President Biden has been the most able and most mature foreign policy President in a generation, possibly more. Even leaving aside the tantrums of the Trump Administration, Biden shines in comparison to the two administrations that prededed Trump. The Bush Jr. and Obama teams swept into office full of arrogance, armed with a few poor historical analogies and over-simplistic theories of how the world works, and a petty determination to undo their immediate predecessors’ work abroad.
Biden’s remarks today on the massacre in southern Israel had all the ingredients of his success so far: clear red lines, an unshakable stance, realistic goals, a keen understanding of competing allied interests, and a willingness to back it all up with American power.
The enormity of Saturday morning’s atrocity, and the possibility that the war on Israel’s southern border could spread north to Lebanon and even Syria and Iran, mean that the U.S. can’t stand by and hope this problem flames out.
Two immediate priorities emerge from this. The first is to ensure Israel a steady supply of munitions—not least for the defensive Iron Dome anti-rocket system—in order to pursue its campaign against Hamas.
The second and perhaps even more crucial from the U.S. perspective is to ensure that the conflict does not expand. Biden made this a priority in his speech tonight. Thinking of using this moment to attack Israel? Biden’s response: “Don’t.”
This can’t be Obama’s dotted red line on Syria or Bush’s impotent protestations on Putin’s invasion of Georgia. The administration must convey to Beirut and Damascus that they will pay an enormous and unbearable price of Hezbollah exploits the war with Hamas to attack Israel and drag the whole region into a war.
And the administration needs to do something else that was overlooked in previous administrations, whether it was on the red line in Syria or other crises, and that is ensure ahead of time that its major allies are definitely onboard.
In the longer term, this week’s events should force a serious reexamination of the received wisdom in Washington on the Arab-Israeli conflict. To be honest, the failures of the consensus “peace processor” view should have forced a serious reexamination of the received wisdom already years ago.
One of the first moves in the region of the Biden administration was to restore UNRWA funding. Like some of the missteps of other new administrations, this had more than a whiff of being driven by a need to undo a previous administration’s work.
UNRWA, the UN agency created only for displaced Palestinians, which serves “refugees” who would not qualify as refugees by any legal definition, is not just a failed humanitarian organization occasionally implicated in supporting terrorism. Its entire ethos, that the population of Gaza are there temporarily and that someday they might “return” to lands in what is now Israel which their grandparents and great grandparents fled during the 1948 war, when five Arab armies were defeated in their attempt to snuff out a newly established Jewish state, runs completely counter to any pious talk of a two-state solution.
If there is anything sustaining the nihilistic radicalism coming from Gaza this week it is that toxic lie. Humanitarian aid to the Palestinians can be delivered in many ways. It should not come in the form of a grant to an agency whose entire existence contributes to conflict rather than mitigates it.
Every effort at broadening the circle of Mideast normalization should be pursued. A Saudi-Israeli peace deal, which this administration has been working assiduously on all year, would be a diplomatic triple bank shot. It locks China out of the region, weakens Iran, and effectively ends the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Which will be a good thing for the Palestinians more than anyone else. Once their conflict with Israel becomes about borders, security, economic arrangements and the like, rather than a cosmic battle supercharged by fantasies of undoing Israel’s existence, they can finally do what every other liberation movement in history has done: They can grudgingly accept statehood on less land than they may have wanted and start the business of building their own society in freedom, with all the benefits and costs and risks that involves.
Shany Mor is a research fellow at the Institute for Liberty and Responsibility at Reichman University, where he is also a lecturer in political thought.
The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.