In National Post: Biden's Roadmap to Peace in the Middle East
Instead of recognizing that this is one area in which Trump made some historic gains, Biden has begun wavering on his Mideast policy National Post: Avi Benlolo
With U.S. President Joe Biden already reversing course on some of his predecessor’s Mideast policies, there’s every possibility that it will end in disaster.
Former president Donald Trump, for all his imperfections, reduced conflict, held Iran at bay and forged a historic peace between Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Morocco, Sudan and Bahrain. No other American president has ever been able to make as many peaceful gains in a single term in office. Yet instead of recognizing that this is one area in which Trump made some historic gains, Biden has begun wavering on his Mideast policy. He is already being criticized for not having called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Although White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said she expects Biden to call Netanyahu in the coming weeks, this isn’t good enough, given that Israel is America’s staunchest ally in the region.
It almost feels like the stunt former president Barack Obama pulled when he gave his 2009 speech at Cairo University, leaving out a possible quick stop in Israel. In order to continue down the path toward peace in the Middle East, Biden must learn from the Obama-era foreign policy mistakes, and recognize where the Trump administration achieved success.
Advertisement The following roadmap could ultimately revolutionize the landscape in the Middle East. The first step would be to invite Prime Minister Netanyahu and senior Israeli political and military leaders to the White House. Israel still has a bad taste in its mouth from the Obama administration’s duplicity.
Signalling that America has Israel’s back no matter what is first and foremost imperative for the Biden administration to be successful in the region. Israel’s enemies have already begun to salivate at the prospect that Biden appears to be distancing himself from the Jewish state.
Second, the Biden administration must continue to hold the Palestinian Authority (PA) accountable for its bad behaviour. This week, the PA announced it would be planting 35,000 trees to honour the “martyrs of the Palestinian cause.” Continued veneration of terrorism is unacceptable and must not be rewarded by promises of reinstating aid and re-opening the PA’s office in Washington, as the Biden administration has done. All this will do is embolden the Palestinians to incite terror. It will not make them more likely to sit down at the negotiating table.
Third, Biden should not let Israel’s development of the so-called “settlements,” or disputed territories, sour the relationship between the two countries. Instead of criticizing Israel, the Biden administration should focus on quickening the pace of a peace agreement, in order to help settle the territorial disputes.
Fourth, the Biden administration must continue to focus on the Abraham Accords by strengthening the relationship between the existing signatories and expanding the accords to other Muslim nations (especially Saudi Arabia). The Abraham Accords were a home run for American foreign policy, yet because so much of the media was hostile toward Trump, many Americans failed to notice the revolution that has been underway in the Middle East. Biden has a real opportunity to make further gains in this regard.
Fifth, the rising tide of anti-Semitism from white supremacists, radical Islamists and far left-wing groups must be confronted by the Biden administration head-on. To do so, it must strengthen and embolden the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism. This will mean having more international and Middle East partners sign the declaration against anti-Semitism and, most importantly, relentlessly confronting anti-Semites, wherever they might be.
Sixth, Biden should be cautious about re-engaging with United Nations agencies. The Trump administration stopped aid payments to UNWRA for good reason. The Biden administration should not reinstate funding until it investigates recent reports of anti-Semitism in its school textbooks. Similarly, re-engaging with the UN Human Rights Council, which is known for its disproportionate condemnation of Israel, is a mistake, unless the council is willing to undertake fundamental structural changes.
Most significantly, the Biden administration must continue being Israel’s protector at the UN General Assembly and the Security Council. To his credit, the new U.S. ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, has already indicated that she “looks forward to standing with Israel, standing against the unfair targeting of Israel, the relentless resolutions proposed against Israel unfairly.” This is the right way to approach relations with the UN.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly for America’s Middle East partners, an alignment on containing Iran’s nuclear ambition is essential. As in the case of the Palestinians, the Biden administration has begun making strategic mistakes by signalling to Iran that America is willing to compromise. By recalling the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier and suggesting that the U.S. would re-enter the Iranian nuclear agreement, Biden is giving Iran time to develop its nuclear capabilities and losing trust among its allies in the region. To avoid an all-out war, the president must immediately consult with his allies and develop a unified action plan to confront Iran.
This roadmap would continue the gains that have been made toward forging a lasting peace in the Middle East and ensure that tyrants like those who control Iran are not re-emboldened. It would allow Biden to strengthen America’s commitment to its allies, while building on the Trump administration’s strategic foreign policy successes.
National Post Feb 05, 2021 Sign up for Avi Benlolo’s newsletter at avibenlolo.org.