It is almost upon us now: Joe Biden’s inauguration day.
Whatever the grief, the incredible frustration, the conviction that this should not be happening, as far as I can tell, it will be happening. Which means the beginning of the “reset.”
There is a great deal that terrifies. Biden will be reversing many of President Trump’s policies and re-establishing Obama’s policies (with Obama right behind him calling the shots).
Or, as Niki Haley predicts, he may go even further left than Obama:
There are Biden initiatives that are predominantly domestic in their implications (although what happens to America does have broader implications internationally). I am referring, for example, to his eagerness to welcome millions of illegal immigrants to the US and his intention of rushing through citizenship for millions of others already in the US.
Let us leave these aside for now.
Just as I will leave aside for the moment the leftist suppression of free speech that is taking place, likely the most horrific development of all. In addition to the restrictive actions of major hi-tech platforms such as Twitter, we see the potential for the government to get involved: AOC is advocating an “investigatory commission” to consider “reining in” the media.
Then there is a horrendous move to deny employment to people who worked for the Trump administration.
And the ludicrous attempt to pursue an impeachment trial of Donald Trump as a private citizen. According to Alan Dershowitz, professor emeritus at Harvard Law School, the House violated six independent points of the Constitution when impeaching President Donald Trump.
“They violated the free speech provision. They violated the impeachment criteria. They violated the bill of attainder. They violated due process, on and on and on.
“How can you impeach a president for a speech that is constitutionally protected?” (Emphasis added)
Congress, putting vindictiveness and political advantage over respect for the law.
All of this is so ugly, and so, so un-American.
Over coming days and weeks, I will return to many of these concerns.
But today I want to turn my focus towards a couple of Biden’s initiatives that have broader international implications, particularly with regard to the Middle East and Israel:
Very recently, Biden nominated Wendy Sherman to second position in the State Department; she will be serving as a deputy to Tony Blinken, who is slated to become secretary of state.
Sherman was Obama’s chief negotiator on the Iran deal, and, as the JPost puts it, she was “among the top former officials [of the Obama administration] extolling its praises as the Trump administration exited the agreement.”
Her nomination, then, gives us a solid indication of where Biden is going with regard to Iran.
Outgoing US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, however, looks beyond Sherman in a final interview he has given:
“The Iran band is back together,” he declares, referring to Sherman; Tony Blinken, in-coming secretary of state; Jake Sullivan as national security advisor; as well as former secretary of state John Kerry, who is to be Biden’s special presidential envoy on climate, and ex-national security advisor Susan Rice, who will serve as head of the White House Domestic Policy Council. All of them were involved in forging the deal with Iran in 2015.
So Friedman is especially worried about Iran now, with the advent of the Biden administration. Especially worried, as each of us should be here in Israel.
“You’d have to not be paying attention not to be concerned about Iran [in light of the fact that all of these people are joining with Biden]…
“In 2015, reasonable minds could disagree. Someone could give the benefit of the doubt and think the Iran deal was a good idea. The premise was that Iran would self-modulate… Now we know they didn’t. They destroyed Yemen, attacked America in Iraq, attacked Israel from Syria and funded Hezbollah, Israel’s greatest risk on any border.
“…we know they cheated. We know that when they said they never had a military infrastructure for their nuclear ambitions, they were lying.
“I’m hoping any rational person would know we can’t return to the JCPOA, but the news reports [indicate] trouble.”
According to a Channel 12 report here in Israel, officials in the soon-to-be Biden administration have already been in touch with Iran regarding re-establishment of the nuclear deal.
And then there is Biden’s outreach to Mahmoud Abbas.
The PA has to have elections before the US can deal with it seriously, Biden has indicated. And Abbas, who is currently sitting in the office of president for the sixteenth year of a four-year term, has agreed.
There will be no democratic process in the course of these elections, should they actually occur, and nothing good will come of them, as Hamas may gain advantage. I will be following this.
But the point here is that Biden’s communication with Abbas is an attempt to garner legitimacy for the PA as a forerunner to his promotion of the old, tired, wrong-headed “two-state solution.” The underlying premise of this “solution,” which is no solution at all, is that all of Judea & Samaria constitutes Palestinian Arab land and Israel development there is a hindrance to peace if not worse.
Again? This garbage all over again? It is, of course, what Obama promoted, big time. This is a reversal of Trump’s position, which acknowledged that Israel has rights in Judea & Samaria.
Already in various quarters internationally I sense a shift in tone, as there will no longer be a Trump administration to stand behind that alternate vision. Talk of “the two-state solution” is in, and criticism of Israel is more vociferous. (I will have a great deal more to say about this very soon.)
Yet one more destructive step backwards. A major headache, a case of severe heartburn, for Israel.
Along with this, we see that UNRWA is applying for resumption of aid from Biden’s administration, aid that had been discontinued by Trump because he recognized that UNRWA’s influence was malign.
Commissioner-General of the UNRWA Philippe Lazzarini said “we are optimistic about the resumption of relations with the new US administration.”
David Friedman expressed concern about sustaining the Abraham Accords, which are still new. Biden may be less involved or even pull out. But I am optimistic that the ties established between Israel and our new Arab partners will be sustained. Those with which we now have normalization, and even Saudi Arabia, with which we do not yet, were hoping for a Trump win because he is tough on Iran.
If anything, it is possible that these Sunni states will strengthen their ties with Israel because of Biden’s position. Israel may well have an enhanced role in coping with the current situation.
All right then. Let us consider the question that must be asked: what is happening in Israel in the face of this?
And the answer, unfortunately, is that Israel is in the midst of an election campaign that is maddening. The Israeli government is communicating with Biden with regard to the inadvisability of going back to the Iran agreement (although I would say Biden and his people appear to be paying precious little attention).
But beyond this there seems little unanimity as finger-pointing and divisiveness are still on full display.
I had some notion – which has turned out to be little more than a pipe dream, at least so far – that various groups vying for influence during the elections might become less divisive in the face of what’s coming down the road with the Biden administration. That is, that there might be more of a sense of hanging together. I thought this a possibility because Israelis have a history of rallying together in the face of a crisis, and I see the Biden administration as representing a crisis for Israel.
What is needed is a strong, united right wing front with the courage to stand for what’s good for Israel and to protect Israel’s rights. Yet we are not seeing this united front because hanging together requires sublimating personal ambition to national priorities.
I offer here, briefly, a description of the current situation – which is still changing rapidly – and some of my thoughts.
It remains true enough that the action is all on the right or right/center. The left is fairly irrelevant. Both Sa’ar (The New Hope) and Bennett (Yamina) remain intent on trying to replace Netanyahu (Likud) as prime minister. But they are not keen on coming together in an effort to garner more mandates than Netanyahu, for that would mean one would have to step back and allow the other to lead.
Sa’ar is well ahead of Bennett, who is slipping in the polls. Why, is not altogether clear. Part of the reason may be because Bennett is campaigning very narrowly, focusing on corona and related economic issues.
Sa’ar is the one who declared he would never sit in a government with Netanyahu, although he has since modified this to say he would never sit in a government in which Netanyahu was a minister. Bennett has refused to commit to “never,” which in the end may be a more honest and realistic position.
I was not impressed by Sa’ar’s statement that he would be the one best able to relate well to Biden. Is relating well with Biden our first priority? This immediately evokes in me fears that Sa’ar might compromise where perhaps he should not in order to sustain that relationship.
One of the problems here is that all three major parties may be necessary to form a right wing governing coalition – although in truth, while Likud is right wing, Netanyahu himself waffles.
Not long ago there was an analysis about how Sa’ar and Bennett, coming together, could form a right wing coalition without Netanyahu. It would mean bringing in Avigdor Lieberman (Yisrael Beitenu) and Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid, which is centrist). My response to this was quite negative, as neither of these individuals would make a reliable partner in a coalition, in my opinion. And their demands would be extravagant.
It would seem to me better for Sa’ar and Bennett to come together and then incorporate Likud – which has some good people – within a coalition.
Yamina, however, has expressed a disinclination to join with the New Hope because, as Ayelet Shaked explained, Sa’ar was willing to remain in Likud while it was part of the horrendous unity government. The implication is that Sa’ar was not prepared to leave Likud until it served him politically – had his move been one of principle, he would have done it sooner.
At present, Likud is still ahead of both New Hope and Yamina in the polls, and it is too soon to count Netanyahu, ever the master politician, out.
Just over a week ago, right before Biden’s inauguration, Netanyahu announced that approval or advancement would be given for construction of 800 new homes in Judea & Samaria – in the communities of Itamar, Beit El, Shavei Shomron, Oranit and Givat Ze’ev, with 100 units also slated for Tal Menashe, the hometown of Esther Horgen, who was killed by a terrorist recently, and 200 in the Nofei Nehemia outpost.
This is a good move at the last moment, but, as critics rightly point out, over a period of months he has missed many opportunities for development or even application of sovereignty in Judea & Samaria. And very recently there was talk about his approving a handful of illegal Arab developments in Area C.
Right now we are caught in lockdown because the corona virus numbers are horrendous (in part, it is believed, because of the new more contagious strains). Nevertheless, Israel is first in all the world in supplying inoculation to citizens. It has been an amazingly efficient process with some 25% of the population already inoculated.
This was possible because Netanyahu was able to acquire large quantities of the vaccine from Pfizer, as part of a deal in which Pfizer would use Israel as a test ground for determining the success of the vaccine. Smart, and I think this may factor into votes for Likud come election day.
In other words, nothing is simple.
Not incidentally, Pfizer is showing itself to be superbly effective in tests.
One other factor to be mentioned at this juncture: After saying he would remain in Yamina, Bezalel Smotrich (National Union) decided to leave. As I understand it, this was because he felt Bennett was focused too narrowly, neglecting important issues.
First Smotrich said he would run alone. This concerned me, because then he would run the risk of not making the threshold for entering the Knesset. I believe Smotrich’s voice is an honest one of integrity, which should be heard.
Now there is a possibility that Smotrich will join with Bayit Hayehudi (Jewish Home) for a national religious bloc. Rafi Peretz, who headed Bayit Hayehudi, has retired from politics. We are currently awaiting result of the primary for that party. The decision about whether to join with National Union will depend upon who assumes leadership of the party. (There are rumors that Netanyahu is encouraging this with the goal of incorporating the bloc later, but who knows.)
If this scenario has your head spinning, do not let it disturb you. Matters will become clearer in short order. In a couple of weeks, all party lists must be officially submitted, as a precursor to the election.
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by independent journalist Arlene Kushner. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.