President Biden: Israel’s Friend or Foe?
Donald Trump was indisputably the best presidential friend of Israel since 1948, when Harry S. Truman recognized the fledgling Jewish state moments after its Declaration of Independence. Trump’s gifts to Israel included transfer of the United States embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, in recognition of the ancient Jewish city as the capitol of the Jewish state; and acknowledgment of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, vital to Israel’s northern security. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo authorized a passport rule change to permit Americans born in Jerusalem to identify Israel as their birthplace. He also rescinded a State Department memorandum (1978) that settlements are inconsistent with international law.
Little more than two months after his inauguration, President Joe Biden is already competing to become the worst president toward Israel. He might even surpass his revered presidential mentor Barack Obama, whose antagonism toward Israel was one of the distinguishing features of his presidency. Understandably, a public opinion poll in 2016 reported that 63% of Israelis thought that Obama was the worst president for Israel since 1986. His closest rival for that dubious honor was Jimmy Carter at 16%.
President Biden seems eager to join them, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken as his messenger. It began in early April when Blinken told Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi of the Biden administration’s belief that both “Israelis and Palestinians should enjoy equal measures of freedom, security, prosperity, and democracy.” It is a fanciful hope. Freedom and democracy have never been priorities for the Palestinian Authority, whose leader President Mahmoud Abbas is now in the sixteenth year of his four-year term. Biden has expressed his farfetched belief that Israel’s control over the West Bank (biblical Judea and Samaria) is “occupation.” He might consider whether New Mexico, as its name implies, is also occupied territory.
As the Biden decision to undo Trump administration support for Israel accelerated, Blinken announced plans to resume American funding for UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Administration dedicated to preserving the fiction that there are five million Palestinian “refugees” entitled to financial support. In reality, an estimated 30,000 refugees from the 1947-48 Arab war to exterminate the fledgling Jewish state are still alive. But for UNRWA, which has nothing but lavish funding to lose — and, it seems, for Blinken — the refugees’ children, grandchildren, and their descendants unto eternity all qualify as “refugees.” It is, in translation, a scam.
Under Blinken’s leadership the State Department continues to identify biblical Judea and Samaria (formerly Jordan’s West Bank) as “occupied” territory. State Department spokesman Ned Price has affirmed that Israel “should refrain from unilateral steps … that exacerbate tensions and that undercut efforts to advance a negotiated two-state solution” — as if the Palestinian Authority has ever demonstrated even the slightest interest in that solution. Price’s “steps,” predictably, include “settlement activity.”
On a parallel track, with potentially worrisome consequences for Israel, Robert Malley, lead negotiator for the flawed Obama administration nuclear deal with Iran, has been appointed to resume negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. Although Malley can reliably be counted upon to spurn Israeli security interests, that is hardly ground for disqualification in the Biden administration. For Biden, anyone who worked for Obama is deserving of praise and rewarded with an administration appointment. Malley’s assertion that Israeli negotiations with the Palestinians must include Hamas is not a deterrent. It may even be a requirement.
Then there is the Taylor Force Act (2017) — signed into law by President Trump — that authorizes Congress to halt financial aid to the Palestinian Authority until it stops payment of stipends to terrorists and the families of deceased terrorists. Shortly after Biden’s election, his foreign policy team, disregarding the Taylor Force Act, announced the intention to renew $125 million in funding to the Palestinian Authority. And Secretary of State Blinken expanded Biden’s generosity to renew funding for the UNRWA “refugee” scam.
President Biden is following a path to become the Palestinian Authority’s best presidential friend and, it follows, Israel’s least supportive president. No surprise: there is a Biden precedent. Forty years ago, in a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Biden pontificated to Prime Minister Menachem Begin about the illegality of settlements, warning that American aid would be jeopardized if Israel did not change course. Begin sharply responded: “Don’t threaten us with cutting off aid to give up our principles,” adding “I’m not a Jew with trembling knees.” It was Biden, with trembling knees, who backed down.
President Biden should be wary. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, like Begin, favors the return of Jews to their biblical homeland. Nor do his knees tremble.
Jerold S. Auerbach is the author of twelve books, including Hebron Jews: Memory and Conflict in the Land of Israel.