Research / Geopolitics

Biden’s Middle East policy – from Israel’s perspective

After US-Israeli relations have seen a flourishing development during Trump’s presidency, Joe Biden’s intention to rebalance US foreign policy could bring the era of neglection to the Middle East in which Israel may lose the most. On the one hand, support and attention from the White House for Israel’s issues will certainly diminish while on the other hand, new regional dynamics triggered by the American retreat from the Middle East could push the Jewish state back into serious isolation. The question of how to handle Iran’s nuclear aspirations seems to emerge as the core point of disagreements between Washington and Jerusalem. While Biden believes it could revive the JCPOA and agree with Iran on the limitation of its nuclear programme, Israel sees Tehran’s growing nuclear activity as an existential threat to which only a military response can be given.

During the presidency of Donald Trump US-Israeli relations were in their prime.
The former US President made historical gestures towards the Jewish state with
decisions such as moving the US embassy to Jerusalem or recognising Israel’s
sovereignty over Golan. But the former President’s foreign policy towards Iran
was also redefined considering Israel’s strategic interests and security. It was
expected that the US’ retreat from the region will vigorously continue under Joe
Biden’s presidency as the president intends to put more focus on American
challengers such as Russia and especially China which probably will devaluate
the Middle East. Israel also knew its honeymoon with the US may come to its
end with the leaving of Trump.

Biden’s Middle East – new era of isolation for

On 17 February 2021 US President Joe Biden called Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu
for the first time. Even if Netanyahu was the first Middle Eastern leader who received
a call from the White House, it took four weeks for the new US President to call the
most reliable US ally in the region. Though some believed that the delayed call was
addressed more to Netanyahu himself and they thought that relations between
Washington and Jerusalem would become more seamless after that Benjamin
Netanyahu would have left office, now they are surely disappointed as under the new
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett more and more disagreements arise between him
and Biden leaving relations chilly between the two countries.

But this episode could be interpreted more symbolically, signalling how the new US
administration intends to look at the region in itself, as a whole, including Israel, putting
the country to a low priority and seeking a new balance in the Israel-Palestine context
as well. As a part of this “rebalancing” Biden restored USD 235 aid to the Palestinians
and – despite the loud rejection from Israel – intended to reopen the US consulate for
Palestine affairs in Jerusalem, shut down by Trump in 2019. But the first time in years,
the US administration also criticised Israel for moving ahead in establishing
settlements in the West Bank, as the move is seen by Washington to be damaging the
prospects of a two-state solution.
“The administration needs to respect the government of Israel” highlighted Israeli
Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, a prominent member of the country’s right-wing
political camp and the new coalition government to Politico. And this frustration is also
expressed in the society. The public is disappointed in the Israel policy of the new US
administration and 53% of the Israeli public believe that the Biden Administration is
less beneficial for Israel, according to the MITVIM institute (see figure below). Public
opinion on the state of US-Israel relations dropped from 8.5 to 6.46 on a scale of 10
between 2020 and 2021 and only 35% of the public rated relations between the two
countries as good.

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