During his short tenure as president, Joe Biden has made it a priority to schedule phone calls to American allies across the globe, ranging from Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga of Japan to President Emmanuel Macron of France. More recently, the new president made the time to have a conversation with the leader of America’s greatest geopolitical adversary, Chairman Xi Jinping of China.
Noticeably absent from Biden’s call list, however, has been the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu. In office for nearly a month, Biden’s lack of outreach to Netanyahu is troubling, given that former presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump called the Israeli leader within days of assuming office.
When asked about the matter during a recent press conference, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, attempted to downplay worries, stating the delayed call is “not an intentional dis,” and the president “will be speaking with the prime minister soon, and he’s looking forward to doing that.” Nevertheless, a date and time for the call have yet to be announced.
In the same press conference, however, when asked if the Biden administration considered Israel and Saudi Arabia “important allies,” Psaki deflected. She provided a vague, longwinded response:
Well, you know, again, I think we — there are ongoing processes and internal interagency processes — one that we, I think, confirmed an interagency meeting just last week — to discuss a range of issues in the Middle East … We’re — we’ve only been here three and a half weeks, and I think I’m going to let those policy processes see themselves through before we give, kind of, a complete laydown of what our national security approaches will be to a range of issues.
Biden’s lack of outreach to Netanyahu, coupled with Psaki’s refusal to acknowledge Israel as an important ally, raises serious concerns that the freshman administration is positioning itself to revert to the Obama-Biden era of American foreign policy, which oversaw relations with Israel deteriorate to their worst in decades and continued aggression among Arab nations. Given his administration’s recent actions regarding the Jewish state, that’s exactly what Biden looks to do.
On Jan. 26, acting ambassador to the United Nations Richard Mills laid out the Biden administration’s policies on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the U.N. In addition to supporting a two-state solution, the new administration will “base its policies on consultations with both sides,” rather than prioritizing Israel.
Furthermore, Mills announced the United States will “renew ties with the Palestinian Authority”, which includes “economic and humanitarian aid to the Palestinians” and the reopening of “diplomatic missions which were shut down by the Trump administration — like the PLO office in Washington and the U.S. consulate general in Jerusalem.”
Likewise, Mills stated that the administration will oppose any form of annexation and settlement building in the disputed territory. This move seems to serve as a rebuke of the Trump administration’s move to recognize the legitimacy of Israel’s settlements in the West Bank in Nov. 2019.
Regarding relations with Iran, Biden’s stance is poised to make a bad situation even worse. During his presidential campaign, Biden made it clear that he intends to rejoin the disastrous 2015 nuclear agreement, marking a reversal of President Trump’s decision to withdraw the U.S. from the deal in 2018.
According to The Washington Post, “the Biden administration has begun mapping out how the United States might rejoin the international nuclear deal with Iran,” with the main question facing the White House being “whether to trade U.S. actions for Iranian ones as a way of bringing both nations back within the fold of the 2015 agreement.”
While some European nations support this, Israel does not. In December 2020, a senior official from the prime minister’s office issued a statement making clear that the Jewish state does not endorse the United States rejoining the pact.
“Israel is unequivocal that under no circumstances should there be a return to that bad deal,” the official states. “The deal gave Iran a highway paved with gold to build the critical infrastructure for an entire arsenal of nuclear bombs. That deal gave Iran the resources to significantly escalate its aggression and terror across the Middle East.”
Trump’s withdrawal from the deal has been noted as one of the factors that helped encourage the best developments for peace in the region in decades under his administration.
Moreover, Biden has also stacked his administration with several officials whose histories are filled with anti-Israel activism. Recently, the president tapped Maher Bitar, a former Obama White House staffer and general counsel for Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee, to be the senior director for intelligence programs at the National Security Council.
According to the Washington Free Beacon, Bitar has a history of aligning himself with anti-Israel and anti-Semitic organizations. “Bitar spent years leading anti-Israel organizations that promote the anti-Semitic Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, which wages economic warfare on Israel,” the report reads. “In college, he was a leader in Students for Justice in Palestine, a pro-BDS campus group known for bullying Jewish students. A 2006 yearbook picture from Georgetown University, where Bitar attended school, shows him posing before a sign that reads ‘Divest from Israel Apartheid.’”
President Biden has also tapped former Obama State Department official Hady Amr to serve as deputy assistant secretary of state for Israel-Palestine. In addition to calling for the terrorist organization Hamas to be involved in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, Amr has previously accused Israel of “ethnic cleansing” and “apartheid,” as well as working for organizations funded by the Iranian-allied country of Qatar.
It’s safe to that Biden’s approach to Israel is a sharp departure from the Israeli-centric strategy of the Trump administration that led to massive steps forward for peace in the region with the Abraham Accords. Whether it was recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, acknowledging Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, or facilitating multiple Israeli-Arab peace agreements, the Trump administration’s “Israel First” approach to the Middle East not only strengthened ties with our greatest ally in the region but also brought about historic change.
Indeed, Biden’s initial posturing regarding Israel is alarming, given that Trump’s pro-Israel approach proved to be the most significant progress made in the elusive goal of peace in the Middle East that the world had witnessed in decades. Based on his current trajectory, however, Biden will all but guarantee that his administration’s relationship with Israel will be nothing more than a mirror image of the disastrous Obama years.