President Joe Biden’s supporters deny this and counter that it was Trump’s strict and one-sided pro-Israeli policies that are now causing the anger to explode.
“Last week’s tragic events, emerging from unresolved and escalating tensions over the past few years, should bury the idea that the Trump administration did everything it could to improve security and stability in Israel,” a senior said Biden government official.
Political warfare is rooted in some real philosophical differences about how to approach a decades-old conflict in which actors are not always paying attention to what the United States wants.
But it is also a preview of lines of attack that either side may use in future elections, especially the 2024 presidential race. The fate of Israel is of particular concern to evangelical voters, who are an important part of the republican base, but it also applies to many Democrats response.
The news from the region remained grim on Thursday.
Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that controls the Gaza Strip, continued to fire rockets deep inside Israel and caused Israel to retaliate with air strikes. The Associated Press also reported on it At least three rockets were fired from southern Lebanon towards Israel.
Mob violence was also reported in several Israeli cities, with separate Jewish and Arab mobs alleged to have attacked property and people. This was an unusual development that alarmed officials and analysts.
At least 103 Palestinians and seven Israelis have died in the fightingwhile hundreds were injured. It is not yet clear how long the fighting would last, but an Egyptian delegation tried to broker a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. The developments are reminiscent of the last major clash between Israel and Hamas. A 2014 war that lasted around 50 daysand killed over 2,000 Palestinians and over 70 Israelis.
Back in Washington, Biden and his senior deputies, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, called parties to the conflict and other governments in the region. They have also made statements for Israel while acknowledging innocent lost lives and calling on both sides to de-escalate.
But Trump aides told POLITICO that the Biden administration should clearly stand up for Israel because statements that sympathize with the other side make Hamas feel like it is continuing to fire missiles. Trump aides also said Biden’s team should urge the Palestinians to oust their corrupt leaders and stop trying to revive a nuclear deal with Iran that could help Hamas.
“I think they got some things right, some things late and some things wrong,” said David Friedman, Trump’s ambassador to Israel.
Friedman, for example, found Biden’s previous statement on the situation to be relatively solid, but he and others said the president’s efforts to re-join the Iranian nuclear deal encouraged Palestinian terrorists.
Hamas, which the US calls a terrorist organization, will benefit from its Islamist protection regime in Tehran if the deal is revived and the US lifts many economic sanctions against Iran, Trump advisors warned. Biden helpers negotiated indirectly with the Iranians in Vienna about ways to save the 2015 agreement.
Two states, but on one side
During the Trump years, the president and his aides rarely spoke of a two-state solution and left the impression that they did not all support it.
Jason Greenblatt, who acted as special negotiator for the Middle East under Trump, criticized Blinken for saying that the recent violence made it more difficult to reach a two-state solution. While Greenblatt did not reject the idea of a future Palestinian state, he said that the Hamas threat must be separated from other aspects of the conflict.
“You have to stop bringing that together [Hamas] Terrorism with what is called a peace process and you have to learn to condemn violently without involving other issues, ”Greenblatt said.
He added that it is important for the Biden government to engage with Palestinians as it seeks to do, but the focus should be on improving their lives, including through holding elections that are not used by terrorists or corrupt officials are kidnapped. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose limited authority lies mainly in the West Bank, recently postponed the first Palestinian elections in 15 years.
Coates said she was stunned that Biden had not appointed people to various positions who could be useful in such a crisis, such as a special envoy or even an ambassador to Israel. The government says it is sending a deputy assistant secretary of state to the region to help defuse the crisis, but Coates said someone of higher rank should leave.
When asked how she would rate the Biden team’s performance on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the best, she said, “I don’t want to be overly derogatory. You have a lot on your plate. A two.”
For Biden helpers and supporters, the lecture by Trump helpers – or, for that matter, the former president himself – borders on offensive.
They note that Trump has distorted the US role in the region not only by being wholly for Israel, but by being active against Palestinians, they say. Among other things, Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, moved the American embassy from Tel Aviv there, cut off almost all aid funds for the Palestinians and closed the diplomatic mission that dealt with them.
The Trump administration drew up a peace proposal for the region, but the Palestinians, angry about their treatment, immediately rejected it. At the time, many Biden supporters said the plan effectively made it impossible for the Palestinians to one day have their own true state.
Trump’s pro-Israel stance too increased extremist forces in Israeli politics, including settlers trying to take over areas claimed by Palestinians, Biden aides and supporters said. One driver of the recent clashes was an awaited decision in a long-running court case in which Israeli settlers attempted to evict Palestinian families from their homes in east Jerusalem.
“The explosion we are seeing now is at least partly a four-year function during which the Trump administration encourages every single step by settlers in Jerusalem and the West Bank,” said Ilan Goldenberg, a former Obama administration official and specialist for the Middle East nearby many in the Biden administration. “You helped create this environment.”
Goldenberg also dismissed claims that the Iranian nuclear talks ignited the flames, noting that Hamas is not among Iran’s top officials and that the missiles it is now firing at Israel were stored during the Trump years, than the US used a sanction-heavy “maximum pressure” to squeeze Iran.
The Biden government made it clear from the start that it did not see the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks as viable anytime soon, and it prioritized the problem in part because it had other, imminent challenges, including dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. But the Biden team also had to spend time rebuilding diplomatic ties with Palestinians that Trump had swept away – let alone trust.
Abraham Agreement in Danger?
Both sides agree that one Trump-era achievement is worth saving: the Abraham Accords, in which a handful of Arab countries normalized their diplomatic relations with Israel. The Biden government has said it wants to build on the agreements, and some analysts are confident that Arab states such as the United Arab Emirates that may participate in them can influence how Israel deals with the Palestinians.
In one March op-edJared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor who led much of the US talks with Arab countries and the peace proposal for Israel and the Palestinians, largely denied the significance of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“The Abraham Accords exposed the conflict as nothing more than a real estate dispute between Israelis and Palestinians that need not maintain Israel’s relations with the wider Arab world,” he wrote. “It will ultimately be resolved when both sides agree on an arbitrary boundary line.”
However, the events of the past week have shown that even if some Arab countries are willing to deal with Israel regardless of the Palestinian plight, it does not mean that the Palestinian grievances will silently go away. The UAE have criticized some Israeli policies during the recent violence, as did Saudi Arabia, which the Israelis hope will sign the agreements.
Trump aides said when they took over the U.S. administration and delved into the details of the conflict, they decided that the Palestinian side – with Hamas’ terrorism, the corruption of the Abbas Palestinian Authority, and general economic and political disorder – need comprehensive reforms. But the Palestinians would not hire them, the Trump aides said, and there was no point in maintaining funding systems that maintained the status quo.
The Trump administration advocated Israel on several fronts, halting US aid to Palestinians and taking other measures. She hoped that she could get the Palestinian people to demand that their leaders leave or reform.
That didn’t quite happen, but Trump aides said they nearly smashed the failed paradigm that had been used far too often – one that treated both sides as equally responsible actors. Biden should follow in their footsteps instead of going back to the old way, they said.
“I would never say we left them something perfect,” said Coates. “But we left them something better.”