The President and his closest advisors are processing the weekend’s escalation of violence in Israel and dealing with a diplomatic scenario more complex than any other Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Netanyahu's far-right governing coalition in Israel has strained relations between Biden and his Israeli counterpart, Benjamin Netanyahu, who had been pals for decades. It will be difficult for American officials to find a reliable negotiating partner in the Palestinian political context. Biden's recent deal with Iran has been blamed for fueling attacks on Israel, and a Republican presidential primary campaign is already underway in the United States to make that case. And in the backdrop is a historic normalisation accord that Biden had hoped was almost finished with Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Together, these factors have created one of the most precarious geopolitical circumstances of Biden’s presidency, which is also dealing with the politically delicate problem of the war in Ukraine.
On Saturday, Biden called Netanyahu to tell him, “We stand ready to offer all appropriate means of support to the government and people of Israel.”
It was said by Biden that he will keep in touch with Netanyahu.
In a statement released later on Saturday from the White House, Vice President Joe Biden vowed that U.S. support for Israel’s security is “rock solid and unwavering.”
I spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu this morning and assured him that the American people are with the Israeli people as they endure these terrible attacks. Simply put, Israel has the right to protect itself and its people, he declared.
When hostilities between Gaza and Israel flared up previously, Vice President Biden and other high-ranking American officials were instrumental in mediating a peaceful resolution. Six times Obama spoke with Netanyahu, once with Mahmoud Abbas (Palestinian Authority president but without real authority over Gaza) and once with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
Hourly communication between US and regional authorities helped push leaders in Egypt and Qatar to negotiate a ceasefire with Palestinian militant groups in Gaza.
Democratic friends of the president pushed for a stronger reaction. But top White House officials decided it was best to quell the bloodshed by secretly coordinating with their allies.
It’s been over two years since then. Since then, relations between the United States and Israel have grown increasingly tense.
Vice President Joe Biden has been an outspoken critic of the Netanyahu administration’s efforts to reform the Israeli judiciary, which Biden and other officials have argued threaten democracy. This has caused tension between the two, and their first face-to-face meeting didn’t happen until last month, when they met in New York on the fringes of the UN General Assembly to discuss the situation. Biden admitted at the time that he and Trump had several “hard issues,” including “checks and balances,” to discuss.
After everything was said and done, that discussion was “very constructive” and “very candid,” according to one official. Biden invited Netanyahu to the White House and the two men had a lengthy one-on-one session without any staffers present.
Netanyahu’s efforts to maintain his far-right governing coalition may make it more difficult for the United States to intervene diplomatically in the dispute as he faces mounting pressure to respond forcefully.
Further complicating the American diplomatic response is the Palestinian political stalemate; Abbas, who was elected to a four-year term in 2005 but has remained in power since cancelling subsequent elections.
Biden had anticipated, as late as last week, to be closing in on the final details of a big agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia to establish formal diplomatic connections, which might have had far-reaching effects over the whole Middle East.
It was hoped that as part of the compromise, Netanyahu would agree to a temporary halt to settlement construction and an eventual recognition of the Palestinian state.
One American official stated following Biden’s meeting with Netanyahu, “It’s obvious that a move like this by Saudi Arabia will require a component dealing with the fundamental between Israelis and Palestinians.”
Given Saturday’s outbreak of violence, it’s hard to see Netanyahu making those compromises at this time.
Even in the hours and days following the horrific attacks in Israel, one thing was apparent: the violent scenes would soon be used as political ammunition against Biden.
As part of an agreement to liberate five Americans that the United States government considers unlawfully held by Iran, the Biden administration last year issued a waiver unfreezing billions of dollars in Iranian cash. Given that Iran funds Hamas, this decision will likely come back into focus, with critics drawing connections between those monies and the assaults in Israel.
The billions of dollars that the Biden administration unfroze as part of the deal, a senior administration official claimed Saturday, “did not go to Iran, are solely for humanitarian purposes, and not a single cent has been spent.”