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The one word Biden won’t say in Israel



But there are also non-physical reminders. Despite their smiles and handshakes, it is not lost on Israeli and other Middle Eastern officials that Trump made the region the scene of his first trip abroad, while Biden waited a year and a half after his presidency to pass by.

Trump made Jerusalem the US-recognized capital of Israel. He did it so that there is no longer a US consulate that engages with the Palestinians. His policies ensured that the dream of a Palestinian state is all but dead and that Israel has more Arab friends than ever.

Biden has grudgingly accepted this new reality and will do little to change it for roughly 48 hours in Israel. Comparisons to Trump’s time in the Holy Land will be inevitable as the 45th president skipped the convention to be the first to visit the Western Wall and put his name directly on a US embassy in Jerusalem, whose courtyard this dedicated to his son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

Biden isn’t looking for grand gestures: He wants to show that the US-Israeli relationship stands on solid footing before heading to a much more complicated meeting in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

The actual word “Trump” is unlikely to escape Biden’s lips.

“I figured he would stay away from that name. Like Candyman,” said Kirsten Fontenrose, a former senior National Security Council official for the Gulf in the Trump administration. “You don’t want to make comparisons… You can’t afford to have references in the Arab press equating your policies.”

“What is the use of bringing up Trump? I don’t see any benefit for the US president to do that,” said Randa Slim, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, adding that it is not imperative to mention Trump even in a display of bipartisanship due to long-standing support. from the United States to Israel.

Biden may not have any incentive to talk about his predecessor. But his team hasn’t shied away from promoting a rare area of ​​deal he has with “the ex.”

The Biden administration has adopted the Abraham Accords, a Trump-backed effort to improve Israel’s relations with other Arab countries and better integrate it economically, diplomatically and otherwise in the Middle East. Those agreements were brokered by the Trump White House and have normalized relations between Israel and several Arab countries, including Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Morocco.

The Arab nations had long made it clear that they would not negotiate with Israel until the Palestinians received an independent state of their own. But the Abraham Accords showed that Arab-Israeli relations could be de-linked from the conflict between Israel and Palestine.

The Biden White House wants to build on what Trump started. “We strongly support the Abraham Accords and the normalization agreements between Israel and countries in the Arab and Muslim worlds,” an administration official told POLITICO.

Biden aides privately admit that Trump’s deals have helped cool down the Middle East. One of the president’s goals on this trip is to bring Israel and Saudi Arabia closer together, possibly toward an eventual Abraham Accord of their own.

Israeli officials, for the most part, are hesitant to speak openly about Trump while Biden is in the region.

In the run-up to the visit, a POLITICO reporter attempted to ask half a dozen Israeli officials if they were happy that Biden was continuing Trump’s policy of keeping the US embassy in Jerusalem and taking advantage of normalization deals.

None would comment, not even on the substance. Finally, a seventh Israeli official was willing to say, “Of course we’re glad,” that Biden has not changed course on Trump’s major policy changes related to the region.

The Biden administration has reversed some of Trump’s moves in the Middle East. For example, he restored hundreds of millions of dollars in funds to the Palestinian people and reestablished a diplomatic channel with the Palestinians, even though he failed to reopen the consulate.

Biden’s team also says it supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, even as Trump’s approach sharply undermined that possibility, and warned against expanding Israeli settlements on land claimed by Palestinians for a future state. And he is trying, but failing, to revive the Iran nuclear deal that Trump tore up in 2018.

Those changes, however, pale in comparison to the changes Trump and his team pushed through, which largely favored Israel. In some cases, legal and diplomatic obstacles have prevented Biden from changing Trump’s policies: Israel, for example, will not give permission to reopen the Palestinian consulate in Jerusalem.

“We would like to see a consulate in East Jerusalem,” national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters on Air Force One on Wednesday, but “that requires engagement with the Israeli government, requires engagement with Israeli leadership.” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby clarified Sullivan’s comments, saying the senior aide only meant “Jerusalem,” as is consistent with current US policy.

Biden’s visit to the West Bank, where he is supposed to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, could prove unusually sensitive. Abbas despised Trump, and it is possible that he will use this moment to air the grievances he had with the former president. Trump and Abbas gathered in 2017 in Bethlehema session some reports indicated it was tense and uncomfortable.

Many Palestinians have been disappointed by Biden’s relative inattention to their situation. Biden is expected to announce $100 million for Palestinian hospitals, providing more aid to offset aid the Trump administration cut. But that is nonsense compared to what the Palestinians say they need and a far cry from what they want: the revival of peace talks.

“Are the Palestinian people excited about the visit? No,” a Palestinian official told POLITICO. While the Biden administration has made adjustments to US rhetoric about the region, “from a political perspective, nothing has changed.”

While giving the idea of ​​a two-state solution lip service, even saying in Israel that it remains “the best way” forward for both sides, Biden has put virtually no diplomatic power behind it. His administration sees it as a dead end, especially since neither side seems really ready for serious talks.

The decades-long conflict is further complicated by Hamas, a militant group that the United States considers a terrorist organization and that controls the Gaza Strip. One of Biden’s first major foreign crises as president was an 11-day battle last year between Israel and Gaza militants.

Overall, Biden’s tour of the region is likely to be more traditional and sedate than Trump’s trip to the Middle East in 2017, which was marked by spectacle.

Trump stopped first not in Jerusalem, but in Riyadh, where his image was placed on highway billboards and projected onto the sides of buildings, including the luxurious Ritz-Carlton hotel where he stayed (and where later that year Prince Saudi heir Mohammed bin Salman would stay). imprison fellow royals and elites whom he accused of corruption).

Trump was greeted with a lavish ceremony that featured a traditional Saudi sword dance. He also stood next to the Saudi king and president of Egypt to pose, for some unclear reason, with a glowing orb.

Trump’s visit to Israel, his next stop, also included a highly symbolic visit to Jerusalem’s Western Wall, one of Judaism’s holiest sites, as well as endless promises of love from Netanyahu.

The Netanyahu-Trump relationship was mutually beneficial: Their pro-Israeli good faith helped Trump rally his evangelical base, while Netanyahu garnered Washington’s full support during tense elections and court troubles, as well as a peace proposal. unbalanced White House that complied with many of Israel’s wishes. demands at the expense of the Palestinians.

Biden is unlikely to establish such a relationship with Israel’s interim Prime Minister Yair Lapid, especially since Lapid can no longer lead the country following Israel’s fifth election in less than four years this fall. Biden may soon have to deal again with Netanyahu, who in a couple of years may win back Trump. But if Biden leaves Israel having reduced the subtle yearning in Jerusalem for Trump, that may be enough.

Ward reported from Jerusalem. Toosi reported from Washington and Lemire from New York.



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