Funny, I thought the Bidenites were distinctly unenthusiastic about the Abraham Accords which were, after all, accomplished by the Trump Administration and therefore to be dismissed. And what’s more, the Accords gave the lie to those Democratic bigwigs who kept insisting that Israel and Arab states could not possibly make peace and normalize ties until the Palestinians had a state of their own. Many will remember John Kerry’s 2016 statement:
“There will be no separate peace between Israel and the Arab world,” Kerry began at a speaking engagement. “I want to make that very clear with all of you. I’ve heard several prominent politicians in Israel sometimes saying, ‘Well, the Arab world is in a different place now. We just have to reach out to them. We can work some things with the Arab world and we’ll deal with the Palestinians.’ No. No, no, and no.”
He continued, “I can tell you that, reaffirmed within the last week because I’ve talked to the leaders of the Arab community, there will be no advanced and separate peace with the Arab world without the Palestinian process and Palestinian peace. Everybody needs to understand that. That is a hard reality.”
Ever since that 2016 clip reappeared in 2020, after four Arab states had joined the Abraham Accords and agreed to normalize ties with Israel, Kerry has not appeared publicly to discuss those remarkable events, and his claim that it would never be possible. “Never apologize, never explain,” appears to be his motto. The Sage of Louisburg Square and Laird of the Elizabeth Islands has spared himself further embarrassment by no longer making pronouncements about Israel and the Arabs.
Now Biden declares, as if the Abraham Accords had been his idea, and that he had never doubted their value, that he is going to the Middle East to further “integrate” Israel into the region. A report on his statement giving his reason for going to the Middle East is here: “Biden says he’ll aim to ‘deepen Israel’s integration in region’ during visit,” by Jacob Magid, Times of Israel, June 30, 2022:
US President Joe Biden said Thursday [June 30] that one of the purposes of his upcoming trip to the Middle East is to “deepen Israel’s integration in the region.”
“I think we’re going to be able to do [that], which is good — good for peace and good for Israeli security,” he said during a press conference on the sidelines of a NATO summit in Spain.
“That’s why Israeli leaders have come out so strongly for my going to Saudi [Arabia],” Biden added, publicly revealing the lobbying by Jerusalem for him to visit Jeddah, amid apprehension from some in his party over the Gulf kingdom’s human rights record.
Biden will travel to Israel and the West Bank and July 13 and 14 before continuing to Saudi Arabia, where he will participate for two days in the GCC+3 annual summit of regional leaders from UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, and Qatar, in addition to Egypt, Iraq, and Jordan.
Israel has been eager to normalize ties with Saudi Arabia, viewing the Gulf kingdom’s acceptance as critical for broader integration in the region. As such, it has pressed administration officials to ease up on Riyadh despite Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman’s perceived role in the killing of US-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Jerusalem has taken a similar approach in its lobbying for improved relations between the US and Egypt despite Cairo’s own checkered human rights record.
Biden did not elaborate on how the trip will lead to Israel’s integration into the region, but Axios reported Wednesday that the US is on the verge of successfully brokering an agreement that will see a pair of Red Sea islands transferred from Egypt to Saudi Arabia in a deal that will see Riyadh move toward normalizing ties with Israel, whose approval is required for the accord to go through.
By giving its approval to the sale by Egypt of two Red Sea islands, Tiran and Sanafir, for $25 billion to Saudi Arabia, Israel wins points in Riyadh. It might have held up the deal, because of clauses in the 1979 Camp David Accords that give it that right, but Jerusalem chose not to. Israel now views its security alliance with Saudi Arabia as rock solid, and is hoping that as soon as King Salman departs, MBS will be ready to join the Abraham Accords.
How might Biden have elaborated on what he will do to further Israel’s “integration into the region”? He might have said “I will urge the Saudis to look at the benefits the UAE and Bahrain have received so far” from being members of the Abraham Accords. “Just look at the business deals, look at the free-trade agreement between the UAE and Israel” and “imagine what an economy your size can do, in trade, technology, tourism, agriculture, security, with Israel.” In fact, that’s exactly what he will say, in a more elevated vein, to the Saudi King and the Crown Prince when he meets with both on the sidelines of the GCC +3 meeting in Jeddah.
Biden insisted Thursday that the Israel visit was “really important” in its own right and would “affirm the unbreakable bond Israel and the United States have.”
The president notably made no mention of the Palestinians in his answer to a reporter’s question about the trip, a further hint regarding its scope.
Now that’s more like it. Biden should meet not just with Israel’s caretaker prime minister, Yair Lapid, but also with the Obama administration’s, and his, old sparring partner, Benjamin Netanyahu, spending a day and a half in Israel making the political rounds, followed by a quick pro forma visit of no more than an hour to the unsmiling Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, where nothing of substance will be discussed, and Biden will only repeat his administration’s mantra about how Israelis and Palestinians deserve “equal measures of prosperity, security, and dignity.” And then it’s on to Saudi Arabia. Could it be that even Joe Biden is getting tired of the whole Palestinian business, the way MBS has? Let us hope.
While there has been some speculation in Israel that Biden would hold off on visiting, given the political upheaval of the past month, the White House has been adamant from the get-go that such issues are not part of its calculus. The US had expected Naftali Bennett to be the premier when Biden arrives in two weeks but is moving forward with its planning as Yair Lapid readies to replace him as prime minister on Friday.
Biden’s decision to visit Saudi Arabia has raised eyebrows, given his pledge during the campaign to treat Riyadh as a “pariah” over its human rights record. But with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the pandemic’s recoil sparking all-time highs at the pump, the president has altered his approach in order to ensure better cooperation from a key Mideast ally.
Of course the main reason for the trip is to persuade the Crown Prince to increase Saudi oil production. Everyone knows that. But Joe Biden can’t say that out loud; there must be no whiff of callous political calculation, no cynical raison d’etat, no hint that his only goal is to bring the gasoline price down in order to keep support for the Democrats up in the November elections. The moralist who was going to treat Saudi Arabia as a “pariah” because of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi is now going hat in hand to ask for a favor. But how much more acceptable It is for him to claim he’s going to talk to the Saudis about what can be done to further promote Israel’s integration into the region.
Who, other than the hysterical Palestinians and the fanatical Iranians, could object to such a noble aim?
Still, he tried to insist that the decision to go to Jeddah was merely circumstantial. “It’s in Saudi Arabia, but it’s not about Saudi Arabia,” he said.
Biden also said that he won’t be seeking to press Riyadh to increase its oil production in order to compensate for rising gas prices in the US. “I’ve indicated to them that I thought they should be increasing oil production, generically — not to the Saudis particularly,” he said.
But when Biden asks “generically” for all the Arab oil states to raise production, his request is really being addressed to Saudi Arabia, the largest producer and the “swing producer,” that has several million more barrels of oil it might lift at once without difficulty. But if he wants to keep up the pretense that he isn’t asking the Saudis alone, why should we object? He’s done a lot worse than that little white lie.
Biden confirmed that he’ll be “seeing” Saudi Crown Muhammad bin Salman but only as part of the larger GCC+3 meeting. He will instead be meeting one-on-one with Saudi King Salman.…
I suspect that when he meets with King Salman, the King’s son will appear at the same meeting, and listen with feigned respect to Biden, as he makes his pitch for more Saudi oil. Biden won’t say a word about the Abraham Accords to King Salman; that would only annoy him, as he has made his position clear: no normalization of ties before a Palestinian state is established. Saudi pride is upheld, as the Crown Prince is present — not a hint of being a “pariah” — and Biden’s pride is maintained, as he can claim not to have known that the Crown Prince was going to be there.
The Saudis will want to know from Biden what exactly the Americans plan to do about Iran. Will Washington really sign a deal with Iran that will provide the Islamic Republic with hundreds of billions of dollars in unfrozen assets and in revenues from increased oil sales, when Iran has shown in the past that it has no intention of keeping its solemn commitments, and will continue to deceive the IAEA inspectors as it has been doing for many years, both before the disastrous 2015 deal was signed, and ever since, when the deal was in effect from 2015 to 2018, and then in the four years since the Americans pulled out? I suspect that Biden will respond, as he has before, that “Iran will not get nuclear weapons on my watch,” which no one in Riyadh or Jerusalem any longer believes. It is Biden’s fecklessness that will in the end push Saudi Arabia ever closer to Israel. He will have unintentionally achieved what he now claims is his main purpose for the trip – to integrate Israel more fully into its neighborhood – because Saudi Arabia will have concluded that its only reliable and effective ally against the Iranian nuclear threat is not the mighty United States, but tiny, determined Israel.
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