Dennis Ross: Biden has a practice of managing, working out disagreements

“Throughout the time that I was in the Obama administration, vice president Biden was a consistent questioner of those who wanted to put pressure on Israel or were demanding only moves from Israel.”

Democratic 2020 US presidential nominee Joe Biden speaks at his election rally, after news media announced that Biden has won the 2020 US presidential election, in Wilmington, Delaware, US, November 7, 2020. (photo credit: ANDREW HARNIK/POOL VIA REUTERS)
Democratic 2020 US presidential nominee Joe Biden speaks at his election rally, after news media announced that Biden has won the 2020 US presidential election, in Wilmington, Delaware, US, November 7, 2020.
(photo credit: ANDREW HARNIK/POOL VIA REUTERS)
WASHINGTON – Joe Biden’s prism, through which he sees Israel and the issues that will affect it, is “shaped by a deep emotional attachment to the State of Israel,” says Dennis Ross, former special assistant to president Barack Obama and National Security Council senior director for the Central Region.
In a conversation with The Jerusalem Post, Ross recalled that Biden had a practice of “figuring out how to manage disagreements and work them out.”
"Whenever there were problems with Israel during the Obama administration, it was often Biden who was called on to manage them,” said Ross. “In 2010, following a year in which president Obama called for a complete freeze on settlements, including natural growth, there was obviously tension between the president and Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu. It was vice president Biden who took a trip to Israel in March with the aim of trying to ease and repair the relationship.”
Ross noted that in May 2011, Obama and Netanyahu had a tense meeting following a speech that Obama gave, where he outlined partial parameters to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Regarding borders, “he proposed [those of] 1967 and mutually agreed swaps to be the basis. That meant that June 4, 1967, could not be the default border because settlement blocs in the West Bank would be absorbed into Israel and the Palestinians would receive compensation for the absorption of the blocs,” Ross noted.
“Netanyahu criticized this, portraying it as if it was going back to the 1967 lines and before the media lectured Obama in the Oval Office the next day,” Ross continued. “Needless to say, the president was extremely unhappy.” Obama then had a second speech, at the AIPAC policy conference, where he clarified his initial speech.
“[Obama] explained what it meant to absorb the settlement blocs into Israel, and made clear that what he had said was being deliberately misrepresented,” Ross recalled.  

THE FOLLOWING Monday, Biden met with Netanyahu, a meeting that Ross attended as well. “It was Biden who acted not just to ease the tension but to forge an understanding with Netanyahu in which these two consistent speeches would form the terms of reference for the negotiations with the Palestinians,” he recalled.
“The Israeli cabinet subsequently accepted the terms of reference and so did the European Union – but in the end, Abu Mazen rejected the terms of reference and the Russians backed his rejection," he said. "I cite this as an example of how Biden would not simply act to ease tensions just for the sake of easing tensions, but also solve problems at the same time. Apart from knowing the prime minister for a long time, Biden clearly had a practice of figuring out how to manage disagreements and work them out.”
One major point of disagreement was UN Security Council’s resolution 2334 in December 2016, in the last days of the Obama administration. According to the resolution, the settlements “had no legal validity.” Some 14 countries supported the resolution, and the US abstained, breaking a tradition of vetoing similar resolutions, and allowing it to pass.
Ross said that while he wasn’t in the administration at the time, he “would be surprised” if Biden favored the resolution. “From my experience, it would certainly have seemed to go against his instincts.”
“Throughout the time that I was in the Obama administration for three years, vice president Biden was a consistent questioner of those who wanted to put pressure on Israel or [were] demanding only moves from Israel,” Ross continued. “He would constantly say, ‘it's OK for us to ask Israel to do things, but it can't be that we're asking only Israel to do things.’ This was a consistent [message from] him.”
According to Ross, Biden’s basic instincts are also driven by “an emotional attachment that he has to Israel.”
“He will have his analytical view of things,” he said. “But he also has an emotional set of beliefs that drive them. Many times I have heard him tell the story about his conversations with Golda Meir as a young senator when he went to Israel in 1973 and how it affected him. This is something that is instinctive to him.
"And his point of departure is to see Israel as this extraordinary state that faced unbelievable threats and hardships to build a democracy.”