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Feb-08-2021 19:02printcomments

Likely U.S.-Israel Relations Under Biden

Israel will establish Trump Heights, a new community located in occupied Golan Heights.

Golan Heights
Golan Heights was part of Syria until 1967, when it came under Israeli military occupation, and in December 1981 Israel unilaterally annexed the part of the Golan it held. In March 2019 the United States became the only country to recognize Israel’s annexation of the region.

(SAN FRANCISCO, Calif.) - Through the George W. Bush administration there has been a “special relationship” or clear pro-Israel tilt to U.S.-Israel relations. Israel is the largest cumulative recipient of U.S. foreign assistance since World War II.

During Barack Obama's presidency, there was a more critical relationship toward Israel, the relationship changed from “special” to “normal.”

Under President Donald Trump, however, our relationship with Israel became an "extra special relationship."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was not ungrateful about Israel's relationship with the U.S. under Trump, when early 2020 he said that Trump has been “the greatest friend that Israel has ever had in the White House.”

And Israel will establish Trump Heights (Ramat Trump in Hebrew), a new community located on the occupied Golan Heights in honor of Trump.

Trump's hardline pro-Israel stance fit easily with the Republican Party and Netanyahu’s government. David Friedman, his ambassador to Israel, is a pro-Israel advocate who once wrote that the two-state solution is “a suicidal ‘peace’ with hateful radical Islamists hell bent on Israel’s destruction.”

Trump moved the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem; he abandoned efforts to curb Israel’s illegal settlement activity in the West Bank; he ordered the closing of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s mission in Washington; he withdrew U.S. funding for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, which provides financial assistance to Palestinians; and cut bilateral aid to the Palestinian Authority.

To add insult to injury, on January 20, 2020, Trump unveiled the Trump peace plan (officially titled "Peace to Prosperity: A Vision to Improve the Lives of the Palestinian and Israeli People”), a Trump administration proposal to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The plan was authored by a team led by Trump's son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner. Palestinian leaders were not invited to the negotiations.

Netanyahu loved the plan but the Palestinians rejected it out of hand as it required too few concessions from the Israelis and imposing harsh requirements on the Palestinians.

As of 30 January 2020, there are about 130 government-approved Israeli settlements, and 100 unofficial ones, which are home to around 400,000 Israelis in the West Bank, with an additional 200,000 Israelis residing in 12 neighborhoods in East Jerusalem.

The Trump peace plan would have given Israel the green light to annex about 30% of the territory, which Israel captured in the Six Day War in 1967.

On January 17, three days before Joe Biden’s inauguration, Israel approved the construction of almost 800 housing units in West Bank settlements.

Palestine, however, is not without blame for the failed Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. In a letter to the editor of The New York Times, Martin Perez, former editor-in-chief of The New Republic wrote,

    "A result of ...40 years of efforts [to bring Palestinians to the negotiating table] was four peace offers the Palestinians rejected, as well as a revivified Hamas in Gaza, attacks in southern Lebanon, two intifadas and unending Palestinian insistence on the right of refugees’ descendants to return to Israel, a policy that would use demographics to destroy the Jewish state."

The Trump administration did promote normalized ties between Israel and the Arab world, reaching deals with Bahrain, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates but not so far with Saudi Arabia.

The deals also were aimed at unifying Arab countries against Iran, their common adversary. While a move toward normalization between Israel and the Arab world is a worthy goal, it may leave the Palestinians further isolated.

It is unrealistic for the U.S. under Biden to suddenly become neutral in all things Middle East. However, I expect Biden will be less testy toward Israel than Obama was, but not so “extra special” as Trump.

In other words, a return to our long-standing “special relationship” with Israel. A first step will probably be a renegotiation of the Iran nuclear accord that Biden helped negotiate and which Netanyahu vigorously opposed.

I would also expect a reopening of Palestine Liberation Organization’s mission in Washington, restore U.S. funding for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, restoring bilateral aid to the Palestinian Authority; and reopening the U.S. consulate in East Jerusalem.

Before any peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine can begin, the Biden administration must repair the damage caused by Trump by reducing tensions between the Israelis and Palestinians; restoring the U.S.-Palestinian relationship; and establishing basic parameters for an eventual agreement generally conforming to the principles set forth by Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama.

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