The policy divide between Netanyahu and Biden – opinion

Biden practically brags about not being on the same page as Netanyahu about anything.

US President-elect Joe Biden and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (photo credit: ANDREW HARNIK/YOAV DUDUKEVITCH/REUTERS)
US President-elect Joe Biden and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Let’s get the question of whether US President Donald Trump just lost the election to Joe Biden out of the way. Regardless of one’s view of the ballot count, it’s safe to call the Democratic contender “president-elect” until proven otherwise.
In the meantime, since he and his running mate, Kamala Harris, could very well be instated on January 20, it is important to prepare for the seismic shift that is inevitable in such an event. Though the earthquake will be felt most directly by Americans, its aftershocks will reverberate around the globe, particularly in Israel.
The Jewish state is by no means the only country with a serious stake in the makeup of the next administration in Washington. But for the past four years, the government in Jerusalem has enjoyed unprecedented and unequivocal support from the White House and – even more astonishingly – from the State Department.
It’s been like a luxurious soak in a warm bath following an arduous trek in the snow. As a result, most Israelis have been witnessing what they fear is a return to the frosty old days when former president Barack Obama was in office.
Only those who view Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as joint forces of evil are rejoicing at such a prospect. The rest of Israeli the public is not looking forward to the scenario and are hoping, along with Trump supporters across the ocean, that recounts and lawsuits will reverse Biden’s fortune and keep the incumbent in place.
Netanyahu is among the latter, though he cannot admit it publicly. As a pragmatist and savvy politician with elections of his own potentially around the corner, he cannot appear to favor Trump at Biden’s expense.
Not that it does him any good, of course. His foes went as far as to point out that it took him a full 12 hours after the media’s announcement of a Biden victory to release a congratulatory statement.
Articles blaming him for Israel’s having become a partisan issue in the US – and for the accompanying rift within the American-Jewish community – were quick to appear and resurface. That the claims are ridiculous is irrelevant. It’s been an anti-Netanyahu mantra at home and abroad for more than a decade.
This is in spite of Obama’s stated mission to put “daylight” between America and Israel, and regardless of the increasingly dim view of Israel within the radicalizing Democratic Party that has been taking hold in tandem with nearly unanimous pro-Israel sentiment among Republicans.
Alongside the Bibi-bashing, however, there is much wishful thinking going on about Biden’s history of admiration for Israel and its leaders, with revelations of the Roman Catholic senator’s Jewish daughters-in-law and an emphasis on Harris’s Jewish husband.
The idea that this is some kind of insurance policy against anti-Israel moves is laughable. If the Jews in question are democrats – which they undoubtedly are – they are likely to be stuck in the mind-frame that Palestinian statehood, achieved through Israeli concessions, is the key to Mideast peace. Never mind that the Abraham Accords are living proof of the falsehood of the paradigm that Obama’s secretary of state, John Kerry, kept touting, no matter how many frequent-flier miles he accrued while engaging in futile and fruitless shuttle diplomacy to Ramallah.
It is crucial to remember that Biden was vice president during those years. In other words, he was a high-ranking member of an administration that boasted of “leading from behind”; begged the regime in Tehran to accept a nuclear deal disastrous to America’s allies; and called on Israel to exercise restraint as it battled bloodthirsty terrorists in Gaza blitzing the Jewish state with rockets.
NONE OF the above would be a problem today had Biden altered his stance since then. But if anything, he’s doubled down on it. To allay their own anxiety on this score, “centrists” are consoling themselves with the friendly relations that Biden and Netanyahu say they have shared for decades.
This is all well and good at a dinner party. It might also make official meetings and state visits more pleasant. Yet it has no bearing whatsoever on policy, which is what really matters, especially where life-and-death issues for Israel are concerned.
Herein lies cause for genuine worry: Biden practically brags about not being on the same page as Netanyahu about anything.
During a speech he delivered in 2014 at the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America, the then-vice president said, “No one ever doubts I mean what I say. Sometimes I say all that I mean, though. And I signed a picture a long time [ago] for [Netanyahu]... that said, ‘Bibi, I don’t agree with a damn thing that you say, but I love ya.’”
Israel can ill afford affection like that, which – if Biden actually does assume office – will manifest itself in an attempt to undo as many of Trump’s policies as possible. These include, but are not restricted to, the current administration’s replacement of the so-called “two-state solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with a “Peace to Prosperity” plan for the whole region; its rejection of the notion, espoused by previous US administrations that settlements are inherently illegal and present an “obstacle” to peace; its defunding of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and the Palestinian Authority’s “pay-for-slay” incentive to terrorists; its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capital; and its withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the so-called “Iran nuclear deal.”
This is not a theoretical assumption.
In an interview with Israel’s Channel 12 this week, Amos Hochstein – who headed the State Department’s Bureau of Energy Resources during the Obama administration and worked as an adviser to Biden – spelled it out.
“I believe that in the first months [of his presidency], we’ll either see him rejoin the deal fully or what I would call ‘JCPOA-minus,’ meaning lifting sanctions in exchange for suspending some of the Iranian nuclear programs [developed] in the past three years,” he said.
Hochstein also stated that Biden “sees the two-state solution as preferable to one state. And his fear is that if there is no two-state solution, in the end, it will lead to a binational state.”
Biden, he added, “will bring back the Palestinian issue to the heart of the discourse.”
Harris concurs. In an interview on Wednesday with the Dearborn, Michigan-based bilingual weekly Arab American News, she announced, “We are committed to a two-state solution, and we will oppose any unilateral steps that undermine that goal.”
In addition, she said, “We will... oppose annexation and settlement expansion. And we will take immediate steps to restore economic and humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people, address the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza, reopen the US consulate in east Jerusalem and work to reopen the PLO mission in Washington.”
Faced with the very real possibility that Trump’s days in the Oval Office are numbered – unless, as his supporters hope and pray, the final recount reveals that he actually won the election – Netanyahu is taking pains not to let his disappointment show.
In his congratulatory tweet to Biden and Harris on Sunday, he wrote, “Joe, we’ve had a long and warm personal relationship for nearly 40 years, and I know you as a great friend of Israel. I look forward to working with both of you to further strengthen the special alliance between the US and Israel.”
His underlying message, however, should have been and was, “I love ya, Joe, but I don’t agree with a single one of your damned policies.”