It’s only been 11 weeks since Joe Biden was sworn in as president of the United States. With the president preoccupied with domestic politics and waging rhetorical warfare on his Republican opponents, it’s clear that foreign policy is a low priority for the new administration. And with Biden diving headfirst into partisan scrums—accusing Republicans of being racists with brazenly false accusations about a Georgia voting law and promoting an infrastructure bill that is more of a liberal project wish list than it is about rebuilding bridges and highways—there seems to be little space or oxygen left for a debate about his intentions abroad.
It’s also true that the pro-Israel community is determined to avoid any unnecessary battles with Biden. Though some supporters of Israel have registered justified complaints about many of Biden’s appointees, including both Obama administration alumni and those with more radical connections and beliefs, for the most part, the organized Jewish world is prepared to work with the president’s team. They know that while Obama’s staffers are far less sympathetic to Israel than their counterparts in the Trump administration, they believe that cooperation will yield better results than open opposition.
That makes perfect sense. It’s also true that of all the possible 2020 Democratic contenders, Biden was the friendliest to Israel. Though that was a low bar, it’s nonetheless true that his longstanding ties to the pro-Israel community mark him as more likely to treat the Jewish state as an ally, which is more than his old boss President Barack Obama generally did.
All that adds up to a general willingness to give Biden a chance. And with Israel’s government still paralyzed by a two-year-old political stalemate, relations between the two nations are also seemingly on hold.
But that doesn’t mean that Biden and his handlers haven’t already tipped their hand.
A number of key moves by Biden on both the Palestinian and Iranian fronts have already undermined confidence not only in his judgment but in his intentions.
With respect to the Palestinians, it was to be expected that Biden would walk back many of Trump’s historically pro-Israel policies. While Biden begged off on any attempt to move the U.S. embassy back to Tel Aviv from Jerusalem, which would both violate U.S. law and spark a battle that would be a huge and unnecessary distraction from his domestic priorities, the new administration has made it clear that the kind of closeness between the two nations that existed prior to Jan. 20 isn’t in the cards.
The least of it was the State Department’s overruling of the Trump-era declaration that the West Bank was disputed rather than “occupied” territory. This will encourage unrealistic Palestinian hopes that the Jewish state will cede territory in the heart of the Jewish homeland that a broad consensus of Israeli voters have consistently labeled as not so much ill-advised as insane. This lip service to the theoretical possibility of a two-state solution that the Palestinians have repeatedly shown no interest in reasserts policies that have failed time and again.
The same is true of the message that Secretary of State Antony Blinken delivered to Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi last week when he spoke of the need to deliver the same “equal rights” to the Palestinians that Israelis enjoy. The main obstacle to those rights remains Palestinian intransigence rather than any actions on Israel’s part. Yet Blinken’s trolling disguised as human-rights advocacy will only do more to annoy Israelis than to endanger them. Nor will it do much to help the Palestinians persist in their century-old war on Zionism to which they are hopelessly addicted.
Far more troubling are the signals that show that Biden is prepared to ignore the Taylor Force Act signed into law by former President Donald Trump into law in 2018. The act forbade U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority so long as they were, as they have continued to do, funding terrorism via pensions and salaries to those who shed Israeli and American blood.
The administration first said it just wished to give the Palestinians $15 million to help the P.A. fight the coronavirus pandemic. But now it turns out that it may have allocated up to $100 million in aid to Mahmoud Abbas’s terror-backing kleptocracy, with most of this kept from the public.
Biden is giving Abbas $75 million in economic aid to Abbas as a “confidence-building” measure. Supposedly Blinken wants to give the P.A. a chance to prove itself trustworthy in spite of the fact that for the 27 years of its existence, it has consistently shown the opposite. More to the point, handing over U.S. taxpayer cash to Abbas’s Fatah thieves and thugs is a flagrant violation of law since it helps the P.A. continue its terrorist funding. But the same media that cried foul at what they claimed was Trump’s running roughshod over the law have no problem with Biden treating open violations of it as a thing of no consequence.
Equally troubling is the way Blinken’s State Department is reverting to neutrality, if not hostility, towards Israel when it comes to international organizations that engage in anti-Semitic targeting of Israel.
Biden has restored funding to UNRWA, the U.N. refugee agency that has not only helped keep the 1948 Palestinian refugees and their descendants homeless but is dedicated to keeping their war against Israel going, doing far more harm than good. And the new administration has not only rejoined the viciously anti-Israel U.N. Human Rights Council that Trump had rightly boycotted but also embraced the toxic organization’s endorsement of the Durban Conference, a historic anti-Semitic hate-fest.
Most ominous is the administration’s moves towards a new round of appeasement towards Iran. We knew that Biden wanted to revive Obama’s dangerously weak Iran nuclear deal, though he and Blinken have rightly spoken of the need to strengthen it—a foreign-policy imperative that Trump made a priority by pulling out of the old pact and reimposing sanctions. Biden’s approach to Iran has been much like that of Obama’s terrible negotiating strategy. Iran has refused to put itself back into compliance with the original deal, and Biden and Blinken appear ready to start making concessions merely to get Tehran back to the negotiating table.
But the worst is the supine attitude Biden has taken to what may well be the most dangerous foreign-policy event in recent years: the agreement Iran struck with China that will effectively circumvent sanctions on the Islamist republic. The United States has the power to force China to abandon its attempt to buy oil from Tehran and to make other investments there, as well as institute military cooperation. All Biden needs to do to spike this potential game-changer is to tell the Chinese they must choose between doing business with Iran or the United States. But a week-and-a-half has passed since the announcement, and Washington has contented itself with nothing but mealy-mouthed expressions of a desire for all these countries to have good relations.
If this is allowed to stand, it’s a signal that Biden hasn’t the courage or the will to stick to his promises on stopping Iran from getting nuclear weapons. More to the point, it may show that his foreign-policy team thinks that, like Obama’s negotiators, such a development is not a big deal.
All of this means that it’s not too early for the pro-Israel community to start speaking up loudly and angrily about the implications of all these moves, especially the indifference to the Iran-China deal.
It’s one thing for the organized Jewish community to be slow to anger and to pick their fights with the new administration carefully. It’s quite another to sleepwalk through Biden’s first year in office only to eventually wake up and realize that the danger is already here, and it’s too late to do anything about it.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS—Jewish News Syndicate. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.
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