5 reasons Biden’s Israel visit will be bad news – opinion

Biden’s visit has been overtaken by events and should have been called off.

By Pesach Benson, World Israel News

Presidential visits to Israel are always impressive affairs.

By protocol, the Israeli prime minister greets the president when Air Force One lands. The arrival is, of course, broadcast live on national TV.

The Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway is closed so the president and his entourage can be whisked to and from Ben Gurion International  Airport without delay. Jerusalem residents who live near the King David Hotel, the Prime Minister’s Office and Yad Vashem know to expect inconvenient road closures, hovering helicopters and heavy police presence.

It’s an impressive display of honor and security for the leader of the free world.

But President Joe Biden’s arrival in Israel on Wednesday will be very different from past presidential visits. He’ll meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders before flying off to Saudi Arabia on Friday. It’s a visit that has been in the works for months.

Unfortunately, the display of American power may be limited to the traffic jams. It’s a visit that has been overtaken by events and should have been called off. Here are five reasons why.

1. The Israeli government is in transition.

There’s a reason U.S. presidents generally refrain from visiting or hosting Israeli prime ministers in election mode.

Israelis head to the polls on November 1 for the fifth election in three years. Caretaker Prime Minister Yair Lapid is not in a position to embark on major diplomatic initiatives or policy changes.

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Although the visit was planned well before the government collapsed, Biden’s presence will, for many Israelis, smack of political interference. Bill Clinton’s not-so-subtle support in 1996 for Shimon Peres only benefited Benjamin Netanyahu, who won by the thinnest of popular votes. And then, in 2020, Donald Trump’s admiration for Netanyahu was of no help to his Likud party.

2. Fears of Palestinian terror disrupting the visit.

Biden’s visit comes amidst the backdrop of a weakened Palestinian national movement.

The Palestinians have been sidelined by the war in Ukraine and Iran’s nuclear program, and Biden is not planning to unveil any new peace initiatives. There is, rightly, no sign of an arbitrary “diplomatic horizon,” a reopening of the Jerusalem consulate,

On top of that, PA President Mahmoud Abbas is currently in the 17th year of a four-year term as president. His popularity has nosedived, which makes the situation ripe for a terror attack that would disrupt Biden’s visit.

Indeed, Defense Minister Benny Gantz recently met with Abbas, primarily to make sure PA security forces clamp down on Jenin, from where most of this year’s Palestinian terror originated.

So far, there hasn’t been any intelligence pointing to specific, credible threats. But the Palestinians don’t take well to being off the world’s radar. Iran, too, has the means and motivation play the spoiler.

Do the Palestinians feel they have anything to lose?

3. Biden will visit eastern Jerusalem.

According to Hebrew media reports, Biden will make the first presidential visit to eastern Jerusalem. All indications are that he will visit either the Augusta Victoria Hospital or the Al-Makassed Hospital, which are both located on the Mount of Olives.

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The Friday morning visit is significant because it would be without an Israeli escort.

For the White House, it’s a symbolic gesture to the Palestinians.

But for Israelis, its a clear affront to Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem.

In 1996, French President Jacques Chirac berated Israeli security personnel who were escorting him at the Church of St. Anne’s in Jerusalem. Chirac refused to enter the church until the Israelis left and threatened to fly back to France otherwise. In 2020, French President Emmanuel Macron pulled the same stunt.

Nobody expects Biden to be as confrontational, but a visit like this clearly undermines Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem.

By the way, Biden will not be visiting the Western Wall.

4. Shireen Abu Akleh’s death is still raw.

Palestinians are still outraged that U.S. investigators let Israel “off the hook” for the death of the Palestinian-American Al Jazeera journalist.

And Israelis are irked that the State Dept. demanded IDF accountability one day after the U.S. confirmed that the ballistic tests were inconclusive.

Abu Akleh’s family demands a meeting with Biden, and in the U.S., Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) is urging Biden to “obtain the names of the soldiers responsible for killing Shireen.”

5. The Israel-Saudi thaw will happen without Biden’s visit anyway.

The primary reason for Biden’s visit to the region is to push a regional air defense network to counter the Iranian threat.

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This security cooperation is certainly in Israel’s interests regardless of whether or not it leads to openly normalized ties with Saudi Arabia.

Biden explained as much in a Washington Post op-ed published on Saturday. Tellingly, Israel and the Palestinians only made up a small part of the op-ed.

He did tout the significance of being the first President to fly from Israel to Jeddah as “a small symbol of the budding relations and steps toward normalization between Israel and the Arab world, which my administration is working to deepen and expand.”

However, Israel-Saudi rapprochement is a long-term project and won’t happen overnight. The two countries were moving in the right direction already before Biden’s presidency.

Presidential visits matter. They’re a tangible demonstration of the closeness between two allies.

Israel does need Washington to invest in its Iron Beam laser defense system and for the U.S. to take a leading role in coordinating a regional alliance against Iran.

Israel also shares certain key Saudi desires, which Biden will hear more about in Jeddah. Re-designating Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthis as a terror organization tops the list.

But in the end, Biden’s visit is more about encouraging the Saudis to keep gas prices down than about his meetings in Jerusalem and Ramallah.

In other words, Biden may as well skip Israel and just visit the Saudis. Israel would find a way to manage without this presidential visit.