Joe Biden's Middle East strategy: Trump Lite?

Joe Biden's Middle East strategy: Trump Lite?

Just remember — it could be worse. And seeing where Joe Biden is headed with Iran, it likely wilbe worse. However, Politico reports today that not only has Biden decided to shelve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for the moment, the new president is likely to continue with Donald Trump’s Abraham Accord process of engagement in the Middle East:

Unlike Barack Obama and Donald Trump, Biden hasn’t named a special envoy to focus on the Israeli-Palestinian portfolio. Unlike Bill Clinton, Biden has no plans for any sort of peace conference, or even a peace process, anytime soon. Biden’s closest antecedent may be George W. Bush, who initially resisted engaging with the issue — but eventually found he couldn’t ignore it.

Aside from taking a few small steps to reorient the U.S. position away from the heavily pro-Israel tilt it took under Trump — including restoring some modest aid to the Palestinians — Biden and his team are signaling that the conflict is simply not a priority.

That might be the smartest foreign-policy choice Biden has ever made. The conflict cannot be resolved until both sides want it resolved. Israel does, even if they’re not enthusiastic about the range of options, but the Palestinians don’t want it resolved at all. They want to drive the Israelis into the Mediterranean Sea, if not annihilate them altogether. As Prince Bandar bin-Sultan finally made clear to Saudis last October, the Palestinians had at least two opportunities to get their full-fledged state, only to have Yasser Arafat stab the Saudis in the back both times.

The Arab states have all washed their hands of the Palestinians, except for the purposes of PR, and even that has mainly faded away. No need for the US to white-knight for them again.

The other smart move Biden is apparently making is to follow Trump’s playbook, just without Trump’s rhetoric:

Biden has decided not to reverse Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and the U.S. Embassy will not be moved back to Tel Aviv. This was not a surprise to the Palestinians and their supporters.

They’d hoped, however, to see Biden already re-open the U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem, which Trump shut down. That office served as a key U.S. diplomatic conduit for the Palestinians, who do not want to use the U.S. embassy, which traditionally dealt with Israel. …

But the Trump administration did help orchestrate one breakthrough that some Mideast hands say could help salvage the two-state ideal: agreements between Israel and some Arab states to normalize their diplomatic relations. The so-called Abraham Accords could be expanded to cover other Arab countries currently at odds with Israel, said Dennis Ross, a longtime Mideast peace negotiator who has worked for multiple administrations.

Some Arab countries, such as Saudi Arabia, could offer to normalize their relations with Israel in exchange for steps that help the Palestinians, Ross said. At the very least, he said, “there is something to work with.”

That sounds more like the Biden administration’s desire rather than the Arab countries’ desire. Enough of them signed onto the Abraham Accord to make the point that the Arabs now think the Palestinians have to start showing some seriousness rather than the Israelis, and the Saudis already have made their displeasure with the Palestinians plain enough. Ross wants to salvage the Obama administration’s mantra, expressed by John Kerry, that there can’t be normalization without serious Israeli concessions, even though the Abraham Accord made minced meat out of Kerry’s claim.

But Ross is only making a token effort in that regard. The reality is that Israel’s not playing that game any longer. The Arab states don’t appear to be interested in it either, especially while Biden plays footsie with the Iranian mullahs. They see Israel as key to regional security for the Sunni Arab states against Tehran, and the double-dealing Palestinians get a much lower priority than their own survival. Biden and his team may pay some lip service to Abbas, but they’re apparently wising up to the futility of negotiating with the Palestinian Authority.

That’s at least an improvement. Let’s hope it stays that way.

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