The original question asked of Jen Psaki was: “Does the administration still consider the Saudis and the Israelis important allies?”
By David Isaac, World Israel News
President Joe Biden finally called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday evening. Saudi Arabia is still waiting for its call. The reason for the snub, as it’s being called, appears to be different in each case.
It took nearly a month into Biden’s administration for the president to call Israel’s leader. Normally, Israel is among the first on the list of calls a new White House makes, given the importance of the relationship.
Saudi Arabia, too, normally tops the list.
When White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was asked on Tuesday about the status of America’s alliance between Israel and Saudi Arabia (a question identical to one asked last Thursday where she gave an answer which the reporter said “was interpreted by some as something other than ‘yes’”), Israel came out the better of the two.
“Israel is, of course, an ally. Israel is a country where we have an important strategic security relationship,” Psaki said.
The call to Netanyahu arrived a day later. It was described as “very warm and friendly,” according to the Prime Minister’s Office.
Saudi Arabia not so lucky
On Saudi Arabia, the response was notably colder. “On Saudi Arabia, I would say: You know, we’ve made clear from the beginning that we’re going to recalibrate our relationship with Saudi Arabia,” Psaki said.
“And part of that is going back to engagement, counterpart to counterpart. The President’s counterpart is King Salman, and I expect that, in appropriate time, he would have a conversation with him. I don’t have a prediction of the timeline on that,” Psaki said.
Her remarks indicate Biden would not be talking to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, or MBS as he’s known, but to Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz. The Crown Prince, 35, is the heir to the throne and is already considered to be running Saudi Arabia.
It appears that Biden is following through on his campaign promise to treat Saudi Arabia as a “pariah,” suggesting the reason for the poor treatment of Saudi Arabia is related to human rights , exacerbated by the 2018 killing of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi, a hit widely believed to be ordered directly by MBS.
According to an unnamed State Department spokesperson quoted by The Guardian: “The American people expect that U.S. policy towards its strategic partnership with Saudi Arabia prioritizes the rule of law and respect for human rights. Accordingly, the United States will cooperate with Saudi Arabia where our priorities align and will not shy away from defending U.S. interests and values where they do not.”
Human rights was a key theme of Biden’s first foreign policy address. “Defending freedom. Championing opportunity. Upholding universal rights. Respecting the rule of law. And treating every person with dignity. That’s the grounding wire of our global policy. Our global power. That’s our inexhaustible source of strength,” he said.
Israel still in good graces
Biden’s call to Netanyahu appears to have put the alliance between the U.S. and Israel on an even keel for now.
Much had been made of Biden’s failure to call. The problem became worse after Psaki’s awkward answer last Thursday on the question about the alliance.
One reason suggested for the delay had to do with Israel’s March 23 elections. Some analysts suggested that Biden didn’t want to give Netanyahu ammunition ahead of the election.
The Jerusalem Post reports on Tuesday: “The Biden administration does not want to give the impression of interfering in the upcoming election and is concerned that Netanyahu would try to spin the phone call to gain political points, sources from two Israeli political parties who have been in contact with administration officials said.”
Bar-Ilan University Prof. Eytan Gilboa similarly told Arutz 7 on Monday, “Biden does not want to be seen as helping Netanyahu. He remembers, perhaps traumatically, that three weeks before the 2015 election, Netanyahu went to Washington to address the two houses of Congress against Obama’s plan for a nuclear deal with Iran.”
However, the call does not mean Israel is out of the woods. Pundits have pointed to worrying signs that the Biden administration will be hostile to Israel, noting anti-Israel activists have been appointed to key posts and many of the same people who staffed the Obama administration, considered by pro-Israel supporters one of the most hostile administrations in U.S. history, are now on Biden’s team.
The key dispute centers around Iran. Biden wants to return to the 2015 nuclear deal, something both Israel and Saudi Arabia view as a policy decision that will embolden the Islamic Republic, which they consider the key destabilizing force in the Mideast.