For U.S. President Joe Biden, a successful visit to Israel and Saudi Arabia is going to take more than just showing up. Biden risks being rebuffed if he presents an agenda out of step with the concerns of his hosts. The White House must understand that photo-ops and tired talking points are insufficient to fix the administration’s mistakes. To come to some agreement on a wide range of issues, including increased Saudi Arabian oil production, Biden should start off by asking his allies a simple question: What do you need?
In Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid is likely to point to challenges next door and down the block. For example, the Israelis—and many Americans, for that matter—are appalled by the Palestinian Authority’s ongoing pay-to-slay annuity program for terrorists. The Biden administration’s decision to restore aid to the P.A. without first demanding a permanent end to this official sponsorship of terrorism was more than just ill-advised, it was possibly illegal.
Last year, P.A. chief Mahmoud Abbas awarded the family of a terrorist who killed two and wounded two others, including a toddler, more than $40,000 and a new house. Another, Hakim Awad, is reportedly paid $14,000 annually as a reward for murdering a family of five in their home.
These incentives to murder are grotesque, and they are buoyed by the anti-Semitic indoctrination of Palestinian schoolchildren at schools staffed by the U.N. Palestinian refugee organization UNRWA, paid for with our tax dollars.
To win support from Israelis, Biden should start by demanding that the P.A. cut its annual pay-to-slay budget from more than a quarter-billion dollars a year to zero, as well as condition both direct and indirect U.S. aid on the P.A.’s compliance with this demand.
Likewise, aid to the P.A., even if it’s through NGOs, must be conditioned on a complete overhaul of the P.A. and UNRWA’s educational curriculum, which lays the foundation for future terrorism. The United States must adopt a zero-tolerance policy for incentivizing terror or teaching hatred.
Corrupt Palestinian officials used to enriching themselves on the backs of American taxpayers aren’t going to like these demands. Despite this, Biden should stand on the right side of history and push the P.A.’s autocratic leader Abbas to formulate a responsible succession plan that includes immediate and concrete steps towards building democratic institutions fully committed to coexistence, peace and prosperity. At the moment, no single act will do more to change the Palestinian people’s plight and increase the likelihood of coexistence in the region than driving Palestinian leaders to embrace liberal, democratic reforms.
In Jeddah, Biden should recognize that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has made incremental progress towards democratic reforms and is an important partner in the fight to contain Iran’s hegemonic ambitions. The president should make it clear that the U.S. continues to support any military action by the kingdom or any of our allies, including Israel and the United Arab Emirates, to protect themselves from Iran and its network of well-armed militias and terrorist proxies.
Throughout the region, including crucially in Israel and Saudi Arabia, civilians have come under fire from Iranian missiles, rockets and armed UAVs built in Iran or according to Iranian designs. This is entirely unacceptable and the president should make that unequivocally clear. Biden should also support efforts by our partners to build a regional missile defense architecture that will save lives.
The president is likely to hear one constant refrain throughout his tour of the region: The time has come to initiate a major course correction on Iran, a change being called for by leading U.S. senators on both sides of the aisle.
Though Biden has squandered the incredibly strong negotiating position he inherited from former President Donald Trump, the peoples and leaders of the region need the U.S. to recognize that allowing Tehran to string out negotiations over a moribund political agreement is a failed strategy that has enabled Iran to enjoy some sanctions relief while earnestly pursuing its nuclear weapons program. Iran’s nuclear breakout time is now measured in weeks, not months or years. Refusing Iranian demands to lift the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ designation as a Foreign Terrorist Organization is a positive sign, but it doesn’t move the ball forward.
The U.S. needs to introduce a comprehensive approach to show the Iranian regime that it does not hold the upper hand in negotiations, and the U.S. should do so with direct input from its Arab and Israeli allies. Punishing economic sanctions, unwavering enforcement and the credible threat of military action are essential to stopping Iran’s malign behavior, including its nuclear program. This is likely to necessitate the removal of U.S. Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley from office, which would be heralded as a positive development throughout the region.
Biden should be ready to act and create the conditions for win-win scenarios with his allies. In making these important policy shifts, he will demonstrate that he is unafraid of acknowledging that mistakes have been made, and he will win the trust and admiration of Israelis, Palestinians, Saudis and Emiratis alike. It also increases the likelihood that Biden will return to Washington having made much-needed progress in a volatile and important region.
Sandra Parker is the chairwoman of the Christians United for Israel Action Fund.