Will Biden's team evolve from the old Middle East narrative? – opinion

It’s in Israel’s interest to work with the new administration to help the Palestinians as much as possible.

THEN-VICE PRESIDENT Joe Biden gestures as he walks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas after their meeting in Ramallah in 2010. (photo credit: REUTERS)
THEN-VICE PRESIDENT Joe Biden gestures as he walks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas after their meeting in Ramallah in 2010.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
As President-elect Joe Biden puts together his foreign policy team, featuring Antony Blinken as secretary of state, it remains to be seen whether their previous understandings of the Middle East have evolved with the times, or if they are still married to the old narrative that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the primary obstacle standing in the way of regional stability. Promisingly, Mr. Blinken has said the parties are far from final-status talks.
During the Obama administration, the consensus was that Israel held all the cards, as it “occupied” another people’s land. Finding internationally recognized borders was all that stood in the way, it was supposed, of a resolution to the conflict. What needs to be remembered is that the Palestinian Authority refused to reenter negotiations during Obama’s second term because they feared an outcome that would include signing a document that accepted a permanent Jewish state and a final end to the conflict.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas and company have unequivocally said they can never give up the right of descendants of Palestinian refugees to pursue their rightful property within Israel, even if the PA signed an agreement stating otherwise. It would behoove Secretary of State-designee Blinken and President-elect Biden to remember that the Palestinians for generations have told their people that all of Israel is stolen land.
Does the new administration believe that strategic depth is over-rated in the age of missiles, so that Israel doesn’t need to maintain a security presence in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria)? Do they believe that Israel is headed down the road of authoritarianism if it does not retreat to the 1967 lines? Do they agree with Israel’s progressive critics that for Israel’s good, America must make them choose between a democratic state and a discriminatory Jewish state?
On January 20th, there will be much on the new administration’s foreign-policy plate. If they choose, they can avoid reentering the minefield of trying to solve the conflict, making some conciliatory statements and gestures, and then moving on to more pressing American security matters like China. But history has taught us that both Democratic and Republican presidents have been seduced by the possibility of being the one to end the conflict. If they do enter the fray, a good beginning is to be crystal clear that the goal is not just two states, but two states for two peoples, with one state being Jewish, and the Palestinians compelled to declare that unambiguously and in Arabic. This is necessary because for the Palestinians, two states means an Arab state in the West Bank and the other, a binational state rather than a Jewish one.
AS JONATHAN SCHANZER, senior vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, wrote, “Returning to the orthodoxy of two-state solution diplomacy is ill-advised. Blindly yielding back leverage to the intransigent Palestinian leadership is not likely to encourage successful diplomacy. If anything, history has shown the opposite to be true.”
The Palestinian Authority is weak and corrupt, with its rival Hamas just waiting for the opportunity to take over the West Bank if Israel decreases its security presence. The incoming administration must realize that any Israeli government, Right or Left, will not make any far-reaching concessions with the current PA, knowing it has never prepared its people to live in peace with the Jews.
We can be hopeful that the new administration will not become frustrated by Israel over its stance on Iran as Obama was when he lashed out by orchestrating a Security Council Resolution (2334) that made Israel’s presence in the West Bank a crime against humanity. It made the Palestinian position even more intransigent. It was little wonder that the Trump administration in response created its plan that recognized Israeli security requirements, most importantly, calling for Israeli retention of the Jordan River Valley.
All of these decisions will play out against the backdrop of an administration looking to entice Iran back to the negotiating table to rejoin the JCPOA (the Iran nuclear agreement), something Israel and her new Arab friends will monitor closely.
Since President-elect Biden was vice president, the Middle East has profoundly changed. In 2016, Iran was not embedded in Syria and Iraq, just a stone’s throw from the West Bank and on the doorstep of a weak Jordan. Its ability to support a Hamas takeover of the West Bank has never been more plausible. An early Palestinian election encouraged by America after Abbas’s demise could bring Hamas to power in the West Bank, which would mean another Iranian proxy just nine miles from Tel Aviv. That would likely lead to war, something not in America’s interest. In this light, the status quo with the Palestinians seems an excellent choice for now.
It’s in Israel’s interest to work with the new administration to help the Palestinians as much as possible. It will be a small price to pay to appease the Biden team when the real and consequential Israeli demands come, real input on a new nuclear agreement with Iran, something the Obama-Biden team chose not to do.
Dr. Eric R. Mandel is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network. He is the senior editor for security at The Jerusalem Report. His work appears in The Hill, RealClearPolitics, Defense News, JTA, JNS and The Forward, among others.