Joe Biden has completed the Israel leg of his Middle East coming-out party. Even before he left the US, critics lambasted him for tone-deafness in meeting Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who ordered the murder of journalist, Jamal Khasoggi. The shameful transparency of the visit’s purpose–to lobby his government to increase oil production, in order to bring down the price of US gasoline–was evident. Not to mention the added goal of silencing Republican critics who’ve railed about inflation and the massive rise in gas prices.
Abandoning the murder victim all for the price of oil at the pump. It may have been an easy call for Biden and his advisors: getting elected vs standing by principles. But many of us here in the US don’t see it that way. We see a president who has no principles except self-preservation. This is of course common to all presidents. But at least some of them made a pretense of having a set of principles. If Biden has any, he’s hiding them under a bushel.
On his Israel visit, he’s made at least two glaring statements to Israeli media. He told the TV interviewer that he would attack Iran “only as a last resort.” Of course, this was the position espoused by Barack Obama. So in a sense, it’s nothing new. But because it’s the same old-same old, it’s grown stale. Almost everyone knows the US is not going to strike Iran under almost any conditions. Thus, the statement plays to two audiences: Republicans at home and Israelis. As for Israelis, they could care less what Biden says unless he’s willing to say he’ll prevent an Iranian by, as Malcolm X once said, “any means necessary.” In other words, his willingness to attack Iran not as a last resort, but as a first resort. As for Republicans, nothing would persuade them that Biden is tough on Iran, unless they too heard words of war from Biden.
The President also stated explicitly (for the first time, as far as I recall) that the US would never remove the Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRG) from the terror list. This, in effect, destroys any chance of renewing the nuclear agreement, as the Iranian hardliners have laid this down as a redline issue. Showing willingness to negotiate a compromise–for example by conditioning removal on completion of a nuclear agreement–would have been a far wiser approach. Instead, he’s drawn a line in the sand that leads nowhere.
Even more distressing is Biden’s clueless answer to the interviewer’s question about Congressional Democrats who call Israel “an apartheid state” and support conditioning US aid on Israel’s adherence to the principles of human rights and respecting Palestinian rights. His response as reported by The Hill was obtuse:
“There are few of them. I think they’re wrong. I think they’re making a mistake,” Biden said. “Israel is a democracy. Israel is our ally. Israel is a friend, and I think that I make no apologies.”
Biden said he sees “no possibility, I think, of the Democratic Party or even a significant portion of the Republican Party walking away from Israel.”
So much blather, and so little time. First, if Biden really believes there are “few” Democrats in Congress and the country who believe Israel is an apartheid state and that the US should not offer unconditional aid, he’s living in cloud-cuckoo land. In fact, all of the major human rights groups in Israel and abroad have explicitly stated that Israel is an apartheid state “from the river to the sea.” And polls show the majority of Americans support conditioning US aid. Either he’s not watching the polls or he’s looking over his shoulders for Republican critics who will call him “soft” on Israel.
Second, the ‘Israel is a democracy’ and ‘Israel is our ally’ pablum consists of fossilized statements that may have had some validity in the distant past, but certainly haven’t been true for some time. It certainly isn’t a democracy, as anyone who reads this blog can attest. And if Israel is a friend and ally, it has a funny way of showing it. In fact, Israel pursues its own interests even in direct contradiction to our own. It flagrantly disregards American views on everything from settlements to the two-state solution. And that’s just for starters. In other words, Biden is living in the distant past, when Senators routinely offered fulsome praise for Israel on just about everything. Those days are long past. Yet Biden hasn’t recalibrated his message, and it shows.
As for “walking away from Israel,” Americans, including Jews, are doing precisely that. Granted, polls show views fluctuating depending on whether Israel has bombed Gaza lately. But the general trend shows declining support, with increasing support for Palestine. They will continue doing so as long as Israel continues to be the garrison state it is, in a state of perpetual war with its neighbors.
The stronger Biden’s support for Israel, the less he has to offer the Palestinians. They are not fooled by the charade of US ‘support’ for Palestine. It is, at best, an afterthought. The brief stopover in Ramallah is an empty gesture.
Despite enormous skepticism surrounding the Abraham Accords, some Democrats are swooning about the prospects it offers Israel, and the strategic opportunities it offers the US. That it means abandoning the Palestinians hasn’t even dawned on the president. Or if it has, he treats it the same way he does the Saudi visit: it’s based on a cold-hard calculation of cost and benefit. Supporting Palestine would have enormous costs and virtually no political benefit.
Biden’s Sinking Prospects
Joe Biden’s poll ratings are falling fast. He’s generated nothing but disappointment from supporters and detractors. The November midterms are almost guaranteed to bring defeat for Democrats, including losing both a House majority and a 50-50 Senate. Prospects seem good for a clean Republican sweep. While other Democratic presidents have managed well under such circumstances, the same won’t hold true for Biden. He’s passed his sell-by date. He’s aging and would be the oldest president in US history if he won a second term. He offers no fixed ideas or principles. He’s as hard to grasp as a jellyfish.
There may be a serious primary challenge from a Democratic opponent. I doubt Bernie Sanders will run. But that’s the sort of candidate who could give Biden a run for his money, and perhaps steal the nomination away from him. Tough days are ahead for a president who is more has-been than will-be.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.