The US president Joe Bidden is scheduled for his first-ever official trip to the Middle East on 13-16 July 2022. His first stop will be Israel, where he is to reaffirm his administration’s full support for a Jewish state in the heart of the Muslim world. The US provides about $3.8bn in unconditional aid to Israel every year, despite widespread condemnation for its human rights abuses against Palestinians, including the recent killing by Israeli security forces of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in May. Abu Akleh was fatally shot by a sniper while reporting in Jenin, in the occupied West Bank. Witnesses and journalists with her said it was clear the shot came from Israelis who had been made aware the journalists were in the area. Abu Akleh’s helmet and vest clearly identified her as press.
His tour starts with meeting Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in Israel, a country Biden first visited nearly 50 years ago as a young senator. There will be an emphasis on the lavish US support for Israel’s armed forces, including the Iron Dome anti-missile defense system, at a time of tension over the ongoing failure to resurrect an international pact curtailing Iran’s nuclear development. “While in Israel, the president will likely visit an area where these defensive systems are utilized, as well as discuss new innovations between our countries that use laser technologies to defeat missiles and other airborne threats,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “The president will reaffirm the ironclad commitment to Israel’s security.”
What does meeting with Israeli leadership mean?
The senior administration official said the trip would partly “focus on Israel’s increasing integration into the region”. His talks in Israel with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. Mr. Bennett, a right-wing nationalist, is a champion of Israeli settlement-building in the occupied West Bank – something the Biden administration has said it “strongly opposes”.
His predecessor, Donald Trump, together with then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, created the Abraham Accords in 2020, a treaty linking Israel with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco, and Sudan. These were strengthened under the Bennett-Lapid government as was particularly evident in March when Lapid managed to convene the foreign ministers of four Arab countries and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the Negev Summit.
The Biden administration is reportedly helping finalize the transfer of the Red Sea islands Tiran and Sanafir from Egpyt to Saudi Arabia, with Israel’s consent. That could also mark part of a move to improve relations between Jerusalem and Riyadh, which so far remains outside the Abraham Accords. Normalization of relations between Israel and the Saudis remains an important goal.
Visit West Bank and Meeting with Palestinian Leadership
He will also meet his Palestinian counterpart, Mahmoud Abbas, in the West Bank. The senior administration official said Mr. Biden would be “reaffirming his lifelong commitment to a two-state solution” to the Israel-Palestinian conflict – a concept that envisages the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. Mr. Bennett has said this is something he would never allow. The announcement of the visit comes days after the US upgraded its diplomatic ties with the Palestinians, in a move seen as a response to the closure by the Trump administration of the US consulate in Jerusalem in 2018.
Palestinians though have been disappointed by the failure to reopen the consulate, which they considered a de facto embassy. Palestinians were enraged by Mr. Trump’s 2017 recognition of the whole of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel – a status quo which has remained under the Biden administration. Palestinians see East Jerusalem as the capital of a future independent state. Israel considers the whole of Jerusalem – including the East, which it occupied in the 1967 Middle East war – as its indivisible capital.
His stopover in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Mr. Biden will make history as a US president by flying directly to Saudi Arabia from Israel – a path rarely allowed by Riyadh, which has no diplomatic relations with Israel. The desert kingdom only recently began to permit Israeli commercial flights en route to the UAE to use its airspace. Previous President Donald Trump has flown from Saudi Arabia to Israel, which is also a record in history.
During his visit, President Biden is widely expected to try to secure a boost in Saudi oil production, as his administration scrambles to tame spiraling fuel costs – spurred by the Russian invasion of Ukraine – and inflation at home that are projected to hurt his Democratic Party in the upcoming midterm congressional elections.
In a statement, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said that while in Jeddah, Biden will attend a meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) plus Egypt, Iraq, and Jordan.
With Saudi leadership, the US president will “discuss a range of bilateral, regional, and global issues”, Jean-Pierre said, including a continuing UN-mediated truce in fighting in Yemen, where Riyadh has led a coalition fighting Houthi rebels since 2015.
Biden “will also discuss means for expanding regional economic and security cooperation, including new and promising infrastructure and climate initiatives, as well as deterring threats from Iran, advancing human rights, and ensuring global energy and food security,” she said.
Jean-Pierre later confirmed comments from a senior US official who told reporters Biden would meet MBS during the visit. “Yes, we can expect the president to see the crown prince,” she said.
Recognition of the Jewish State of Israel
On the diplomatic front, the US is struggling in the Muslim world for the recognition of the Jewish state of Israel. Under President Trump’s diplomacy, few Arab states have established formal diplomatic relations with Israel. There are speculations, that President Joe will ask Saudi Arabia to recognize the state of Israel.
Although young leaders are open-minded and broadminded, yet, are conservative as a leader of Muslim Ummah, they understand their responsibility too. They are also well aware of the consequences.
The American brutalities in the Muslim world, during the last couple of decades, have made millions killed, injured, disabled, made homeless, internally displaced or refugees to other countries. Infrastructure destroyed severely, economy damaged completely, etc. It is natural to see anti-American sentiments in the Muslim world. It will be very difficult for Saudi Arabia to ignore the public sentiments and establish diplomatic relations with Israel.
It is believed that Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are in close consultation on the subject of recognition of the Jewish state of Israel and may support each other and opt for a joint strategy.
However, at the juncture of the transformation of the unipolar world into a multipolar one, his visit to the Middle East is crucial and carries high significance. His visit will have a far-reaching impact on geopolitics.
Prof. Engr. Zamir Ahmed Awan, Founding Chair GSRRA, Sinologist (ex-Diplomat), Editor, Analyst, Non-Resident Fellow of CCG (Center for China and Globalization). (E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org). The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.