President Joe Biden has returned to the United States after his high-profile yet controversial trip to the Middle East. While there, he visited Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Though there were some positive headlines, the trip seems for now to be mostly a flop.
Biden landed in Tel Aviv, Israel, to great fanfare. The president is no stranger to Israel, this being his 10th trip to the Holy Land. In fact, Biden has met with every Israeli prime minister since Golda Meir. Biden himself has said in the past, and reiterated upon landing, that “you need not be a Jew to be a Zionist.”
The president quickly made headlines as he broke the no-handshake protocol he was supposed to follow. Immediately upon landing, Biden visited an Israeli military base to see the new Iron Beam in action. The newest military innovation to come out of Israel built in part with American money, the laser has the ability to shoot down enemy missiles, drones and planes at a fraction of the cost that the Iron Dome has in the past. While there, Biden committed to helping to maintain Israel’s qualitative military edge, meaning to always ensure that Israel’s military capabilities are ahead of their enemies.
Afterward, Biden traveled to Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Memorial, to pay homage to the victims of the tragic Nazi genocide. While there, a touching moment occurred when the president met with survivors of the Holocaust and came to his knee to speak to them. He then laid a wreath at the site’s eternal flame.
The following day, the president held extensive talks with Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid to discuss Iran’s nuclear threat and the potential revival of the Iran Nuclear Deal. It was quite embarrassing for Biden as his Israeli counterpart remarked during a joint press conference that Israel believes such a revival is impossible, and they are prepared to act militarily to prevent Iran from attaining a nuclear weapon. To that end, Biden gave a half-hearted agreement. Biden further committed to a two-state solution, stating that he believes it is the only possible way forward.
Then, Biden met with the Palestinian Authority and its leader, Mahmoud Abbas, to discuss renewed American funding and to once again reiterate his support for a two-state decision. While arriving for the meeting, Biden angered many in Israel by removing the Israeli flag from his motorcade. Those in Israel viewed this as an affront and to mean that Biden is not committed to Israel’s sovereignty over Jerusalem.
In general, it appears Biden’s Israel-Palestinian strategy is stuck 20 years in the past. While a commitment to a two-state solution is likely to please some on the left, the fact is that the facts on the ground have made two states practically impossible. This leaves out the fact that most Israelis and Palestinians do not want two states themselves. Biden did commit to helping facilitate conversations to find some middle ground, which, though unlikely, may lead to positive progress.
After finishing his meetings in Israel, Biden flew to Saudi Arabia to meet with King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. The mere possibility of this type of meeting angered those on the left. In fact, during the 2020 presidential campaign, Biden pledged not to meet with MBS due to the CIA’s assessment that he personally ordered the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. In any event, Biden committed to a meeting and followed through on it. It is worthwhile to point out that many observers in the Middle East believe that Biden only went to Israel first to distract from his meeting with MBS.
Once arriving, Biden and the White House seemed to break local customs and protocol. It is generally deemed extremely inappropriate to schedule a meeting such as this on Friday, the day being a sacred day in the Muslim tradition. This created a crisis within Saudi Arabia, as white gowns are traditionally worn on Fridays, while their diplomatic protocol calls for the wearing of black formal robes for meetings with heads of state. Since they felt their religious tradition to be more important, they wore white, which to the locals is deemed as the utmost disrespect to the president and his team. To make matters worse, the Saudis sent a delegation led by a regional governor, as opposed to the King or Crown Prince. Indeed, the White House seemed oblivious to this.
In all, foreign policy commentators are calling the trip a huge failure. Even the only positive gain, the Saudis announcing they will let Israeli aircraft fly overhead, was dismissed by Saudi officials as a mere formality. Biden did little more than anger his already frustrated base while alienating one of America’s greatest allies, Israel, with further acts of disrespect. The trip was another case study of the incompetence of the current administration and their inability to deliver real, tangible results for the American people.