Last Tuesday (), Joe Biden left for his first trip to the Middle East as President of the United States. The president will pass through Israel, Palestine and Saudi Arabia on his trip, which will be filled with sensitive issues and debates, both within his country and in the places where he will visit. In your government’s mind, however, two issues will have clear and full priority.
We could use and abuse the clichés about the Middle East being a region that is currently sensitive or attracting a lot of attention from the world. All of this is true, but in the last and next few weeks it may be more true than average. A number of issues coincided with Biden’s agenda on his visit, the first after nearly a year and a half in office.
In Israel , Biden has faced an interim government, led by Yair Lapid, in the midst of his fifth election campaign in four years following the dissolution of parliament. The unusual scenario contributed to a meeting between Biden and Israeli opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, former prime minister and potential winner of elections to be held in November.
Another issue of the visit is the fact that Israel is a country where Republican Donald Trump is still very popular, for having moved the US embassy to Jerusalem, a decision that has received criticism from some sectors of Democrats. This aspect of the visit ends up having repercussions on the internal political discourse of the USA, where we will have legislative elections in a few months.
In the same The main question of Biden’s visit to Bethlehem, Palestinian city, where he will meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, this Friday . Palestinians resent setbacks in the bilateral relationship in the Trump years, as well as the peace plan proposed by the then US government, drafted by Jared Kushner. The Biden government has already shown signs that it intends to restore this relationship.
First, the announcement of aid to Palestinians totaling 14 million dollars, especially for the local health sector. Second, Biden has stressed more than once that he advocates a two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians, keeping that as official US policy. These two initiatives, however, do not seem to be enough for a positive balance of the visit.
Delegations will make separate announcements to the press, without a joint statement. In addition, Biden, while saying he defends the two-state solution, said that it “is not feasible at the moment.” Finally, representatives of the US government refused to meet with family members of journalist Shireen Abu Aqleh, a Palestinian with US nationality who was probably shot dead by an Israeli military.
In Saudi Arabia, Biden will have to deal with the repercussions of the meeting he himself condemned two years ago. In the election campaign of 2020, he criticized Trump for his proximity to Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, heir to the throne and true Saudi president, who ordered the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, killed and dismembered in 2009 at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
At the time, Biden stated that it was necessary to make the Saudis “pay the price” and treat the country’s government ” like the pariah they are”. As is often the case when speaking idealistically about international politics, realism came and ran over Biden’s electoral proposals. He will even meet with the prince in a bilateral meeting, confirmed this Thursday, day 14.
In Saudi lands, Biden will also attend the Gulf Cooperation Council summit, three more guests; Egypt, Iraq and Jordan. At this table will be the issue of the international price of oil, with the US seeking to convince countries in the region to produce more oil, lowering the price and alleviating inflation that erodes popular opinion of the Biden administration.
The main agenda of Biden’s tour, however, revolves around Iran. He and Lapid signed a joint statement saying the US will use “every element of its national power available” to deny Iran the ability to develop nuclear weapons and that the country will maintain military aid to the Israelis. Recalling that, at this moment, the negotiations of the nuclear agreement are taking place in Qatar and are cooled down.
Trident against Iran
In Arabia Saudi Arabia, the topic will also be Iran, the main Saudi rival, with the two powers leading a regional “Cold War” in recent years. Another theme will be the closer normalization of relations between Israelis and Saudis. Also last Thursday, day 14, the Saudis authorized the arrival of flights directly from Israel. The first one features journalists covering Biden’s trip.
The normalization of relations between Saudis and Israelis is a Palestinian fear in recent years, as the Saudis are the last regional power that prioritizes Palestine. Of the various peace proposals made, perhaps the one that most benefited Palestine was precisely the Saudi one, the Arab Peace Initiative, made in 2002 and resumed in , during the Netanyahu government.
This no longer matters, to the point that the Saudis rejected a visit by Abbas earlier in the week, “reducing” the conversation to the phone number. The fact that several Arab countries have normalized relations with Israel and the economic possibilities of this relationship are some of the issues that overshadow the former Saudi protection of the Palestinians. And, of course, Iran.
The US idea is to create a regional front of allies against Iran, based on a trident formed by Israel, the Saudis and the United Arab Emirates. A complete normalization of Saudi-Israeli relations is possible, although it may not happen overnight. A possible obstacle is King Salman, and normalization would come under his son, after his death, to “skip a generation” in relation to the kingdom’s founder, Abdulaziz bin Saud.
Iran, for On the other hand, it also moves, of course. Next week he will receive Vladimir Putin, Russian president, in a possible announcement of greater military cooperation. It is also necessary to wait for the concrete fruits of Biden’s visit. The fact is that the losers in this visit are clearly the Palestinians, considered today a minor topic when compared to the dispute for influence with Iran.