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For Biden to help Israel, being a Trump opposite is vital but not enough

Updated: Nov 22, 2020

The unveiling of the 2020 Democratic Party platform begs the question of Former VP Biden’s foreign policy approach in general, and toward Israel in particular.

A Biden presidency promises positive change for the world and Israel, but will it suffice for a breakthrough on the paramount issue facing the future of the Zionist vision? Will the shift be sufficiently significant to extricate us from the status quo inexorably leading the Jewish State toward the moral and democratic catastrophe of a bi-national state?

Biden has all the makings of a successful President in terms of foreign policy. His approach is antithetical to Trump’s, who espoused an America First doctrine that has turned the United States into “America Last” in its capacity to lead the free world.

Biden’s extensive experience will serve him in restoring the US relationship with its allies in NATO and Asia. Under his leadership, we are likely to see a reawakening of US leadership on critical global issues such as climate change, nuclear proliferation, human rights, epidemic control, as well as win-win free trade agreements rather than unnecessary prestige-motivated conflicts.

In confronting rogue states such as Iran and North Korea, we will definitely see improvement. Trump’s bravado aside, during his term, tensions between the two Koreas have escalated and Iran is closer to nuclear breakout than it was before his election. Cooperation with US allies will replace Trump’s erratic conduct vis-à-vis Russia and China, which has weakened the US.

The change for Israel will be significantly better: Biden has a proven record of support for Israel as chair of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee and as Vice President. The US will resume the P5+1 alliance that enabled coordinated sanctions, significant supervision over Iran and empowerment of Iran’s more moderate forces, which the Trump Administration crushed. The US will influence Syria’s future more effectively than it did under Trump, who abandoned the arena to Russia, Turkey and Iran.

Biden will resume US aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA), which Trump eliminated, thereby restoring an important lever of influence over Palestinian moderates. He will renew Washington’s ties with the PA and reinstate US standing as a mediator with Israel.

Nonetheless, if he wants to help Israel confront the only real existential threat to its future, Biden must adopt a stand diametrically opposed to his instinctive tendencies . Despite his friendship for Israel, and understanding that the two-state solution is crucial for its future and is in the best interests of the United States, he must learn from his predecessors’ failures.

If elected, Biden will have to adopt assertive leadership in order to extricate Israel from the toxic status quo in which it is mired. He will have to realize that Israeli politics is inherently incapable of historic decisions and that its impact on US politics paralyzes every initiative.

Biden should learn from the presidents who greatly contributed to Israel’s strategic standing by flexing the superpower’s muscles at the expense of their short-term popularity. President Carter helped Israel attain the most strategic achievement of its history – the peace treaty with Egypt.

President George Bush Sr. and his assertive Secretary of State Baker pushed Prime Minister Shamir to attend the Madrid Conference, which launched a new era of diplomatic relations with much of the world, including China and India. Israel’s participation also led to PLO recognition of Israel.

Asserting his full presidential authority to help Israel will be less politically risky than it was for his predecessors. Most US Jews support a two-state solution and Democrats no longer see the conflict as a zero sum game as they did in the past.

A new formula for a permanent agreement is not necessary. The existing ones are applicable. What we need is determination to invest political capital in implementing them.

Biden will undoubtedly be a pro-Israel President, but in order to be a significant President for Israel who translates his support into improving our strategic posture, he will have to move beyond his political comfort zone.

Nadav Tamir is a Mitvim Institute Board member, a former diplomat and senior policy advisor to the late President Shimon Peres. He is a member of the Geneva Initiative Steering Committee

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