President Biden to postpone Israel trip, court Saudis - opinion

The 79-year-old Biden would prefer shaking hands with the 86-year-old King Salman, but the one running the show is MBS, who is 36.

THEN-WHITE HOUSE senior adviser Jared Kushner meets Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh in 2020. Joe Biden would prefer shaking hands with King Salman, but the one running the show is his son MBS, says the writer. (photo credit: SAUDI PRESS AGENCY/REUTERS)
THEN-WHITE HOUSE senior adviser Jared Kushner meets Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh in 2020. Joe Biden would prefer shaking hands with King Salman, but the one running the show is his son MBS, says the writer.
(photo credit: SAUDI PRESS AGENCY/REUTERS)

President Joe Biden this week postponed his planned stop in Israel on his way to the Gulf because of the uncertain status of the Bennett government, which is teetering on the brink of collapse.

It’s not as though he’s never been there. As Ambassador Tom Nides told Jewish Insider, “I’ll bet that Joe Biden has been to Israel and the Middle East more times in his career than every American president combined. He calls himself a Zionist, he loves this place and I think there’s no question about his commitment to this place.”

He intends to visit Israel and the Palestinian areas later this year when there’s a stable government in place, the White House said. But with Israeli politics in turmoil and the “peace process” barely on life support, the real purpose of his Mideast swing is to mend relations with Saudi leaders.

He wants them and other OPEC members to pump more oil to help lower gas prices for American motorists griping about the cost of filling their tanks on the way to the polls for this year’s midterm elections.

Were it not for record-high gas and oil prices back home, Biden wouldn’t be making this trip. He has been a consistent and harsh critic of Saudi Arabia’s abysmal human rights record. He will raise the issue, but don’t expect much progress.

 US President Joe Biden attends the Quad leaders’ summit, in Tokyo, Japan, May 24, 2022. (credit: YUICHI YAMAZAKI/POOL VIA REUTERS) US President Joe Biden attends the Quad leaders’ summit, in Tokyo, Japan, May 24, 2022. (credit: YUICHI YAMAZAKI/POOL VIA REUTERS)

It will be a painful visit for this president, who as a candidate called the kingdom a “pariah” and vowed to “recalibrate” relations following the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. He said the Saudis would “pay the price” for that. Not likely.

The CIA determined that Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince known as MBS and the de facto ruler of the kingdom, ordered the murder. The Trump White House accepted his denials and dropped the case on the advice of the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

The 79-year-old Biden would prefer shaking hands with the 86-year-old King Salman, but the one running the show is his homicidal son, MBS, who is 36. Whatever spin the White House may offer, the reality is shaking that bloody hand amounts to a second presidential pardon for ordering the death of an American resident. 

If anyone profited from the first presidential pardon, it was Kushner. The presidential son-in-law and the Saudi son became close friends during the Trump administration and worked closely.

Saudi Arabia’s national Public Investment Fund (PIF) put $2 billion in Kushner’s private equity firm, Affinity Partners, which was formed the day after he left the White House, despite the board’s own concerns about his “inexperience.” Officials of the PIF questioned Kushner’s “management” team calling it “unsatisfactory in all aspects” and pointing to financial, political and public relations risks.

They were overruled by MBS, who controls the fund. PIF also made a $1b. investment in a separate fund started by Donald Trump’s former Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin when he left the government.

The House Committee on Oversight and Reform thought Kushner’s deal smelled fishy and opened an investigation. 

It “create[s] the appearance of a quid pro quo” in light of “your close relationship” with MBS, committee chair Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) wrote to Kushner. The panel wants to know “whether your personal financial interests improperly influenced US foreign policy” while in the White House.

Kushner also helped broker a $110b., 10-year weapons sale to the Saudis bypassing congressional objections over the Khashoggi murder and the brutal Saudi intervention in the Yemen civil war. Much of that package never materialized, however.

The Saudis are not ready to follow UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco and normalize relations with Israel – the Palestinian problem persists – but the two former enemies are increasingly open about their contacts. What brings them together is lucrative economic opportunities as well as apprehension over the Iranian threat and the shrinking American footprint in the region.

Biden wants to return to the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement abrogated by Trump, but the Saudis and Israelis and most of their neighbors are skeptical it would work. They fear Iran will take the money from lifted sanctions but continue their clandestine pursuit of a nuclear weapon. The Saudis and others have warned that if Iran gets the bomb, they’ll want one, too. And they’ve got the money.

And the oil. And we need it. And we want to shut Russia’s valves and pipelines. And the murderous prince thinks the President of the United States coming to ask a favor means he has us over a barrel.

The writer is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).