President Biden is set to arrive in Israel to meet with leaders of Israel, Saudi Arabia, and their neighbors in an effort to reassert American influence in the region. The visit comes with a monumental task- prove that he is committed to preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear power. Will Biden be able to score a much-needed foreign policy win? Read more below.
Shannon Pettypiece; July 13, 2022
JERUSALEM — President Joe Biden arrived in Israel on Wednesday for his first trip to the Middle East as president, looking to show support for that nation amid low expectations that his visit will lead to any fundamental shift in the growing tensions between Israelis and Palestinians.
While most presidents have centered their visits to the Jewish state around trying to help resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there are no indications from Biden administration officials that there are plans to do anything more than reaffirm Biden’s support for a two-state solution.
While Biden said he will discuss trying to reach a two-state solution, he acknowledged it is “not in the near term.”
“Greater peace, greater stability, greater connection is critical,” he said upon landing in Israel. “It’s critical, I might add, for all people of the region, which is why we’ll discuss my continued support, even though I know it’s not in the near term, a two-state solution, which remains in my view the best way to ensure the future of equal measure of freedom, prosperity and democracy for Israelis and Palestinians alike.”
Instead, much of the emphasis ahead of the trip has been focused on improving relations between Israel and its Arab neighbors as part of Biden’s wider efforts to bring stability to the region and counter Iran’s growing nuclear threat. After two days in Israel and a visit to the occupied West Bank, Biden plans to travel to Saudi Arabia, where administration officials have indicated there may be some early steps toward publicly normalizing relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel.
“This may be the first presidential visit to Israel in history where the president doesn’t really have that deep of a policy agenda, and certainly not a real substantive one on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or the peace process,” said Michael Koplow, chief policy officer at the Israel Policy Forum, a nonprofit group that advocates for a two-state solution. “While a presidential trip here is always exciting, I’m not sure that there’s going to be a huge amount that’s going to come out of this one with regard to Israeli-Palestinian issues that we haven’t seen before.”
One issue that will likely be discussed is allowing direct flights from Israel to Saudi Arabia for Israeli Muslims to make the hajj pilgrimage, as well as lifting other air restrictions for Israeli flights over the country, foreign policy analysts have said.
“Any normalization of any kind would be a long process, but looking for progress and momentum in that direction is certainly something we are focused on as we head off to the Middle East,” White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said.
During the trip, Biden will be taking extra Covid precautions including minimizing contact and increasing mask use, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said. The highly contagious BA.5 variant, which is now the dominant strain in the United States, has driven up infections and hospitalizations.
Upon greeting Israeli officials on the tarmac in Israel, Biden gave out fist bumps rather than handshakes to those who extended an open palm, though he patted several officials on the shoulder as they conversed without masks and later shook hands with other Israeli officials.
Covid is largely spread through respiratory particles and public health officials have downplayed the role of surface transmission.
A day before Biden’s departure, White House deputy chief of staff Jen O’Malley Dillon said in a tweet that she had tested positive for Covid. She had one socially-distanced and masked meeting with Biden on Monday, and he is not considered a close contact under CDC guidelines, she said.