbollah representatives are removed from the government, the group is disarmed, and its missiles dismantled.
- Restate your condemnation of the BDS movement and the fact that it is antisemitic, and support previously introduced legislation to ban boycotts of Israel.
- Add funding to support bi-national programs such as BARD, BIRD, and BSF that benefit both the United States and Israel.
- Encourage allies to adopt similar policies toward the region.
Mitchell Bard is a foreign policy analyst and authority on US-Israel relations who has written and edited 22 books including: The Arab Lobby, Death to the Infidels: Radical Islam’s War Against the Jews, and After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine.