Anyone anticipating significant progress or even directional clarity arising from the 13-16 July visit by US President Joe Biden and his entourage of 1,100 (yes, really) to the Middle East would now be disappointed. The trip was in part an embarrassment and highlighted the ineffectiveness of the President and US policy under the Biden administration.
Biden on arrival said, ‘You need not be a Jew to be a Zionist.’ It was a sentiment well received as supportive of Israel. Yet prior to his arrival Biden announced restoration of $500 million in aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA), which incites hatred and pays terrorists for killing Jews in Israel. This aid is in direct contravention of US law, specifically the Taylor Force Act which conditions US aid on the cessation of terrorism funding.
We saw on display again signs of a man well past his prime. At times Biden looked confused and hesitant, or held out his hand as if to shake hands with thin air, attracting a wave of mockery on social media. On arrival in Israel, Biden spoke of the Holocaust, the need to honour the six million Jews murdered, and to remember the horror of the Holocaust; however, he mixed up honour for horror when referencing the Holocaust, awkwardly correcting himself.
The US-Israel alliance is of critical importance to both countries. Israel is America’s only rock-solid reliable ally in the Middle East. America assists in Israel’s defense capacity and Israel provides a return on investment of a few hundred percent in terms of battlefield testing, technological innovations, and intelligence.
There was a joint signing of a strategic statement, the Jerusalem Declaration, which reaffirmed basic principles of the relationship and explicitly said America vowed to use ‘all elements in its national power’ to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.
A visit by a serving US President is a big deal in Israel, and Biden received full honours. He was even given the Israeli President Medal of Honour, a gesture described as ‘absurd’ by the Zionist Organisation of America in view of numerous hostile to Israel appointments in the Biden administration, policies which challenge Israel sovereignty in disputed areas and increased funding to those who seek to damage Israel.
When Biden went into the eastern side of Jerusalem, despite flying both the American and Israeli flags on the armoured presidential state car (nicknamed ‘the Beast’) while in the rest of the Jewish state, the Israel flag was noticeably absent on the last leg of his visit. This signal is interpreted as an insult to Israel sovereignty and the unity of Jerusalem. When the motorcade travelled to Bethlehem for the President to meet with PA leader Mahmoud Abbas, it flew the American and Palestinian flags despite no American recognition of a state of Palestine.
Abbas is frequently accused of corruption, is a failed dictator, and now in the 18th year of his four-year term as PA President. He has lost popular support, prioritises the incitement of terrorism, and payment of terrorists and their families via obscene programs known as Pay-for-Slay and the Palestinian Martyrs Fund. He has amassed personal wealth in excess of $100 million by allegedly fleecing foreign aid. A visit by the US President gives him undeserved legitimacy. During the visit in addition to the $500 million for the PA, Biden announced $201 million to the United Nations Works and Relief Agency (UNRWA) which provides educational services for Arab Palestinian children and $100 million for health services. UNRWA has been widely criticised for textbooks that teach antisemitism and undermine peace prospects.
While with the PA, Biden made the most bizarre statement of the entire trip which shocked observers of Middle East politics. Appearing to go off script he said:
‘…the background of my family is Irish American and ahh we ahh have a ahh long history of ahh not fundamentally unlike the Palestinian people, with Great Britain and their attitude toward Irish Catholics over the years for 400 years.’
Was the President of the USA using his heritage to personally empathise with Palestinian terrorism? Was he criticising Britain? Was he comparing the PA with the IRA? We may never know.
After the meeting finished, four terrorist missiles were fired from Gaza into Israel. One was destroyed by Israel’s remarkable Iron Dome defense system and three landed harmlessly in open areas. The timing is interpreted as a signal that Biden’s visit and his talks with the PA have no validity from the perspective of Hamas or Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
The presidential delegation then travelled to Saudi Arabia where the announcement to allow Israeli air traffic through Saudi air space was welcomed. This has been in the pipeline for many months as quietly behind the scenes there has been much Israel-Saudi liaison. It happened despite not because of President Biden. Yet President Joe Biden called the overflights ‘a big deal, not only symbolically but substantively’. Speaking in Jeddah Biden added, ‘This is the first tangible step on the path of what I hope will eventually be a broader normalisation of relations (with Israel).’
However, Biden was almost immediately rebutted by the Saudis. ‘No, this has nothing to do with diplomatic ties with Israel,’ said Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan. ‘The issue of overflights is a decision we took in the interest [of] providing connectivity between countries in the world, and we hope that it will make some travellers’ lives easier. It’s not in any way a precursor to any further steps.’ Biden’s hyperbole and effort to be identified with major diplomatic progress received a definitive smackdown.
So, Biden leaves the Middle East with no major peace initiative, no major advance, but with some Israel adversaries better funded without the requirement to stop inciting or rewarding terror. The PA has already announced a pay rise for convicted terrorists and families of martyrs.
Grouch Marx in a classic joke said, ‘These are my principles and if you don’t like them, I have others.’ He could have been describing the conflicting messaging of President Joe Biden’s Middle East excursion.
Dr David Adler is the President, Australian Jewish Association
Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.