It’s well known that 70 percent of Israelis had hoped to see the Trump administration’s mandate renewed for another four years, while a roughly equal proportion of American Jews supported the Biden-Harris ticket.
What if it turns out that American Jews inadvertently did well for Israel by voting for Joe Biden, because, instead of defaulting to the unsuccessful Mideast policies of the former U.S. President Barack Obama, his administration builds on Trump’s accomplishments for the region?
The incoming U.S. administration will be coming to a new Middle East in January, a region diplomatically transformed and aligned for diplomatic progress. Israel’s regional neighbors and other nations are signing on to the enormous technological innovation, intelligence and security assets that Israel has to offer the world.
As the Abraham Accords process extends to include other partners, Israel may be realizing its potential as the fulcrum democratic partner for a regionwide alliance. This could be leveraged by the U.S. and other Western allies to transform the flawed Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—the “nuclear understanding” with Iran that actually charts a path for it to obtain nuclear weapons less than a decade from now—into a legitimate and permanent nuclear non-proliferation agreement, roll back Tehran’s misadventures and maybe someday achieve sectarian reconciliation across the region.
Israel may also be well-positioned to play an important diplomatic role in the coming negotiations to reshape economic relations between the market democracies and China.
Iran’s ayatollahs and the Palestinian Authority are celebrating the departure of the Trump administration, with tough talk suggesting they think a Biden administration will be a pushover for them. Not so fast.
Although the incoming team’s signals are mixed, there is a discernable basis for optimism that the Biden administration will adapt, to benefit from recent developments. Biden himself has decades of foreign-policy experience and relationships across the Middle East.
He is a moderate who works across communities to build consensus and get things done. While he might share Obama’s humanist values, he doesn’t seem to possess the same ideological predisposition to helping Iran “share the neighborhood” with Israel’s Sunni-Arab neighbors.
Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’s stated position on the JCPOA is that it should be improved through negotiations, and talk by some foreign-policy designees of a “strategic review” of U.S.-Saudi relations—as well as a quick return to the JCPOA—would appear to be inconsistent with the recent tide of developments. On the Palestinian issue, while Anthony Blinken, the designated secretary of state, has advocated restoring financial aid to the P.A., it is unclear how this would be done in the context of Congress’s Taylor Force Act, which revoked that aid in response to its abusively misappropriated use to support terror and indoctrination. Meanwhile, he has also reassuringly stated that U.S. aid to Israel “should never be used as leverage to influence Israel’s policies towards Palestinians.”
Biden has also expressed his intention to leave the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem, which would imply recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s eternal capital. And it would be unwise for his administration to restore U.S. support for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA)—set up exclusively to support the preposterous and historically unsupported Palestinian-claimed “right of return” for anyone declaring to be a descendent of someone who left the area west of the Jordan River after Israel’s founding in 1948. That could theoretically open Israel to a flood of immigration that would overwhelm its unique character as the homeland of the Jewish people. The idea is so unreasonable that even P.A. leader Mahmoud Abbas himself dismissed its plausibility in a private meeting with me in his Ramallah office on Jan. 2, 2017.
The stage is set now for Israel to move the Palestinians’ status forward with its regional partners and the United States. As for the Oslo Accords, Israelis know all too well how many times land has been given for peace and receive violence in return; how many endgames offered, always rejected by the P.A. without ever, over decades, offering an alternative. The outgoing U.S. administration sought to reveal the P.A.’s intentions by establishing preconditions to final border-status arrangements, including that the P.A. renounce the indoctrination and financial compensation for terrorists, and accept the rule of law—both essential to any civil society, even in the Middle East.
Why would a Biden administration not want to build on those terms of engagement, which basically transform “land-for-peace” to “peace-for-peace”?
Israel should approach the incoming administration with a positive spirit (that also would show earnestness toward Saudi Arabia on the Palestinian issue), starting with fully briefing Washington on the background and logic of recent Mideast developments as a basis for reengaging with the P.A. towards the two-state solution. Consideration should be given to shortening the previous administration’s four-year timeframe for the P.A.’s compliance with the final-status pre-conditions and to accelerated infrastructure investment in the territories.
If Ramallah fails to step up quickly, Israel and its partners would be reasonable to conclude that the Palestinian leadership is just not interested in a final-status agreement legitimizing Israel’s right to exist, and that the entire Oslo process was a fig leaf behind which to continue the “resistance” to Israel’s very existence.
In that case, Israel might consider withdrawing from the Oslo Accords, dismantling the P.A. and pursuing an independent approach to improving the lives of West Bank Palestinians by integrating them (with community self-governance) into Israel’s economy and society. If it comes to that, the Abrahamic partners and United States might even consider persuading the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan to reinstate the citizenship for West Bank-resident Palestinians, which it abandoned in 1988.
Daniel J. Arbess is CEO of New York-based Xerion Investments, and an active venture investor, philanthropist and social entrepreneur in Israel. He has published and interviewed extensively in The Wall Street Journal, The Jerusalem Post and The Algemeiner. He is a lifetime member of the Council on Foreign Relations, a supporter the Atlantic Council, and serves on the Board of the Global Virus Initiative and Cancer Expert Now.