The chaotic conflict in Israel that saw thousands of Hamas rockets fired toward dense Israeli cities and punishing counterstrikes by the Jewish state that decimated terror hideouts also allowed a peek at how President Joe Biden’s foreign policy strategies and priorities differ from those of former President Donald Trump.
While Biden took a mostly hands-off approach to Israel and the Middle East at large during the early portion of his tenure, focusing on domestic issues, Trump was a staunch defender of Israel, projected a tight relationship with its leaders, and worked vocally and behind the scenes to secure a series of historic peace deals in the waning months of his administration.
Here’s a look at some of the ways Trump and Biden have differed on specific Israeli issues:
Trump: Trump nominated attorney David Friedman to be the U.S. ambassador to Israel on December 15, 2016 – more than a month before he was due to be sworn in as president.
Biden: Biden could soon nominate an ambassador to Israel, with Axios reporting former diplomat Thomas Nides is the frontrunner for the job. But Biden has taken heat, especially after the latest Israeli conflict with Hamas erupted, for not nominating an ambassador to the key U.S. ally despite taking office more than four months ago. And even as it delayed picking an ambassador, the Biden team also declined to have a senior U.S. diplomat in the country to represent the administration, Axios reported.
Trump: Trump prioritized moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The 2017 embassy move was something previous U.S. leaders had long discussed but never acted on, purportedly due to fears of further inflaming the region.
Biden: As a presidential candidate, Biden called Trump’s relocation of the embassy "shortsighted," but has not signaled any desire to reverse the move. As a senator, Biden in 1995 voted for a law recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the New York Times reported.
Trump: As part of an effort spearheaded by Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner, the Trump administration brokered the Abraham Accords. The deals normalized relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, and agreements with Sudan and Morocco soon followed. The quartet’s pacts with Israel were the first of their kind between Israel and an Arab nation since Jordan’s 1994 treaty with the Jewish state.
Biden: Until the outbreak of war with Hamas, Israel had not been a visible priority for the Biden administration and any momentum that developed amid the Abraham Accords soon slowed. Though Oman was considering fully normalizing ties with Israel during Trump’s tenure, in February it decided to stay with "our current relations and dialogue," according to a speech from Foreign Minister Badr al-Busaidi.
Trump: Trump in March 2019 officially recognized Israel’s authority over the Golan Heights, an area seized from Syria in 1967’s Six-Day War. Trump’s ambassador to Israel also visited a Jewish settlement in the West Bank, unofficially validating one of Israel’s controversial outposts.
Biden: Secretary of State Antony Blinken has affirmed the Golan Heights’ "real importance to Israel’s security" and hasn’t moved to pull back the Trump era recognition of the region. Biden condemned West Bank settlements but has yet to penalize Israel for the expansion, according to the New York Times.
Trump: Trump ended U.S. contributions to Palestinian aid programs established by the United Nations and others.
Biden: Biden vowed to resume the cash flow to Palestinian aid groups, with $235 million already marked for direct aid and to fund a U.N. health care agency that serves the territories, the New York Times reported.
Trump: The Palestine Liberation Organization’s mission in Washington, D.C., was shuttered by Trump in 2018. The administration also worked to keep the P.L.O. mission closed no matter who was in office, with the 45th president signing a law that makes the organization vulnerable to a raft of crushing lawsuits if it reopens an office in the U.S.
Biden: The Biden team has re-engaged diplomatically with the P.L.O., according to the New York Times. Biden has also said he wants the P.L.O. mission reopened. However, the administration has yet to detail how it would skirt the multimillion-dollar lawsuits made possible by the Trump-era legislation.
Iran Nuke Deal
Trump: Trump extricated the U.S. in 2018 from the Iran nuke deal, a pact he regularly railed against and vowed to leave when he was a candidate for president. Israel had long been opposed to the agreement, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu even addressing Congress in 2015 as part of a late bid to scuttle negotiations. Trump coupled the U.S. exit from the deal with the imposition of hefty sanctions on Iran, hurting the economy of the country that’s the major funding source for the two primary terror groups targeting Israel: Hamas and Hezbollah.
Biden: Biden, then serving as vice president to former President Barack Obama, was one of the key players in getting the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action across the finish line in 2015. As president, Biden has dispatched representatives to work on rejoining the deal, which is still opposed by Israel. A new agreement would likely see the lifting of at least some of the tough Trump-era sanctions on the Islamic Republic, according to NBC News.
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