Potholes On the Road to Middle East Peace

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Columnist Jonathan Feldstein

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL — November 11, 2020 — Despite decades of working and interacting with Christians whose love and support for Israel is strong and unconditional, I am still not used to it when people reach out to ask how we are, and how they can pray for and support Israel.  I, like most Jews I believe, am programmed over thousands of years of isolation and heinous crimes committed against us, not to look beyond ourselves for help.  I know thats no longer the reality, but it still takes time to sink in, even for someone like me.

This week I have been bombarded by Christian friends from all over the world asking how Israel will fare under a Biden presidency.  Love him or hate him, many recognize that President Trump has done many good things for Israel. Theres a concern, at best, that these won’t be sustained.  But there are frightening worse case scenarios as well.  

It’s no secret that the majority of Israelis felt that Trump was good for Israel overall, overlooking personal behaviors and even contradictory policy issues.  Theres been a feeling which perhaps Israelis never had before, that potholes and bumps on the road have been fixed, and that it will be relatively smooth sailing, or driving, going forward. Theres a concern that under President Biden, things will slip backward, or worse.   Friends have asked me what to look out for, and what to pray for.

With recent developments, theres a clear alliance between a growing number of Arab states and Israel due to the divisive, destabilizing, and threatening influence of Iran and Turkey throughout the region.  Seeing Jordanian cars in Jerusalem is a common enough occurrence. Now theres speculation that we might see cars coming soon from UAE, Dubai, Saudi Arabia, and other Gulf states. That breeds cause for hope.  But there’s a lot of reason for concern.  

Cadillac Escalade with Jordanian plates is seen driven alongside an Israeli bus. Photo by and courtesy of Jonathan Feldstein.

As Biden puts together his team, things will become clearer.  Will he (and the people he puts around him) recognize and distance themselves from the failures of Obama, and even Trump, vis-a-vis Iran and Turkey.  Obamas was behind an unprecedented emboldening of Iran with a disastrous deal, providing an outrageous amount of cash to prop up their failing economy, much of which went to fund their terror industry.  A return to any deal with Iran that paves the path for them to foster terror or get a nuclear weapon, ever, will be a failure and a threat not just to Israel, but to the region, and the world.  

Turkey has also been handled with inappropriately, and needs to be dealt with seriously.  Obama sowed the soil and turned a blind eye to (or willfully accepted) their nefarious agenda of spreading and emboldening radical Islam. He turned Turkey into an ally.  Trump continued this mistake, relying on Turkey as a partner with common interests.  This changed when Turkey brokered a weapons deal with Russia, dashing hopes that they could be a reliable partner and NATO member while arming itself with weapons from, and becoming closer to Russia. Fortunately, this scuttled the deal to send Turkey advanced F35 planes.  But they remain a deep regional threat and cannot be dealt with kid gloves.

If the US returns to strengthening Iran, that wont end well.  Only three presidents have not been reelected to office in the past 40 years including Jimmy Carter whose national malaise, weak economy, lost in part because of the Iranians.  Let’s pray Biden doesn’t make the same mistake.

If the US returns to emboldening and enabling the Palestinian Authority to continue as rejectors of peace and instigators of violence, resorting to the reflexive two state formula that failed in the past, this will only serve to push prospects for peace further away. It will also risk other Arab states not following through on the recent Trump successes of bringing Arab states to make peace with Israel on their own.  Biden needs to keep up with the paradigm change, not restore the broken paradigm.

There’s concern that Biden will undo some of the Trump policies vis-a-vis Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, or the rejection of the notion that “settlements” are by definition illegal and an obstacle to peace.  The foundation of peace needs to be built on reality, not on myths and failed formulas.  Biden could continue the out of the box direction that Trump initiated and which has born fruit, or he could reset things to be as bad, or worse, than they have been on these and other fronts.

Much of this depends upon to what degree the far-left wing of the Democratic Party has influence, and that is dependent on who Biden places around him now. If by being Obama’s vice president, he and his advisors instinctively go back to the failed policies, theres not a lot of reason for hope much less good results.  If he and his advisors are prepared to recognize past failures, and turn the page on policies that were disastrous not to mention ineffective, maybe some good can come.

On a tangential but related note, Biden needs to draw a red line and have zero-tolerance for anti-Semitism, and especially to purge it and its purveyors within the Democratic Partys own ranks. This came to light particularly in 2019 when Speaker Nancy Pelosi unilaterally absolved Congresswoman Ilhan Omar of anti-Semitism due to remarks that sparked outrage even among Democrats. The House resolutions moral equivalence of Omars anti-Semitism with all forms of hatred remains a bone in the throat of many.  Biden would do well to follow the model of the British Labour Party which purged anti-Semitic leader Jeremy Corbyn, rather than appeasing the anti-Semites and giving them any home in the Democratic Party.

Israel needs and covets your prayers for these and other areas that not only do not lead to the path of peace, but make that prospect a distant speck in the rear-view mirror while navigating dangerous potholes. And so does the United States.

Jonathan FeldsteinPotholes On the Road to Middle East Peace

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