Biden, old-school Israel supporter, arrives amid turmoil in both countries

President Joe Biden prepares to board Air Force One at Osan Air Base, South Korea, May 22, 2022. The White House announced Tuesday that Biden’s trip to the Middle East will take place July 13-16. (Allison Payne/Air Force)

JERUSALEM — Joe Biden and Israel go back a long way. As he embarks on his 10th trip to the Holy Land, he can look back on visits – as senator and vice president – spanning nearly five decades and nearly a dozen prime ministers.

“I was telling a few young people on my team, before I came, about the many times I’ve been to Israel,” he said in December at the White House Hanukkah celebration. “I said — and then, all of a sudden, I realised, ‘God, you’re getting old, Biden. I have known all the prime ministers well since Golda Meir.

It wasn’t the legendary Meir, who led Israel from 1969 to 1974, welcoming Biden on his first trip as president, of course, or even Benjamin Netanyahu, the longtime prime minister whose frenemy relationship with Biden goes back 30 years. It was new Prime Minister Yair Lapid, the former TV news presenter who is on his 13th day on the job as he greeted the President on the tarmac.

Biden landed in Israel touting his decades-long relationship with the country and reaffirming his Zionist credentials.

“The bond between the Israeli people and the American people is deep,” he said at the airport after disembarking. ” It’s deep. Generation after generation, this connection grows. We invest in each other. We dream together. We are part of what has always been the goal that we both had. I’ve been in it as a senator, as a vice president, and quite frankly, before that, having been raised by a virtuous Christian.

Israel’s volatile political scene – Lapid took office when the coalition government collapsed in turmoil in late June – means leaders will have to manage domestic pressures during a tightly scripted state visit, according to sources. officials from both countries.

Lapid’s centrist party faces elections in November and polls that show Netanyahu is ready for a possible comeback. Biden, an old-school supporter of Democratic Israel, grapples with the left wing of his own party, which has increasingly aligned itself with the Palestinians and linked the Middle East conflict to the struggle for racial justice in the United States.

Lapid, a centrist and Israel’s most moderate leader for more than a decade, is one of the few domestic politicians willing to support the possibility of an independent Palestine and the ‘two-state solution’ that Biden has postponed. central to American politics. But the dynamics in both countries will take the most contentious issues off the table.

“Some things just aren’t in the cards,” said Dan Shapiro, President Barack Obama’s ambassador to Israel and now a distinguished fellow at the Atlantic Council think tank. “No significant progress on the Palestinian issue is possible during the election season in Israel,” adding that the current leadership could easily disappear in a few months.

In a joint statement Wednesday before the arrival, Biden and Lapid announced the creation of a “high-level strategic dialogue on technology.” The leaders said the two countries would partner to address a range of issues, including climate change, pandemic preparedness and the implementation of artificial intelligence.

Biden’s trips to Israel have not always gone smoothly. Diplomats here still cringe at the dust of 2010 in which the vice president nearly cut his trip short after the Israeli government announced an expansion in settlement construction shortly after Air Force Two landed.

But a repeat of that kind of controversy — which Netanyahu at the time blamed on a bureaucratic error — is unlikely during the two days Biden is scheduled to spend in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

For their part, many Israelis see Biden as a backward president, a staunch supporter of Israel who is neither the right-wing propeller that Donald Trump was nor the ideological rebuke that Obama was perceived to be.

“His relationship with Israel, his relationship with foreign policy is different. He is a realist, a practical man,” said Michael Oren, Israel’s former ambassador to the United States.

The talks between Biden and Lapid could cover very different ground than the meetings between Netanyahu and Trump, which dramatically shifted US policy towards Israel by moving the embassy to Jerusalem, approving the annexation of the Golan Heights and declaring legal settlements in the West Bank.

But like Netanyahu, Trump has refused to retire from politics. The former president is eyeing a strong comeback in 2024, and Israelis know the current moment, with centrists in Washington and Jerusalem, could be fleeting.

“It has to be said, this could soon look like a simple shutdown, and we will have Trump and Bibi again,” said an Israeli official familiar with the government’s planning of the visit, using Netanyahu’s nickname, who spoke on condition of anonymity to comment on the internal discussions. “The two could be waiting in the wings.”

Biden and Netanyahu have a history that goes back decades. But Netanyahu infuriated the Obama White House by airing his complaints about the potential nuclear containment deal with Iran during a joint session of Congress. Biden, when declared the winner of the 2020 election, waited nearly a month before calling Netanyahu, which many Israelis saw as a snub.

Biden, as usual, will meet Netanyahu in his role as Israel’s official parliamentary opposition leader. But Israeli media reported that only 15 minutes are allocated for the session and no joint appearances are scheduled.

The president will strive not to be seen as favoring any of Israel’s competing parties in the upcoming elections, Israel’s fifth in the past three years. But Lapid’s supporters are relishing his chance to appear alongside the US leader just as the campaign begins.

The president will also meet Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem. He plans to visit a hospital in East Jerusalem and is expected to announce $100 million in new aid to the Palestinian health system.

But these gestures may not satisfy liberal Democrats who decry Israel’s occupation of the West Bank for six decades. When fighting broke out between Israel and Gaza in May last year, prominent liberals chastised Israel for its military strikes and called on Biden and the United States to condemn its actions more forcefully.

“We oppose our money funding militarized policing, occupation, and systems of violent oppression and trauma,” said Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., who rose to political prominence in as a Black Lives Matter activist, in a speech in the House. sol in May 2021. “Until all of our children are safe, we will continue to fight for our rights in Palestine and Ferguson.

This dynamic has put Biden, a staunch and staunch supporter of Israel, at odds with a growing contingent of Democrats who not only refuse to shy away from criticizing Israel, but have also called for significant policy changes in the way states- United support the country.

Beyond Israel’s most prominent critics in Congress, several politicians who ran for the Democratic presidential nomination, including Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., then South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg signaled at a 2019 event by J Street, a liberal Jewish lobby group, that they would be willing to make foreign aid to Israel conditional on establishment by the country of more peaceful relations with the Palestinians. Biden, who attended the event, notably did not bring up the idea of ​​a conditioning aid.

Yet Israel has long enjoyed bipartisan support in the United States, and even as the mood toward the country shifts, American politicians still overwhelmingly support it. In September, for example, the House of Representatives approved $1 billion in new funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system by a vote of 420 to 9.

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