Biden, though, has sought to remove some of the intensity around the previous administration’s embrace of Israel, as well as to recalibrate relations with the Palestinians. Nothing too dramatic, though; the White House has made it clear from the start that it has no interest in investing any political capital in re-starting peace negotiations.
The President’s visit also comes less than a month after the collapse of the latest Israeli government, a development that will have only reinforced the belief in Washington that this is not a time to kick-start Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy. Instead, expect attention on Israel’s growing regional relationships, and a focus on the Palestinian economy.
New Prime Minister Yair Lapid will be the man welcoming Biden to Israel, but the American visitor is also making time to meet with Benjamin Netanyahu, who opinion polls suggest could be poised for a comeback.
Look closely when the President shakes hands with the former Israeli premier, and the shadow of Trump might – ever so slightly – be present in the room.
How does Biden’s Israel policy differ from his predecessors’, especially regarding Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided Capital, the Golan Heights, and settlements?
Biden strongly believes that the only possible solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an agreement for the two states, to live in peace and security. He has maintained Trump’s move of the US Embassy to Jerusalem, in recognition of Israel’s capital.
But he has also pledged to reestablish the separate US consulate to conduct diplomacy with the Palestinians that Trump closed, and he is mindful that resolving both sides’ claims in Jerusalem can only be done at the negotiating table. With the civil war in Syria grinding on and Iran seeking to threaten Israel with weapons based there, there is no serious possibility of Israeli-Syrian negotiations.
So Biden sees nothing on the horizon that raises any question about Israel’s control of the Golan Heights, and no reason to delve into the question of sovereignty.
Unlike some of his predecessors, Biden is yet to appoint a special envoy to the Middle East one year into his presidency. What does this say about the importance he attaches to solving the Middle East conflict?
That likely reflects the realistic appraisal that Israeli and Palestinian domestic political dynamics make a breakthrough exceedingly unlikely, as well as the elevation of other priorities, like competing with China, revitalizing NATO, and now, helping Ukraine repel Russia’s invasion.
In the meantime, the Biden administration supports steps that strengthen the Palestinian economy, reduce friction between Israelis and Palestinians, and limit actions by either side — like settlement expansion and payments to terrorists [through the Palestinian Authority Martyr’s Fund] — that can make an eventual solution even harder to achieve.
If the US wants to get something from Israel in regard to a political solution for the Palestinians, what can Biden offer in return?
I don’t think Biden is trying to coax a particular action or decision out of Israel on a political horizon. In this phase, when there are no negotiations, it is more about keeping prospects for two states alive for a negotiation that would come later.
Even while normalization with Arab states advances, which he fully supports, the Palestinian issue continues to resonate in much of the Arab world and will affect prospects for new countries to join.
Is Israel likely to make any gestures towards the Palestinians ahead of Biden’s trip?
Israelis are newly focused on another election, they’re fifth in less than four years. Even though the new acting prime minister, Yair Lapid, is more moderate on the Palestinian issue than either outgoing Prime Minister Naftali Bennett or his longtime predecessor Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli election campaigns are not a time when gestures to the Palestinians are most likely.
Biden is scheduled to meet with Netanyahu, the leader of the opposition. Since Netanyahu is strongly associated with the Trump presidency, how much of a setback would it be for the Biden administration to find Netanyahu installed again as Israel’s prime minister, if at all?
There is nothing unusual about a friendly stay-in-touch meeting between a visiting American president and the opposition leader of a democratic ally. With Netanyahu, there could be more Policy differences than with Lapid, particularly sharper disagreements around the Palestinian issue and Iran nuclear negotiations. But such differences are not new in US-Israel relations. Biden will be careful not to wade into domestic Israeli politics.