What can Biden’s visit to Israel achieve?
The trip does not appear to be related to any attempt to restart stalled peace talks...
Vice President Joe Biden will set off for a journey to Israel this week and, with the exception of a trip in January 2014 to attend the funeral of former prime minister Ariel Sharon, this will mark his first diplomatic visit to the country since 2010. Following talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin, Biden will head to Palestine to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah. Despite these meetings, the trip does not appear to be related to any attempt to restart stalled peace talks between Israelis and Palestinian.
Moreover, VP Biden will arrive at the heels of a major uptick in terrorist attacks in Israel and the West Bank, the majority of which were brutal stabbings, leaving at least 29 Israelis and three foreign nationals dead and hundreds of others injured since October 2015.
At least 180 Palestinians were killed during the same time period, with reports indicating the majority were attackers who were shot dead by Israeli security forces while they carried out or attempted to carry out an assault. The frequency of stabbing attacks has steadily decreased since the New Year began but the aftermath of the latest escalation remains fresh, with neither side likely interested in new talks.
Nearly six years ago to date, VP Biden noted during his trip that “There is no space between the US and Israel when it comes to Israel’s security.” This is and was undoubtedly true; however, there was apparently – as Biden would soon discover – a wide space between the US and Israel when it came to settlement building.
After Biden reiterated that DC remains committed to offering unwavering support for Israel’s sovereignty and safety, the trip spiraled into a diplomatic disaster when Israel’s interior ministry publicly announced during Biden’s visit that over 1,000 new housing units would be built for ultra-orthodox residents in East Jerusalem.
With peace talks off for now, Israeli leaders will likely work to ensure VP Biden’s trip is the cordial diplomatic event that 2010 should have beenBrooklyn Middleton
Following the confirmation of the settlement building, Biden reportedly arrived 90 minutes late to dinner with PM Netanyahu. While some claimed the entire incident was merely the result of a poorly timed public announcement of a plan that had long been in the works, others argued it was a deliberate attempt to embarrass the Vice President of the United States.
What was certain was that it underscored the futility of US officials’ efforts to facilitate a deal between Netanyahu’s administration and the PA at that time. Biden himself – while still in the country – said that the confirmation of the housing units was “counter to the constructive discussions” he had just had with Israeli leaders. Ultimately, Israel apologized and six years later, it appears unlikely any such scandal will rock Biden’s visit this time around.
The next 10 years
Haaretz has reported that the meetings will focus on negotiating DC’s military aid to Israel over the course of the next ten years; with this matter on the table and peace talks off for now, Israeli leaders will likely work to ensure VP Biden’s trip is the cordial diplomatic event that 2010 should have been.
Despite the lack of serious focus on the conflict during Biden’s visit, in addition to the defense aid negotiations, the vice president should nonetheless attempt to address a number of concerns with Israelis and Palestinians. Israeli opposition leader Isaac Herzog recently published a detailed four-point approach, what he referred to as an “emergency plan” to immediately address the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and pave the way for a two-state solution.
Notably, Herzog further called on Israel to hold a regional conference with Arab states in an effort to discuss shared security threats – an extremely worthy initiative that should be embraced by the region. Biden should – if only behind closed doors – endorse the entirety of Herzog’s plan.
VP Biden must also acknowledge Iran’s reprehensible promise to begin compensating Palestinian family members’ of extremists who die after targeting Israelis. Offering financial incentives to kill Israelis highlights the fact that Iran prioritizes maintaining recent level of bloodshed over rebuilding the Gaza Strip or paying Palestinian teachers’ salaries.
VP Biden must reassure Israelis that DC remains aware of Tehran’s nefarious activities, despite renewed relations between the US and Iran. In his meeting with President Abbas, VP Biden should reiterate the need for Palestinian leadership that actively battles incitement – not encourages it.
On the one hand, it is disappointing that VP Biden’s visit – which could perhaps be one of the last senior US official visits to Israel and Palestine during President Barack Obama’s presidency - will likely not prove to be a seized opportunity for addressing critical matters. On the other, as far as diplomatic dealings go, the trip is unlikely to go any worse than the one in 2010 did.
Brooklyn Middleton is an American Political and Security Risk Analyst currently based in New York City. She has previously written about U.S. President Obama's policy in Syria as well as Bashar al-Assad's continued crimes against his own people. She recently finished her MA thesis on Ayatollah Khomeini’s influence on the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group, completing her Master's degree in Middle Eastern Studies. You can follow her on Twitter here: @BklynMiddleton.