Adnan Abu Amer
Middle East Monitor / February 13, 2021
Immediately after US President Joe Biden’s inauguration, Israel started “scrutinising” his ministers and political envoys. It began by categorising each as close or hostile to the Zionist entity, expressing concerns over the Jewish members of the US administration, given their opposing stances to the Israeli right-wing camp.
It became clear from the first days of Biden’s term that his administration would include more Jews in key positions than ever before. But this time, among them will be reformists and conservatives, unlike the Jews of the Donald Trump administration who belonged to religious movements.
A number of influential Jewish personalities of the Biden administration are in the spotlight, such as Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Finance Minister Janet Yellen, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain. This raised many concerns in Israel about the advantages of increasing the number of Jews in major positions within the new US administration.
Going back in history, the one Jew who held the post of secretary of state 50 years ago and served Israel more than any other Jew ever to have been appointed in other administrations, is Henry Kissinger. Thus, it is fair to say that 75 per cent of American Jews were reassured when they knew that Biden would be the next president.
The new Foreign Minister Blinken has caught Israel’s attention as he endorses the two-state solution and strongly criticised Trump’s approach to the nuclear deal with Iran, considering it a complete failure. Meanwhile, William Burns’s appointment as director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has worried Israeli politicians and elites.
Israeli political and security circles have expressed concerns over Burns’s perceptions regarding the centrality of the Palestinian cause in the Middle East agenda, and the 2011 Arab Spring as a promise for achieving democracy, promoting human rights and peaceful coexistence, in addition to laying the foundations for the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran. On the other hand, Burns also played a key role in shaping the military operation in Libya in 2011, and helped change former US President Obama’s mind about supporting US ally Hosni Mubarak.
Israel’s reservations about Burns’s appointment in this highly sensitive post have increased, as the latter confirmed his determination to re-join the nuclear deal with Iran. Moreover, he has expressed strong inclinations to find a way to reach an updated nuclear agreement. This has prompted the Israelis to say in their private circles that Burns’s stances are annoying, as he believes that the nuclear agreement with Iran means that Tehran is a reliable partner in negotiations, peaceful coexistence and influence-sharing with the Gulf states, while considering Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal to be a serious neglect of the diplomatic approach.
The appointment of Robert Malley as Biden’s special envoy to Iran was bad news for the Israelis, who still remember that after the failure of the Camp David talks with the Palestinians at the end of 2000, Malley blamed Prime Minister Ehud Barak for the setback and supported Yasser Arafat.
Malley called on the Palestinians and their leaders to address the status quo using non-violent means, as he believes that the problem lies in Israel’s practices, and that the solution is to resolve this “problem” by ending the “annexation frenzy”. Malley also advocates protecting the Palestinians, including those in East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, which is in a critical humanitarian condition due to the Israeli blockade.
Meanwhile, the next US ambassador to Israel is still unknown. Yet, many names have been circulated among research institutes, Jewish organisations and the media, most notably the former US ambassador to Tel Aviv, Dan Shapiro, who lives in Israel, is familiar with Israeli society and speaks fluent Hebrew.
The second candidate is Amos Hochstein, a former diplomat who served in the US State Department and the Department of Energy Resources as special envoy and coordinator for international energy affairs to Ukraine. His mission consisted of managing natural gas resources and he helped Israel and Jordan reach a gas supply agreement in 2014. Hochstein was born in Israel, his parents hold US nationality and he served in the Israeli army in the mid-1990s.
The third candidate is former Florida Congressman Robert Wexler, who retired from Congress in 2010 and started working in the private sector. He heads the S. Daniel Abraham Centre for Middle East Peace, funded by American Jewish millionaire Daniel Abraham.
Dennis Ross’s name has also been circulated as a possible candidate for the position. However, he ruled out the possibility, confirming that the post is not on his agenda, and that he did not ask anyone to lobby in his favour.
Rahm Emanuel, former mayor of Chicago and former White House Chief of Staff during the Obama era, was another name bandied about as the right person for the job. However, Emanuel backed down due to tense relations between himself and Benjamin Netanyahu, as he had previously accused the Israeli prime minister of interfering in US elections.
David Schenker, who mediated between Israel and Lebanon in the negotiations to delineate maritime economic borders, is also on the list of candidates for the post of US ambassador to Israel, along with Tom Nides, deputy secretary of state for management during the Bill Clinton administration, and Michael Adler, a close friend of Israel.
The notable differences between the Jews appointed by Trump and those assigned by Biden should be apparent to the Israelis. The Jewish officials appointed by Trump were few, held religious stances and handled the file of Israel and the Middle East while making sure to support the former president’s evangelical base.
While the Jews working with Biden are a relative majority in his administration, but do not seem to hold pro-Israel positions, making the occupation authorities even more anxious.
Adnan Abu Amer is the head of the Political Science Department at the University of the Ummah in Gaza