President Joe Biden has returned from the first Middle East trip of his presidency, and for the most part it was uneventful. While a few headlines were made by a fist bump with the Saudi Crown Prince and the lack of progress on the issue of oil exports, the most eye-opening part of the trip was Biden’s insistence that the diplomacy of the 1990s is still viable today.
Biden met with interim Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid, who is the leader of the center-left Yesh Atid party. Yet on issues regarding Iran and the Palestinian Authority, Lapid sounded far more like his predecessor Benjamin Netanyahu than former center-left Prime Ministers Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert. But it is Barak and Olmert’s conciliatory approach that Biden seemed to have been expecting.
Biden claimed that the best way to prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon is diplomacy. While Biden was part of the Obama administration, which would have allowed Iran to build nuclear weapons without consequence, he now claims that Iran can never be allowed to do so. He demurred, however, when pushed on how to prevent such an eventuality.
Lapid had no such reservations. During a joint press conference with Biden, he was firm. “Words will not stop them, Mr. President,” said Lapid. “Diplomacy will not stop them. The only thing that will stop Iran is knowing that … if they continue to develop their nuclear program, the free world will use force. The only way to stop them is to put a credible military threat on the table.”
The prime minister added, “You have said many times, Mr. President, that big countries do not bluff. I completely agree. It should not be a bluff, but the real thing. The Iranian regime must know that if they continue to deceive the world, they will pay a heavy price.”
Israel has never been shy about its willingness to use military force to protect itself against a nuclear threat. Back in 1981, it launched a daring mission that destroyed a nuclear facility in Iraq. In 2010, it became known that Israel had been working for years on a computer virus known as Stuxnet in order to digitally destroy Iran’s nuclear capabilities. In 2018, the Mossad stole 110,000 documents detailing Iran’s nuclear ambitions. So when Lapid vows to use force, he has precedents set by decades of Israeli policy behind him.
If Biden’s mentality on Iran is a relic of 2013, his position on the Palestinians is two decades older than that. Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud Abbas, in year 17 of his four-year term, could never find former President Donald Trump’s weak spot, so he looked for Biden’s. He demanded that Biden unilaterally recognize a Palestinian state with eastern Jerusalem as its capital and called Israel an apartheid state. Biden didn’t give in on those issues, but he did on others.
“Two states along the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps,” said Biden, “remains the best way to achieve equal measures of security, prosperity, freedom and democracy for the Palestinians as well as Israelis.” Biden also pledged $200 million to UNRWA and even visited eastern Jerusalem, the first sitting U.S. president to do so. All Israeli flags were removed from his motorcade when he drove there, signaling to the P.A. that he is friendly towards their demand for a divided Jerusalem.
This is the diplomacy of a bygone era in Israel—the Oslo era. When the Oslo Accords were signed, there was hope that designating territories and granting legitimacy to the newly formed P.A. would lead to a reduction of terror attacks in Israel. Instead, the decade that followed Oslo had more terror attacks than those that preceded it.
So, Ehud Barak offered Yasser Arafat a sweetheart deal, including eastern Jerusalem, 97% of Judea and Samaria and the right of return to thousands of Palestinians. Arafat responded by launching the second intifada. Ehud Olmert tried again with Abbas in 2008, and Abbas walked away without a counteroffer.
Biden knows this, yet he still pushes the same tired ideas and solutions that have failed over and over again. While Trump’s “deal of the century” plan failed at launch, it was at least a different approach. Biden’s approach is the same that has failed for 30 years. It is backwards, tired and unproductive. Par for the course for this administration.
Moshe Hill is a political analyst and columnist. He can be found on www.aHillwithaView.com, Facebook.com/aHillwithaView and Twitter.com/HillWithView.