On Israel-Palestine, Biden and Trump are not the same

On Israel, the two are not the same.

People take photos of a large sign with “Trump Heights” written in English underneath Hebrew writing and the US and Israel flags at the top.

A sign outside an Israeli settlement in the Golan Heights named “Trump Heights,” photographed in 2019. Amir Levy/Getty Images Zack Beauchamp is a senior correspondent at Vox, where he covers ideology and challenges to democracy, both at home and abroad. Before coming to Vox in 2014, he edited TP Ideas, a section of Think Progress devoted to the ideas shaping our political world.

During the war in Gaza, President Joe Biden has taken a consistently pro-Israel line. He traveled to Israel after the October 7 attack, provided the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) with huge quantities of munitions, refused to publicly call for an indefinite ceasefire, and vetoed UN resolutions it opposed. This all reflects the president’s strongly held personal beliefs on the need to support the Jewish state and the idea that public support for Israel gives America greater behind-the-scenes leverage.

For those who wish Washington would put more pressure on Jerusalem to stop the killing, this raises a fundamental question: Would President Donald Trump have done anything differently?

The answer is almost certainly yes. Biden has put only inconsistent pressure on Israel; Trump would have put none.

Everything we know about the former president, from his extensive policy record on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to his top advisers’ statements on the war, suggests he would have no qualms about aligning himself completely with Israel’s far-right government. While Biden has pushed Israel behind the scenes on issues like food and medical aid to civilians — with some limited success — it’s hard to imagine Trump even lifting a finger in defense of Gazan civilians whom he wants to ban from entering the United States.

The Israeli right understands this and pines for Trump. In an early February interview with the Wall Street Journal, National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir made his views quite clear.

“Instead of giving us his full backing, Biden is busy with giving humanitarian aid and fuel [to Gaza], which goes to Hamas,” Ben-Gvir said. “If Trump was in power, the U.S. conduct would be completely different.”

Expert observers have a similar take. In a recent New Republic essay lambasting Biden’s Gaza policy, two former high-level officials — American David Rothkopf and Israeli Alon Pinkas — argue that the difference between him and Trump is still massive.

“Whatever our critique of the Biden administration’s Israel-Gaza policy to date, the only hope of undoing recent mistakes and achieving positive results lies with maintaining America’s current leadership,” they argue. “Donald Trump, as we have both written elsewhere, would be many times worse, many times more accommodating to the extremist elements in Netanyahu’s government.”

This is not meant as a bank-shot defense of Biden. The current president should not be judged by the standards of his predecessor; there’s far more he could have done, and could still do, to help pull Israel’s government off its deadly and self-destructive path.

But with one of these two men almost certain to be inaugurated next January, it’s worth being clear-eyed about their actual policy differences. And the truth is this: Biden is a traditional pro-Israel American centrist, while Trump has openly and publicly aligned himself with the Israeli right wing. Those are two very different worldviews that would yield very different policies.

In fact, they already have.

“The most pro-Israel president ever”

Donald Trump loves deals — and an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement would be “the deal of the century,” as he’s fond of saying. Early in his administration, it seemed like that might cause him to climb down from the hardline pro-Israel positions he had outlined on the campaign trail. After all, you can’t get to a deal if you’re only talking to one side.

But getting Palestinians to the table would have required a more even-handed policy than what Trump — the self-described most pro-Israel president ever — pursued. There is a reason Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu all-but-openly campaigned for Trump against Biden in 2020. American policy in the Trump administration was a laundry list of gifts to the Israeli right:

  • Drafting a “peace plan” with zero Palestinian input that would have, if implemented, actually ended the possibility for a real Palestinian state.
  • Cutting Palestinians out of the negotiations over the so-called Abraham Accords, realizing the longstanding Israeli goal of severing diplomatic progress with Arab states from progress towards a sovereign Palestine.
  • Recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, disputed territory with Syria taken during the 1967 Six-Day War.
  • Shutting off funding for the UN’s agency for Palestinian refugees (which Biden almost immediately restored and then temporarily suspended again amid a scandal about its employees participating in October 7).
  • Abandoning the decades-old US position that West Bank settlements are a key barrier to a peace agreement and eliminating longstanding restrictions on spending US taxpayer dollars in them.
  • Moving the American Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem while closing the US mission to Palestine in the same city.

These are not “normal” positions, the sort you expect any president to take given the bipartisan pro-Israel consensus in American politics. Many of them were directly at odds with the longstanding bipartisan consensus in US policymaking, one which attempted to balance support for Israel with trying to maintain the US position as a potential mediator in credible peace talks. The Biden team has largely tried to return to this traditional position where it could, even as it worked to deprioritize Middle East diplomacy prior to October 7.

This track record gives us suggests that Trump does not approach Israel like other issues. Neither his dealmaker bravado nor his transactional approach to other alliances like NATO tempered his hardline support for Netanyahu and the Israeli right while in office. To make the case that he would have handled the Gaza war differently, one would need to show some reason to believe Trump would break with his established pattern.

And there isn’t one.

Why Trump’s Gaza policy would (still) be more hawkish than Biden’s

Trump’s Israel-Palestine policy, per accounts like this one from the Washington Post’s Isaac Stanley-Becker, was largely the product of delegation. Uninterested in the details, he outsourced policy formulation to aides. While Trump has said relatively little about the Gaza war since October 7, these influential aides have been quite vocal. And they have attacked Biden from the right.

Chief among these deputies was son-in-law Jared Kushner. In a public appearance at Harvard in February, he expressed outright opposition to Biden’s current push for a Palestinian state as part of any postwar settlement.

“Giving them a Palestinian state is basically a reinforcement of, ‘We’re going to reward you for bad actions,’” Kushner said. “You have to show terrorists that they will not be tolerated, that we will take strong action.”

Trump’s ambassador to Israel, noted hardliner David Friedman, went even further — accusing the Biden team of “hampering the war effort” by pressuring Israel to limit the civilian casualty toll of its bombing campaign. “At no time [while I was ambassador] did the United States put any handcuffs or limitations on Israel’s ability to respond,” he added in an interview with Israel’s Channel 12 news station.

And Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s special envoy for Middle East policy, blasted the Biden administration’s decision to impose sanctions on violent West Bank settlers as “wrong and deceptive.” He also claimed to be “shocked that the State Department was investigating the possibility of declaring an independent Palestinian state,” a decision he termed “terribly harmful and dangerous.”

The key decision-makers in the last Trump administration have repudiated the handful of Biden decisions that peace advocates can actually approve of: his quiet pressure on Israel to limit harm to civilians, his diplomacy aimed at improving the postwar future, and his willingness to put sanctions on Israeli settlers.

By contrast, Trump’s advisers have praised the elements of Biden’s policy that his left-wing critics most reject: the president’s public and full-throated support for the Israeli war effort.

On Israel-Palestine, Biden and Trump are not the same1

US President Joe Biden and Israeli President Isaac Herzog pose for a picture with children waving the American and Israeli flags upon his arrival to the presidential residence in Jerusalem on July 14, 2022. Maya Alleruzzo/Pool/AFP/Getty Images

“While I have been, and remain, deeply critical of the Biden Administration, the moral, tactical, diplomatic and military support that it has provided Israel over the past few days has been exceptional,” Friedman wrote on October 12. “As one living in Jerusalem with children who are Israeli citizens, I am deeply grateful. I pray that American support continues in the difficult days ahead.”

There is no sign that Trump plans to pick a different kind of adviser or reject his previous positions. When Trump made one stray negative comment about Netanyahu in October, seemingly a product of sour grapes about the Israeli prime minister recognizing Biden’s 2020 victory, the former president walked back his criticism the next day.

Again: Biden’s position over the course of this war is entirely fair game for criticism. Palestinians feel betrayed by him, as do many Arab and Muslim American voters, and it’s hard to fault them for that.

Biden has, for example, built up a huge reservoir of goodwill among Israelis, to the point where he’s actually more popular there than both Trump and Netanyahu. Yet several experts have told me that he’s bafflingly unwilling to cash in this support, to tell Israelis the truth about their government’s horrific mismanagement of the war and to put pressure for a just and swift resolution.

But it’s one thing to say Biden is falling short, and another thing entirely to say he’s not meaningfully different than Trump would have been. Every piece of evidence we have suggests he would be — and that this difference could matter a great deal to the future of America’s approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Sourse: vox.com

No votes yet.
Please wait...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *