Arguably, the moment U.S. President Joe Biden’s trip to Israel crashed and burned was on Friday morning during his remarks at Augusta Victoria Hospital on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem.
Biden’s visit to the all-Arab hospital was the most controversial stop during Biden’s visit to the Jewish state, because it signaled an about-face on America’s long standing support for an undivided Jerusalem.
Not only did Biden refuse to permit Israeli officials to accompany him on his visit to the Jerusalem hospital, but his team removed the Israeli flag from Biden’s limousine as he made his way to it, and refused to permit Israeli reporters to participate in the press pool.
Quite simply, even before Biden made the visit, the hospital tour represented a glaring contradiction of his repeated protestations of undying friendship and support for Israel. If anyone still held out hope that the president who told Israeli television that he was a Zionist was telling the truth, that hope was dispelled utterly when Biden began his remarks at the hospital.
Biden began what quickly became a rambling, largely incoherent speech about how much he likes nurses, hates cancer and misses his late son Beau with the most hostile, anti-Zionist characterization any sitting U.S. president has ever made of Israel.
In his words: “My background and the background of my family is Irish America, and we have a long history of … not fundamentally unlike the Palestinian people with Great Britain and their attitude toward Irish-Catholics over the years, for 400 years.”
Whereas the rest of the speech was so incoherent it is hard to imagine it was anything other than off the cuff, Biden’s slander of Israel as a colonialist power was clearly prepared because it was followed by a quote from an Irish poem.
The idea that Israel is a harsh colonial overlord in someone else’s land is the essence of the anti-Zionist slander. The false claim that Jews have no history in their historic homeland and no national rights as the indigenous people of the land of Israel is inherent to the narrative.
The ironic and emblematic part of Biden’s visit was that even his unprecedented rejection of Israel’s very right to exist didn’t satisfy his hosts. At the end of his rambling remarks, an American-Palestinian nurse from New Jersey proclaimed, “Thank you for your support, but we need more justice, more dignity.”
Everywhere Biden went during his weeklong Middle East junket, he pandered, or tried to pander, to his hosts and to key target audiences in the United States.
When he spoke effusively of his friendship and commitment to Israel and promised not to allow Iran to become a nuclear-armed state, he pandered to Israel’s caretaker government and to American Jewish Democrats. When he pandered to the Palestinians by attacking Israel, he was pandering to his progressive, anti-Israel base back home. And during his visit to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, he pandered to his Arab audience and to the national security crowd in Washington when he proclaimed, “We will not walk away and leave a vacuum to be filled by China, Russia, or Iran.”
Biden’s pandering to the Palestinians failed to convince them, because his pandering to Israel contradicted his pandering to them. As for Israel, the Saudis and the states party to the Abraham accords—that is, the U.S.’s most powerful allies in the Middle East, Biden’s pandering failed both because his messages were contradictory and because his substantive policies bear no resemblance to his pandering proclamations.
While Biden left Israelis with a bad taste in their mouths with his anti-Israel pandering to the Palestinians (did he think that by barring Israeli reporters from his press pool he would prevent us from learning what he said?), Biden pandered to and attacked his Saudi hosts simultaneously.
Biden came to Jeddah hat in hand to ask for the Saudis and other Gulf oil producers to increase production to help him bring down oil prices at the pump. Under the circumstances, Biden could have been expected to be respectful of his hosts. Instead, he repeated his accusation that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is a cold-blooded murderer responsible for the killing of Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.
Not surprisingly, they refused to oblige, and Biden left empty-handed. Even worse, he was politically weakened because his woke progressive base was mad at him for being insufficiently hostile to the Saudi leader.
While the contradictory pandering was sufficient to render Biden’s trip a failure, even worse was the unbridgeable gap between Biden’s words and his administration’s actual policies. This gap made a miserable failure of a trip into a strategically catastrophic trip.
And just as Biden seemed to have no inkling that he couldn’t get away with his contradictory pandering, he seemed singularly unaware of and indifferent to the fact that his policies are counterproductive and devastating to U.S. allies. The primary point of conflict was Biden’s policy towards Iran.
Biden’s envoy for Iran, Robert Malley, effectively told America’s allies during an interview with NPR on July 5 that the administration has betrayed them. Malley said that Iran already has sufficient quantities of enriched uranium to assemble a nuclear bomb in a few weeks. Israel, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Bahrain wanted to hear from Biden how the United States intends to block Iran from becoming a nuclear armed state now that his own envoy has confirmed that thanks to Biden’s policies, Iran has become a nuclear threshold state.
Rather than outline such a policy, Biden told Israel and the Arabs that the United States is staying the course with nuclear appeasement. That is, Biden told them that they are on their own. And worse, he told Israel that the United States opposes any military attack on Iran’s nuclear installations. In other words, not only will Biden and his team do nothing to prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons, they will protect Iran from an assault by U.S. allies.
Then there are the Abraham Accords. Here too, Biden’s pandering messaging and substantive policies not only eroded U.S. allies’ trust in his leadership, but harmed America’s allies.
The Abraham Accords are touted as peace deals between Israel, the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan. But more than peace deals, they represent a strategic partnership between the Sunni Arab states of the Persian Gulf and Egypt which are threatened by Iran, and Israel, which is also threatened by Iran. As such, they are substantively and strategically separate and distinct from Palestinian-centered diplomacy.
Whereas the Abraham Accords bring Israel together with Arab states based on shared existential interests, Palestinian-centered diplomacy, like Biden’s slanderous comparison of Israel to imperialist Britain, is based on the idea that Israel is the enemy of the region, inherently illegitimate and responsible for all the pathologies of its neighbors, including Iran’s aggression. The two concepts are mutually exclusive.
States that support Palestinian-centric diplomacy include Jordan and Qatar, and of course also the Palestinian Authority also supports it. All of these are harsh opponents of the Abraham Accords. Indeed, they condemned them. Jordan does not view Iran as a threat. Hamas and to a degree the Palestinian Authority view Iran as a sponsor and ally. And Qatar is Iran’s close ally and partner.
All the same, the Biden administration’s policy is to bring the two sides together. The first sign of this came with Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority in March. At the time, Blinken tried to force the foreign ministers of the Abraham Accord nations to bring the Palestinians into their deliberations. He failed.
But rather than walk away, the administration has doubled down. They have sought to bring Iranian allies and proxies Qatar and Iraq, as well as Jordan, into the regional air defense alliance that the United States seeks to create through CENTCOM. But bringing Qatar and Iraq into the alliance means emptying the alliance of all meaning. Similarly, Biden seeks to bring Jordan and the P.A., which oppose the Abraham Accords, into the summits of Abraham Accord partners, a move that would, again, gut the accords and reduce them to strategic incoherence, at best.
Immediately after Biden left Jeddah empty-handed, Egypt and the UAE beat a path to Tehran’s door looking to reopen their embassies and formally reinstate relations with a state pledged to their destruction. With the U.S. effectively batting for Iran’s team, they need to explore their options.
All of this, of course, is devastating for Israel, on every level. The move Israel has to make is fairly obvious. Israel needs to pander to the Biden administration just as emptily as Biden and his hostile advisers pander to Israel. And then they need to pursue policies that actually defend Israel’s interests.
Unfortunately, our caretaker leaders, Prime Minister Yair Lapid and Defense Minister Benny Gantz, are doing no such thing.
For reasons that have nothing to do with strategic rationality or reality, both men are apparently operating under the impression that Israel is required to advance policies towards the Palestinians and Iran that are devastating to Israel’s existential security interests.
Israel has apparently no plan to attack Iran’s nuclear installations, despite the fact that we are at crunch time. We have no policy to defend or preserve the Abraham Accords. Indeed, both Gantz and Lapid seem to have no clear understanding of the accords’ purpose or rationale. It’s hard to know whether their positions are based on ideological blindness or simple incompetence. Both men have demonstrated both, and in similar ways.
But all the same, Biden’s cataclysmically failed visit, which was followed immediately by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s triumphant visit to Tehran on Monday, means that Israel has no time for its leaders to learn remedial statecraft.
Biden’s pandering was irritating and insulting. But it’s the devastating substance of his policies that is truly alarming. Israel has to stand up for itself now, because nothing it says, no pandering on its part, will change America’s trajectory.