Warning: A Shifting American Policy Against Israel
Will President Joe Biden and his administration move against Israel?
Even while the Middle East is giving up on hating Israel, in the West, radical leftists just cannot get off the bus. They keep trying to throw Israel under the bus, as they ride along to the next cocktail party. In this case, the party is being hosted in beautiful Vienna to discuss America’s grovelling return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and giving in to the Islamic Republic of Iran.
While Austria’s relationship with Israel is positive, historically speaking, Vienna should be the very last place any nation should be hosting Iran — the top sponsor of Holocaust denial and terrorism. Austria unequivocally co-operated with the Nazis starting in 1938, while its Jewish community of some 200,000 citizens was decimated by the Holocaust.
Iran, for its part, has been giddy about the U.S. nearly begging to come back to the table. The Biden administration has already declared that sanctions against Iran imposed by Donald Trump must be dumped. Now, alongside other Western democracies including France, the United Kingdom and Germany, and together with the European Union, China and Russia, Biden wants to re-establish the highly criticized 2015 agreement created under the Obama administration.
In 2015, Iran outmanoeuvred the United States and received the deal of the century. No one could believe that Barack Obama sent Iran US$1.7 billion that ended up fuelling its terror activities, in Syria and Yemen especially, while providing it with a 10-year time frame to continue its development of ballistic missiles that could serve as warheads for nuclear bombs when the time came.
Snubbing its nose at the JCPOA and trying to once again achieve more negotiating mileage, Iran’s chief of its Atomic Energy Organization said the nation will not stop its drive toward nuclear capacity and that its uranium enrichment has increased. He added that the “nuclear industry will not stop with the JCPOA” and that Iran plans to keep driving its nuclear ambition forward. Its chief negotiator said from Vienna, “We demand that the United States first fulfill all of its obligations and lift all the sanctions it has imposed, and then we will verify and return.”
Tehran is known for its propaganda, deception and negotiating prowess. Still, since Joe Biden came to power and his administration showed its hand as weak if not timid, Iran has been playing it like a fiddle. Iran recently signed a US$400-billion investment deal with China over the next 25 years — securing the strength and stability of the brutal mullahs sitting at the helm in Tehran. The demise of the Trump administration has invigorated if not empowered Tehran to build new relationships in Asia and Africa and cement new trading partners, as sanctions fall apart.
All this grovelling is taking place in the shadow of the incredible co-operation now underway between Israel and Arab states. It makes no difference to the West that Sudan this week made a substantive declaration — that it would be repealing its boycott against the State of Israel. At the same time, flights to Israel from Dubai have resumed as business between the Gulf states and Israel accelerates. And this week, for the first time ever, communities in Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Morocco held Holocaust commemorations — refusing to give in to the Holocaust denial that has plagued the Middle East for decades.
Overlooking these incredible strides and an opportunity to work co-operatively and collaboratively with allies in the region, Western JCPOA partners have largely excluded both Israel and the Gulf States from negotiations. The nations that have the most to lose and the greatest concerns, in other words, have been shut out once again from critical talks that could stabilize the region. It’s likely Israel and the Gulf States will strengthen their unified front against Iran in reaction.
Contrary to Israel’s opinion, the Biden administration has even gone ahead and extended monetary support to the Palestinians through the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), an agency in desperate need of reform due to allegations that its school curriculum inspires anti-Semitism and even terrorism. Given America and Israel’s “unbreakable and unshakeable” bond and extensive security co-operation, this diplomatic approach is disappointing and promises a return to the foreign policy fiascos under the Obama administration.
Worse, Biden has announced he is removing sanctions against International Criminal Court officials, thus giving the ICC tacit approval to move ahead with its false allegations of war crimes committed by Israel (the Palestinians are also accused of war crimes). Secretary of State Antony Blinken has gone further by terminating visa restrictions placed on ICC personnel in 2019 and unfreezing their property and assets in the U.S. Naturally, this change in tone puts a chill on diplomatic relations between the allies. Israel claims the ICC has no jurisdiction over Israel or the Palestinian territories and has not been authorized to conduct an investigation by the UN Security Council.
It’s often repeated that those who forget the past are destined to repeat it. Western powers are sitting around the table negotiating with an evil, anti-Semitic regime in Vienna — with all its history relating to the Holocaust. It cannot escape us that as this is happening this week, the Jewish world is commemorating 76 years since the Holocaust. Will humanity ever learn?
Content: Democracy in Israel; Israel's JFK Moment; Policy Recommendations for Biden
Election-weary Israelis ask: Is it possible to have too much democracy?
After our enslavement in Egypt, our return home with the holy scriptures centuries later, followed by another exile that culminated in the Holocaust, our renewed statehood has been the fulfillment of a dream. We have been blessed with another chance to fulfill our destiny. The people of Israel are strong and devoted. But a fourth election in just two years is fracturing the fabric of this beautiful nation.
Is there a possibility of having too much democracy? Most major nations in the West have a maximum of two to four major political parties. In Israel, 13 parties have won mandates competing for a total of 120 seats. The problem is that the threshold is so low that nearly every religious, secular, Muslim and ideological group can snag a seat to represent its interest.
Three decades ago, we gamed out this very crisis in my political science class at Tel Aviv University. The situation has now become untenable and may lead Israel either to a structural political reformation or continuous elections.
Still, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has once again proven he is the ultimate chess player. Through his defiant gamesmanship, he was able to outmanoeuvre more than 10 active political parties and a growing public sentiment that is defiantly against him.
Even while his Likud party is holding on to only 30 seats in comparison with the 36 seats won in the previous election, it is miles ahead of the second largest party, Yesh Atid (“there is a future” in Hebrew), which achieved only 17 seats.
The election is not decisive and Netanyahu still needs to cobble together a coalition of 61 seats to form a government. That may take days or weeks but one thing is for certain, the 24th Knesset will be Israel’s most centre-right government ever. To retain his position as Israel’s “kingmaker,” Netanyahu will have to partner with a religious block that demands more of Israel’s budget and will even dictate much of Israel’s policy regarding West Bank settlements and foreign relations including those with the U.S. and the global diaspora. An unconscionable outcome for most Israelis.
The divide between Israeli secular society and the Orthodox is increasingly problematic. The road between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem is becoming a massive divide between two distinct worlds: The secularists — mainly represented by Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid, Benny Gantz’s Blue and White, Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope, Merav Michaeli’s Labor Party and Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beytenu — have won a combined 45 seats and are unlikely to be able to form a reasonable coalition government. Besides, none of these candidates has proven to be prime-ministerial, with Lapid even evading declaring himself a candidate during the campaign.
Everyone sees “Ra’am,” an Arab party led by Mansour Abbas, as the party that could pull either the left or the right over the top. Described as an “Islamist” party representing nationalist Israeli Arabs, Ra’am made it through the electoral threshold by winning some four seats.
Searching out a deal, it’s still unclear if it will be invited to join Netanyahu’s coalition — an unlikely scenario given the likely dominance of religious parties in a Likud-led coalition. In fact, any compromise with Ra’am was ruled out today by Religious Zionist Party leader Bezalel Smotrich. This makes it nearly impossible for Netanyahu to form a coalition.
Before Smotrich’s declaration, it appeared that Netanyahu was in the sweet spot of becoming Israel’s next prime minister. And in reality, while he is fighting unsubstantiated criminal allegations, there is no political candidate in Israel today who even comes close to him.
Everyone has weaknesses and who are we to speak for Israelis who are frustrated with the daily hardships? But Netanyahu has kept Israel relatively safe and prosperous for the past 15 years and more. Still, in a huge blow to his authority, Israel’s supreme court blocked Netanyahu from circumventing the law banning him from appointing a new attorney general, state prosecutor, police commissioner and judges.
All this turmoil has worn out the Israeli public. Only 34.6 per cent of Israelis turned out to vote — the lowest number since 2009. Over 16 per cent are said to be unemployed comprising some 700,000 citizens. In comparison, only 3.8 per cent of the population was unemployed in 2019. Israel’s debt has increased to 72 per cent of the GDP in 2020 and everyone is concerned there may have to be tax increases, burdening the nation even more.
The secularists are feeling tired of carrying the nation’s load with increasing demands from the Orthodox community.
From a distance, it appears that under Netanyahu’s watch, Israel’s diplomacy and communication channels with foreign nations have multiplied exponentially. Embassies and consulates have opened around the world; he has produced four new peace agreements and is said to be in talks with other Arab nations to expand the Abraham Accords; and he is one of the few world leaders who can pick up the phone and speak to Putin, Biden and Xi Jinping all in the same day. But is that enough for the Israeli public?
He has excelled at paving the way for Israel to become nearly 85 per cent vaccinated — but that did not translate into a decisive victory. It is now one of the few nations on Earth that can operate freely and with little risk of infection from the coronavirus.
Yes, there are imperfections, but recently, the Pfizer CEO, Albert Bourla, told an Israeli news channel that Netanyahu called him 30 times, including in the middle of the night, to discuss the vaccine and its procurement. Bourla said Netanyahu showed genuine concern about how the vaccine would impact the population, including pregnant women and children. That’s what convinced the CEO to choose Israel for clinical trials.
This election was a referendum not only on Netanyahu, but on Israel itself. President Reuven Rivlin, who has stayed out of the political fray, has expressed worry, saying, “I am voting for the last time as president. But above all as a worried citizen — a very worried citizen.”
Now that the election is over, and the numbers are in, the next few weeks will be dramatic again as politicians hammer away at each other to form coalitions. Ordinary Israelis are paying the high price for political gamesmanship. A fifth election will not be tolerable.
The assassination of Yitzhak Rabin was the Jewish world's 'JFK moment'
Twenty-five years ago, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in cold blood. And so were the dreams of peace in the Middle East
It was a beautiful sunny autumn day in Washington, D.C. The world was watching with anticipation as leaders gathered on the White House lawn. We were filled with hope and awareness about witnessing a historical moment, which was capped by a now-infamous handshake and what promised to be a new chapter that would end the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
That fateful day on Sept. 13, 1993, could not have been more exciting for me, having just started my career in the Jewish community. My earliest recollection as a child was seeing my father in army fatigues come home from the brutal Yom Kippur War. The possibility of losing my father to war left me with an indelible impression and a longing for peace.
And so, the signing of the Oslo Accords and the Declaration of Principles was cause for hope. Little did I know that just two years later, I would be thrust into organizing a 5,000-plus person memorial for Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin at the Centennial Arena in Toronto. Rabin’s assassination by a fellow Jew hit the Jewish community like a bulldozer. Young students cried, sang and lit candles outside the arena. They shared their shattered hopes and dreams for the future.
It’s incomprehensible to think that 27 years later, a full generation of Palestinians and Israelis have grown up without having witnessed the pledges for peace that were made on that day in Washington. They missed the part where PLO leader Yasser Arafat promised U.S. President Bill Clinton and the Palestinian people that he would promote the “values for freedom, justice and human rights.” His promise to “usher in an age of peace, co-existence and equal rights” meant nothing. It flew in the face of his handshake with Rabin, and Clinton’s warm embrace.
Rabin was often criticized for what many said was naivete for believing Arafat wanted to make peace with Israel. However, Rabin’s grim face during the signing and reluctant handshake revealed that the deal pained him. A former war hero, he knew his enemy well but decided to give peace a chance. In his remarks, Rabin explained that he was determined to “put an end to hostilities so that our children, our chidren’s children, will no longer experience the painful cost of war, violence and terror.”
He held up his end of the bargain for two years and on Sept. 28, 1995 — just one month before his assassination — he agreed to move to the next stage of the Oslo Accords, the Interim Agreement. It marked the conclusion of the first stage of negotiations between Israel and the PLO. Its main objective was to broaden Palestinian self-government in the West Bank through an elected self-governing authority, in order to foster a new era of co-operation and peaceful co-existence.
But while Arafat called violence “morally reprehensible” at the signing ceremony, nothing was further from the truth. Like the fable about a scorpion who can’t help himself and kills the frog that is carrying him across the water, Arafat would use his foothold in Ramallah to plunge his people into a war of attrition with Israel. Through his divisive actions, he lost control of the Gaza Strip, giving rise to a mini terrorist state now run by Hamas.
Months after Rabin’s death, a Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up on a bus in Jerusalem, killing 17 civilians and wounding 48. A month later, another killer blew himself up outside the Dizengoff Center in Tel Aviv, killing 13 people and wounding 130. The chaos of dozens of suicide bombings continued well into the 2000s. They included the horrific attack on the dolphinarium in which 21 youths were killed and the Sbarro attack in central Jerusalem in which 15 civilians were killed, including seven children.
Perhaps Rabin foresaw what would happen should the peace process derail. In his last moments of life, on Nov. 4, 1995, he still held out hope for peace despite the public and political pressure. In his final speech at a peace rally in Tel Aviv’s main square (now called Rabin Square), he said, “There are enemies of peace who are trying to hurt us in order to torpedo the peace process. I want to say bluntly that we have found a partner for peace among the Palestinians as well. The PLO, which was an enemy, has ceased to engage in terrorism.”
Moments later, following the singing of the classic Hebrew melody, the “Song for Peace,” Rabin was shot by a Jewish assailant who wanted to stop the peace process. He did. For Israelis and the Jewish world, this was their JFK moment. Time stood still. The pain of betrayal by one of their own still haunts the nation. But Israel’s quest for peace hasn’t abated.
And so, for everyone who shared this brief moment in time, who participated in the memorial rally 25 years ago, who sang the “Song for Peace” at the rally the night Rabin was shot and who continue to impart his message of hope and peace to the next generation — you might be wondering, where do we go from here?
We go to where the wisdom of sages point us in sacred text. They instructed that even while it may not be our responsibility to finish the work of perfecting the world, even when cut short as in the case of Rabin, we are not free to desist from it either. And thus, it is up to us to carry this work forward and to never give up on making peace. As Rabin aptly said, “The path of peace is preferable to war.”
NEXT ARTICLE: Policy recommendations for biden
NOTE: The Abraham Global Peace Initiative does not make political endorsements. It is non partisan. It supports policy not a party or a politician.
Instead of recognizing that this is one area in which Trump made some historic gains, Biden has begun wavering on his Mideast policy
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 was 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.
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.