I was relieved that Joe Biden won the presidential election – relieved for the United States, which, whatever your views about the president-elect, will surely be governed with a steadier hand, more professionalism and a more rational worldview. I was also relieved as an American Israeli.
Most Israelis will tell you that President Donald Trump was wonderful for Israel. He certainly was wonderful for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. That’s because Netanyahu had a U.S. administration that would cater to his every wish – even supporting the idea that the Palestinians could be bypassed and that Israel could annex 30% of the West Bank, where the Palestinians hope to establish an independent state.
Netanyahu must be devastated over the election. His own recent election campaigns featured billboards of himself with Trump. The message to voters was that he and Trump were buddies and that Netanyahu was indispensable in steering Israel’s relations with the United States. But Trump will be seeing moving vans pulling up at the White House in less than two months, and at around the same time, Netanyahu will be in court again on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.
To be fair, the four years with Trump at the helm weren’t a total disaster for America’s Middle East diplomacy, but his success was accidental. Trump is ending his term having ushered in diplomatic relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and the normalization of ties with the Persian Gulf state of Bahrain and Sudan.
I can only assume the breakthrough was inspired by the Jewish story of the man who couldn’t cope because his meager house was so cramped. He went to his rabbi, who strangely suggested that he move a goat into the house. When he returned to the rabbi saying that it had only made things worse, the rabbi advised moving the goat out, after which the man felt much better about his situation.
The goat in the Israeli-Palestinian context was Israel’s annexation plans in the West Bank. Whether or not Netanyahu would have gone through with them, the United Arab Emirates agreed – through Trump administration mediation – to establish diplomatic relations with Israel in exchange for an Israeli commitment to shelve the annexation for the foreseeable future.
Trump also did Netanyahu’s bidding in pulling the United States out of the international accord that had placed considerable limitations and an inspection regime on Iran over its nuclear program. In the absence of American participation in the agreement, which still exists on paper with other countries, Iran has accelerated its nuclear program.
Biden has wisely said that he would bring the United States back into the nuclear accord as a departure point for further negotiations if Iran strictly adheres to the agreement. At that point, the U.S. could begin negotiating some of the deficiencies that critics of the accord have pointed out, such as the pact’s limited duration and Iran’s other destabilizing actions in the Middle East.
Whether or not Netanyahu remains in office next year, and whether or not a fourth round of Israeli elections in two years takes place, whoever the Israeli prime minister is can count on a sympathetic ear from President Biden, who appears to have a gut emotional connection to Israel after his many years in Congress.
Israeli-Palestinian peace won’t be at the top of Biden’s agenda. COVID-19 and the U.S. economy will. But I would expect the United States to play a more constructive role in addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and restoring America’s leadership role in the international community, following Trump’s four years of unpredictability and upheaval.
Cliff Savren is a former Clevelander who covers the Middle East for the Cleveland Jewish News from Ra’anana, Israel. To read more of Savren’s columns, visit cjn.org/savren.