Abraham Accords, Antony J. Blinken, Biden, Binyamin Netanyahu, Blob, China, diplomacy, Donald Trump, Gaza, globalism, Hamas, Israel, Jared Kushner, Middle East, North Korea, occupied territories, Our So-Called Foreign Policy, Palestinians, tariffs, Trade, two-state solution, West Bank
As known by RealityChek regulars, one of the leading – and most surprising – features of the Biden administration is a tendency to continue certain Trump administration policies that the current President, and much of the globalist bipartisan policy Blob decried as dangerously naive, xenophobic, short-sighted, isolationist, protectionist [feel free at this point to insert your own scornful epithet].
Now on top of tariffs, China trade and economic strategy, and North Korea policy, there’s a sign that the Biden approach to the Israel-Palestinian conflict can be added to the list. My evidence? Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken’s remarks this morning on the latest eruption after a meeting in Jerusalem with the Jewish state’s prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu.
The most specific policy statements Blinken made focused tightly on the need for reconstruction aid for Gaza – where Israeli military strikes aimed at stopping Hamas rocket attacks inflicted serious damage – as well as the need “to work to expand opportunity for Palestinians in Gaza and in the West Bank, including by strengthening the private sector, expanding trade and investment, and other means. Assistance and investment like these will help foster a more stable environment that benefits Palestinians and also benefits Israelis.”
By contrast, there were only the most glancing references to resuming diplomatic efforts to bring lasting peace to the region – principally, Blinken’s report that he and Netanyahu discssed “other steps that need to be taken by leaders on both sides to set a better course for their shared future. As President Biden has said, we believe that Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live safely and securely; to enjoy equal measures of freedom, opportunity, and democracy; to be treated with dignity.”
And beyond that – nothing. Not even a mention of a negotiated two-state solution that President Biden continues to support as the end goal of U.S. diplomacy.
That looks awfully Trump-y because a focus on economic development in Israel’s occupied territories to ameliorate their populations’ pressing day-to-day needs and create credible hopes for decent living standards and further progress, and an unmistakable deemphasis on returning Israeli and Palestinian leaders to some kind of bargaining table, was a definite hallmark of the former President’s approach to dealing with the conflict. The idea was that the promise and growing reality of prosperity on the West Bank and in Gaza was the best hope for reducing the appeal of violence and creating the conditions in which realistic compromises could – some day – be accepted.
Indeed, Trump’s peace plan conspicuously began with a purely economic proposal – a fund raised from private investors in the Persian Gulf states and other countries that would spend $50 billion over ten years on infrastructure and development projects in the occupied territories. As the plan’s main author, Trump son-in-law and White House advisor Jared Kushner explicitly stated upon its unveiling, “Today is not about political solutions — we will get to them later.”
And although Mr. Biden just issued a re-endorsement of two-state, it’s more than a little interesting that during his Senate confirmation hearings, Blinken acknowledged that “Realistically it’s hard to see near-term prospects for moving forward on that.” That’s hardly a sign of perceived urgency. Perhaps more revealing: The numerous recent articles (all pre-dating the latest Middle East fighting) reporting Mr. Biden’s determination to deemphasize the Middle East as a U.S. foreign priority to begin with – and evidence the administration was following through in official policy declarations and staffing decisions.
Not that this relative indifference marked a significant change in candidate Biden’s campaign positions. In fact, he praised the Trump “Abraham Accords” that normalized relations between Israel and several Arab countries. And although Mr. Biden did charge that Trump’s strong pro-Israel tilt had made a negotiated Israel-Palestinian settlement “even more difficult,” his campaign’s main foreign policy statement didn’t even mention the issue. (Perhaps that’s because he reserved his more detailed – and somewhat more critical – verdict for his campaign’s articulation of a policy toward “the Jewish community.”)
But the foreign policy Blob’s judgement were much harsher – largely because Trump was seen to be recklessly ignoring the Palestinians’ legitimate aspirations and the supposedly obvious reality that not only was peace between Israel and the Palestinians was impossible without taking the latter’s interests seriously, but that meaningful progress toward pacifying and even stabilizing the entire Middle East was as well. (See, e.g., here and here).
It’s an exaggeration to say that the President has now repudiated this pre-Trump conventional wisdom on the Israel-Palestinian conflict. But he’s clearly in no rush to embrace it. And given his other adoptions of Trump-ian stances, it strikes me as evidence that not only is Mr. Biden moving away from pre-Trump globalism, but that the days of this strategy dominating American foreign policymaking writ large are numbered themselves.