By Elliott Abrams, Council on Foreign Relations—
Yesterday, Israel was assaulted twice: once by terrorists, and once by the Vice President of the United States.
The physical attack was in Jerusalem, where a bomb injured 21 people in a bus, several of them seriously.
On the very same day, the VP addressed the group called J Street and shared with it not solidarity with Israelis under attack but–with remarkable timing–a rhetorical attack on the government of Israel.
Here is some of what he said, according to a report in The Times of Israel:
Vice President Joe Biden acknowledged “overwhelming frustration” with Israel’s government on Monday and said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s administration has led the country in the wrong direction, in an unusually sharp rebuke of America’s closest ally in the Middle East.
“I firmly believe that the actions that Israel’s government has taken over the past the past several years — the steady and systematic expansion of settlements, the legalization of outposts, land seizures — they’re moving us and more importantly they’re moving Israel in the wrong direction,” Biden said.
He said those policies were moving Israel toward a “one-state reality” — meaning a single state for Palestinians and Israelis in which eventually, Israeli Jews will no longer be the majority.
“That reality is dangerous,” Biden added.
Put aside the exquisite timing of Biden’s remarks on a day when Israel suffered a terrorist attack, and they are still quite something. For one thing, President Obama is about to join a GCC summit in Saudi Arabia. Does Biden really think the Arabs pay no attention to how we treat our closest friends and allies? Does he not know that they will read all of this and not gloat– but instead wonder when they will be getting the same treatment?
Then there are the facts. How do you get to a “one-state reality” when the people and government of Israel refuse it? Who will force them into it? How do you get to “systematic” expansion of settlements when just about every analyst understands that Netanyahu has been constraining many aspects of settlement growth–to the great anger of the settlers? And finally, why is Biden not familiar with the history of his own administration’s peace efforts? As Dennis Ross made clear in his most recent book, Doomed to Succeed: The U.S.-Israel Relationship from Truman to Obama, Netanyahu was in fact ready to take significant political risks to meet American requests–and Abbas was not. As Martin Indyk put it in July 2014,
“Netanyahu moved to the zone of possible agreement. I saw him sweating bullets to find a way to reach an agreement,” said Indyk. Abbas, for his part, did not show flexibility, Indyk added.
None of this was reflected in Biden’s remarks.
In his book, Ross wrote that“Obama believed Israel was capable of doing more on peace. And it could help change the regional realities, and our place in the region, if it would only move on the Palestinians. But what if the Palestinians were not prepared to move? What if they were not capable of moving, regardless of Israeli actions? He never seemed to ask that question.”
Neither did Biden.