Commentary on Political Economy

Thursday 14 March 2024


Biden’s Middle East Is a Fantasy World


Amit Segal

March 13, 2024 3:02 pm ET

U.S. President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discuss the war between Israel and Hamas in Tel Aviv, Oct. 18, 2023. Photo: pool/Reuters


When Joe Biden and officials in his administration talk about the Israelis and the Palestinians, they describe two peoples that don’t exist in reality. According to the White House, the Palestinians aspire to peace, reject Hamas and are ready to make painful concessions.

A week after Hamas attacked Israel, Mr. Biden said in an interview on “60 Minutes”: “Hamas and the extreme elements of Hamas don’t represent all the Palestinian people.” National security adviser Jake Sullivan said: “The many, many Palestinians who have had nothing to do with the brutal terrorist organization Hamas—the vast majority of the population of Gaza—they deserve dignity. They deserve safety and security.”


In reality, according to a November survey by Arab World for Research and Development, affiliated with Ramallah-based Birzeit University, 59% of Palestinians “extremely support” the Oct. 7 massacre, and another 16% “somewhat support” it.

When Mr. Biden refers to the Palestinian Authority as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, he ignores that its president, Mahmoud Abbas, was last elected 19 years ago to a four-year term, and that the last time the Palestinians went to the polls, in 2006, they voted for Hamas.

The Israeli people as the White House envisions them are also different from the real thing. Vice President Kamala Harris this week uttered a statement about Israel of the kind typically reserved for dictatorships: “It’s important for us to distinguish or at least not conflate the Israeli government with the Israeli people.”

Some of Mr. Biden’s supporters have suggested he address the Knesset, going over the head of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and speaking directly to Israel’s purportedly moderate population. The president seemed open to the idea in an MSNBC interview this week, though he later disavowed it. If Mr. Biden engages directly with the Israeli people, he’ll be surprised by what he hears.


Yes, there is a significant disparity between Israel’s leadership and its citizens—but it’s the opposite of what people in Washington assume. The Israeli public is far more “right-wing” than the policies of its government. While Mr. Netanyahu has previously voiced support for a Palestinian state, a February survey conducted by Midgam for Channel 12 News found that 63% of the Israeli public strongly opposes such a state under any circumstances. While the cabinet implicitly agreed that a renewed Palestinian Authority would control Gaza, 73% of those who expressed an opinion in the survey opposed it.

Minister Benny Gantz has hosted Mr. Abbas in his home, yet Israelis haven’t forgotten Mr. Abbas’s brazen lies about the Holocaust. The Israeli government has been providing humanitarian aid to Gaza, but a January survey found that 72% of the public opposes such aid until all hostages are released. Mr. Netanyahu has officially repudiated the ideas of renewing Jewish settlement in Gaza and direct Israeli control over the strip, but two-thirds of his voters support such moves, according to the Midgam/Channel 12 survey.

The Israel Mr. Biden knows—the one that supports deep withdrawals, settlement evacuations and the two-state solution—ceased to exist two decades ago during the second intifada. Savage Palestinian violence at that time indiscriminately claimed the lives of more than 1,000 Israelis, including babies, women and the elderly. That massacre was led by Fatah “moderates” rather than Hamas extremists, and the slaughter unfolded in slow motion over three years rather than eight hours. Those bloody events occurred months after Israel’s prime minister offered the Palestinian leader more than 90% of Judea and Samaria, the evacuation of thousands of settlers, the division of the Old City of Jerusalem, and Palestinian control of the Temple Mount.

Israeli leftists have since furled the flag of the two-state solution and raised other banners, ones related more to domestic policy issues, including the role of ultra-Orthodox Jews and proposals to reform the legal system. When Mr. Biden claims that Mr. Netanyahu “is hurting Israel more than helping it,” he is referring to the single issue on which most Israelis support the prime minister. For Mr. Netanyahu, the Palestinian issue is almost the only comfortable subject after Oct. 7.


Sometimes I wonder if Messrs. Biden and Netanyahu conspired to stage the escalating confrontation between them to save themselves from the defeat the polls predict: The president confronts the prime minister to buck up his disillusioned base; Mr. Netanyahu recovers from the failure to foresee and prevent the attack by proving that he’s strong against Washington. If Mr. Biden really aims to pacify Israel by toppling Mr. Netanyahu, his strategy is a bad one. The next prime minister will inherit Israeli public opinion.

It’s time the administration recognizes reality: The Palestinians overwhelmingly support the murder of Jews, and the Israelis don’t think the Palestinians deserve a state.

Maybe Mr. Netanyahu should go over Mr. Biden’s head and speak to the U.S. people directly. According to a recent Harvard Caps-Harris poll, the American public supports Israel much more than the president does. And I’d like to remind my fellow Israelis that it’s important for us to distinguish, or at least not conflate, the American government with the American people.

Mr. Segal is chief political commentator on Israel’s Channel 12 News and author of “The Story of Israeli Politics.”

Wonder Land: Iran, Russia and China know that both Joe Biden and Donald Trump are weak adversaries, not least because they have failed to raise U.S. defense capacity to the level of an unmistakable deterrent. Images: AP/Shutterstock Composite: Mark Kelly


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Appeared in the March 14, 2024, print edition as 'Biden’s Middle East Is a Fantasy World'.

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