President Biden’s trip to the Middle East took place against the background of Arab-Israeli disenchantment with the Obama White House, the Netanyahu-Trump relationship, the uncertain future of the Iran nuclear deal, the far-reaching consequences of the war in Ukraine, the strategic competition with China and Russia, and his plummeting approval rates at home.
Palestinians remain more than frustrated with the status quo and in the absence of any progress towards the two-state solution their discontent usually hits the surface in the form of some violence. And whenever there is violence, Israel says that it will not tolerate incitement, terrorism and reacts with disproportional force; Palestinian leadership calls for an end to subjugation and occupation; UN Secretary General urges calm; Arab governments express indignation; they remember the Arab League; the Quartet issues a statement advising restraint; the EU expresses concern: finally, either the US Secretary of State or some other high official travels to the region to find a way out because such violence always puts Washington on the spot by virtue of its unique relationship with Israel. And a roller-coaster pattern of violence goes on.
Despite his heavy domestic agenda President Biden has been calling foreign leaders.
Last Thursday, in a Jerusalem Post article titled, “What signals is Biden sending about his Middle East policy?”, Herb Keinon took a look at why the 46th President of the United States still has not called PM Netanyahu.[i]
As I read the article I thought, “that makes the two of us.”
From the very beginning of his presidency Mr. Trump’s principal foreign policy target was the Iran nuclear deal, described by many as his predecessor’s “signature achievement”.
Thus, the US announced its withdrawal from the JCPOA on May 8, 2018. A month later, on June 12, 2018 Mr. Trump met North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore. Following the summit, he held a press conference and said, “My meeting with Chairman Kim was honest, direct, and productive. We got to know each other well in a very confined period of time, under very strong, strong circumstance. We’re prepared to start a new history and we’re ready to write a new chapter between our nations.”
With inauguration safely behind, President Biden would now start addressing America’s polarization, Covid-19, and a wrecked foreign policy. He has a far heavier agenda than many of his predecessors.
Among his major tasks in the international arena would be restoring confidence in the Washington’s foreign policy steadiness and charting a reasonable course in relations with China and Russia. Washington’s traditional Western allies, disillusioned with the Trump presidency, would give Mr. Biden more than a warm welcome while anxiously watching domestic developments in the US. Because according to a CNN poll, 47% of Republicans still say the party should continue to treat Trump as the leader of the party. And remains to be seen whether going ahead with a second impeachment, though more than justified, was a politically wise decision.
I often look up for words, synonyms, antonyms in Merriam-Webster. Yesterday, I looked up for a word and the column titled “Trending Now” caught my attention because on top of the list was the word “sedition”. This is what followed:
“Why are people looking up sedition?
“Sedition once again rose through the ranks and became one of our top lookups, in the first week of 2021, after making numerous appearances in articles on political upheaval.”
The main foreign policy topics of the past decade have been China’s ascendancy, relations between the West and a resurgent Russia, the rise of authoritarianism, democracy’s decline, the failure of multilateralism and climate change. With the Trump White House, most of the questions raised in recent years focused on Washington. People started asking “what went wrong?” to use the title of Bernard Lewis’s remarkable book on the clash between Islam and modernity in the Middle East. Pundits in the West, including the US, started talking about Washington’s external military interventions and their political/diplomatic/economic cost, racism, gridlock. Some of the questions raised went beyond the Trump years. With major foreign and security policy challenges and 251,000 new coronavirus cases recorded last Friday, Mr. Biden will not be moving to a dream house on January 20.
As the US braces for November 3 presidential election, countries remain divided in their expectations. Europe having enjoyed excellent relations with the Obama White House no doubt wishes to see Mr. Biden there. Because, although this would not be a replica of the Obama White House there would be parallels. The same goes for Iran, whereas Gulf states have been getting along extremely well with Mr. Trump. Israel would probably prefer a Trump victory but move on regardless of who is in the White House, happy with the balance sheet of the past four years.
With the November 3 presidential election approaching, the Trump administration’s Middle East policy has shifted into a higher gear. It began on January 28 with the unveiling, by President Trump and PM Netanyahu, of the “deal of the century”, officially called “Peace to Prosperity”. On August 13, the UAE became the third Arab country to have diplomatic relations with Israel. Saudi Arabia announced that it would allow flights from “all countries” to cross over its airspace on flights to or from the United Arab Emirates. Thus, El Al was able to fly a joint US-Israel delegation to Abu Dhabi, through Saudi airspace.
Last week, I watched President Trump’s and Prime Minister Netanyahu’s White House remarks on television. I also read the transcript[i]. President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke for 47 minutes. During those 47 minutes there were 71 applause, most of them standing. There were no Palestinian leaders present. Even the Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz was not visible. It was all about President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu and their being family. Okumaya devam et →