Will Biden's visit challenge Israel’s sovereignty over Jerusalem? - opinion

The symbolic nature of this visit has been created to pave the way for the US administration to challenge Israel’s sovereignty over Jerusalem.

 THEN-US PRESIDENT Barack Obama meets with Palestinians at a youth center in Ramallah, 2013. ‘Not even Obama’ visited east Jerusalem on his presidential trip, says the writer.  (photo credit: JASON REED/REUTERS)
THEN-US PRESIDENT Barack Obama meets with Palestinians at a youth center in Ramallah, 2013. ‘Not even Obama’ visited east Jerusalem on his presidential trip, says the writer.
(photo credit: JASON REED/REUTERS)

US President Joe Biden’s visit to Israel is a tremendous opportunity for Israel to develop and strengthen relations with the US, our long-term ally, as well as the moderate Arab countries of the region. However, it already seems that due to the current government’s weakness, this visit could end in a big miss at best and extreme political damage at worst.

This Wednesday, US President Joe Biden will land in Israel in his first trip to the country as president of the United States. We always welcome every American president, with each visit considered an important and meaningful event. However, it already appears that Biden’s visit will include two unprecedented political concessions. 

First, Israel’s consent to Palestinian Authority representation at the Allenby crossing with Jordan, and second, tacit consent, and perhaps even encouragement by Prime Minister Yair Lapid and his team, for Biden’s visit to symbolic PA institutions in east Jerusalem. These concessions are likely to cost Israel heavily for years to come.

Biden is visiting Israel as part of his trip to the Middle East where he will also visit Saudi Arabia and meet with representatives of Arab countries. His visit comes at a particularly bad moment for Israel. The Knesset recently dispersed, Israel is at the beginning of its fifth election cycle in three and a half years and Israel’s prime minister is a transitional prime minister, lacking solid political experience who attempts to seek every ounce of legitimacy and the appearance of a leader at every possible opportunity to strengthen his position in the election campaign.

In this situation, and in the wake of US administration pressure for political concessions that comes along with a president’s visit, Israel has a severe lack of means and capability to stand up and speak out for its own interests. The US administration recognizes the weakness of the transitional government, and the teams that have already arrived in the country are requesting compromises from Israel that they would never have dared to ask if Israel had a strong right-wing government. Lapid, it turns out, is willing to surrender to many requests, simply to please Biden.

 FOREIGN MINISTER Yair Lapid – he will be the one who meets and greets Biden. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST) FOREIGN MINISTER Yair Lapid – he will be the one who meets and greets Biden. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

The first president in east Jerusalem

An American president has never visited east Jerusalem before. Neither George Bush Sr., nor George Bush Jr., not Bill Clinton, not Donald Trump and not even Barack Obama. The symbolic nature of this visit has been created to pave the way for the US administration to challenge Israel’s sovereignty over Jerusalem. Lapid as caretaker prime minister is currently giving them the green light, yet he has no authority to allow such a maneuver to take place.

As Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, I headed many diplomatic delegations who came to visit Israel, including two UN secretaries. There was always a desire to include a tour of the Palestinian Authority areas in east Jerusalem. To my knowledge, despite the many requests received, to date this has never happened. Israel has always known how to manage these in a quiet, yet decisive manner.

I call on Lapid today to refrain from political concessions for what is essentially a photo-op with the president of the United States. Lapid, you have no mandate to relinquish Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem.

The writer served as Israel’s 17th permanent representative to the United Nations. He is currently chairman of the World Likud. His recently published book In the Lion’s Den is available now.