Biden failed to make Israeli-Palestinian talks a priority: Arab leaders

From its first months in power, the Biden administration has made a striking decision on its Middle East policy: it would subordinate half a century of high-profile efforts by former US presidents, mainly Democratic ones, to establishing a comprehensive and lasting peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

Since Richard Nixon, successive US administrations have used summits at Camp David, shuttle diplomacy and other large-scale efforts to persuade Israeli and Palestinian leaders to hold talks to resolve the disputes underlying 75 years of tensions in the Middle East. -East. More than other recent presidents, Joe Biden has notably not done that.

Instead, administration officials outlined early on what they called Biden’s policy of quiet diplomacy. They called for more modest improvements in Palestinian freedoms and living conditions under the hardline government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which has encouraged settlement in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and includes coalition partners who oppose the U.S.-backed two-state solution.

The less ambitious approach matched Biden’s determination to shift his foreign policy focus from Middle East hotspots to China.

But the long-term risks of sidelining the Israeli-Palestinian conflict came back into focus with Hamas’ attack on Israel on October 7 and Israel’s heavy bombardment of Gaza in response.

The United States’ angry Arab partners point to America’s inability to actively engage as Israeli-Palestinian violence returns to the fore.

The bloody escape of Hamas militants from Gaza and Israel’s escalating military response have killed thousands of civilians in Israel and Gaza, prompted Biden to send aircraft carriers to the region, and threaten to fuel conflict and flows of Palestinian refugees across borders to spread.

This weekend, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi was one of a succession of Arab leaders who warned Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who is rushing through Middle Eastern capitals to curb the conflict, that the war between Israel and Gaza poses a threat to the stability of the entire Middle East.

Biden is likely to hear the same thing when he meets the leaders of Jordan, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority in Jordan on Wednesday after traveling to Israel.

Sissi, who fears that Israel’s military offensive will push Gaza’s 2.3 million residents across the border into Egypt, blames the near disappearance of any international pressure on Netanyahu’s government and the Palestinians to return to negotiations.

Sissi cited a build-up of outrage and hatred for more than forty years and the lack of any horizon to resolve the Palestinian cause; one that gives Palestinians hope for a state with a capital in East Jerusalem.

Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, pointed to Saudi Arabia’s repeated warnings of the danger of the explosion.

Arab leaders are well aware that this will continue to explode. And maybe they’ll go through with it this time, maybe next time, as they have done in the past, says Yezid Sayigh, a senior fellow at the Malcolm H. Kerr Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, Lebanon.

But it is actually not a comfortable position for them to live in indefinitely,” with endless cycles of Israeli and Palestinian wars threatening the peace and economies of the region, said Sayigh, who accused the US of encouraging Netanyahu to think it was not necessary to address the issue. Palestinian concerns.

Biden’s call to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas last weekend, amid the build-up to the Gaza war, underscored his administration’s reduced focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and was the US leader’s first since taking office.

In 1973, the Arab countries’ surprise attack on Israel and the Arabs’ devastating oil embargo on the US and other countries because of their support for Israel in that struggle convinced US leaders that a lasting solution to Palestinian demands for statehood was in America’s strategic interest.

But after some early successes, recurring violence, the disappointments of past failed mediation efforts and the scale of the disputes helped derail the American advance. By the time Biden, a strong supporter of the state of Israel, took office, support for major negotiations among Israelis was weak.

To be fair, there is little to suggest that Biden’s ambitious engagement on Israeli-Palestinian issues would have made immediate progress, or done anything to deter the attack of Hamas, whose charter calls for Israel’s destruction .

Even after an eruption of fighting between Hamas and Israel in 2021, government figures argued that a major push on peace efforts would undermine more easily achieved goals such as a ceasefire with Hamas.

Instead, Biden has enthusiastically followed the new path set by predecessor Donald Trump on Middle East peace: lobbying for so-called normalization deals with Arab countries, in the absence of an Israeli-Palestinian deal.

Under Trump, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco all signed normalization deals that established diplomatic ties with Israel.

Until Oct. 7, Biden seemed to be rapidly closing in on a normalization deal with the biggest prize of all: regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia.

Then Hamas’s breakout from Gaza shattered what National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan had praised as a period of calm in the Middle East. The violence was the deadliest of five wars between Hamas and Israel, killing more than 1,400 people in Israel and nearly 2,800 in Gaza.

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It is not clear what will happen now with Biden’s drive for normalization. Despite their angry comments and varying degrees of public support for the Palestinian cause, America’s Arab partners are pragmatists, and like the US and Israel, opponents of Hamas and other Iranian-backed groups.

Moreover, the Biden administration’s immediate and comprehensive commitment to Israel’s growing defense following the October 7 Hamas massacres could undermine Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s desire to secure such a security alliance with the US for the kingdom , will only increase, many analysts argue.

I think the Gulf partners are looking at the quick, decisive response the US has given to Israel and are incredibly jealous, said Jonathan Lord, director of the Middle East security program at the Center for a New American Security think tank.

Brokering these alliances would stabilize the Middle East on its own, without the need for an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, supporters have argued.

The nightmare now unfolding for Israeli and Palestinian citizens argues differently when it comes to Biden’s approach, critics say.

As long as the core problems remain unresolved, ignoring them won’t make them go away, said Yousef Munayyer, head of the Palestine-Israel program at the Arab Center, a Washington think tank.

And I think that’s a lesson for everyone.

(Only the headline and image of this report may have been reworked by Business Standard staff; the rest of the content is automatically generated from a syndicated feed.)