Adnan Abu Amer
Middle East Monitor / September 4, 2021
Israeli circles have been deliberating numerous analyses of the presidential summit held between Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and US President Joe Biden, who refrained from meeting with former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu due to long-standing differences on many bilateral issues.
Despite the crowded agenda discussed during the summit at the White House, there is an Israeli consensus that Bennett does not have a clear policy on various issues, specifically the security file. This is allegedly because his main motive to participate in the summit was to preserve the existing government alliance for fear of its collapse, resulting in a visit with vague and undefined goals.
Many delays preceded the US-Israel summit, even hours before it occurred. The diplomatic circles in Tel Aviv and Washington talked about difficulties in scheduling a meeting with the president, as the sudden US withdrawal from Afghanistan further postponed it in the last moments of its arrangement. Finally, after two and a half months of faltering and confusion in setting a date, the meeting took place.
These delays lead to the emergence of pessimistic Israeli explanations about the US’ intention to dodge the summit, amid a feeling of extreme unease within the technical teams keen to set the summit’s date. All this raised many speculations about Washington’s expectations from Bennett.
Bennett came to meet Biden in a state of detachment from the positions he had previously adopted on various issues, causing concern for many Israelis, as the current PM put himself in a “traffic jam” regarding the existing government coalition. He apparently abandoned his previous beliefs, in a clear sign that he does not have a vision on the most important files, particularly in the field of Israeli security, as his opponents claim.
The Bennett-Biden summit touched on many issues, the most significant of which are the files of Gaza, Syria and Lebanon, as well as Iran’s actions and the plan to contain them. However, during the meeting, Bennett seemed to present the full Israeli vision regarding all these subjects, in light of a set of plans prepared by senior army and military officials concerning Iran, and perhaps Hezbollah too, especially after the escalation of events in Afghanistan and the “humiliating” US withdrawal from it, according to the Israeli description.
Most importantly, Bennett’s departure to Washington carried a bigger goal than all the aforementioned issues – to present himself as the new Israeli leader to the US public.
Another detail of equal weight lies in the probability that the Israeli PM may have experienced a predicament when Biden asked about the vision he adopts to reach a solution to the Palestinian issue. Perhaps the US president asked his Israeli guest to present a clear action plan to solve the Palestinian problem.
Israeli circles claim that the US president discussed with Bennett the issue that bothers him the most – the growing Chinese influence in Israel – in addition to deliberating the Iranian and Palestinian files, all of which seem crucial for Israel’s security and future.
Biden supports the two-state solution, while Bennett opposes it, but both officials agree on the impossibility of establishing a Palestinian state today. Perhaps, the occupation PM appeared calm in his discussions with his host, who may have asked him to present ideas to resolve the issues of borders, refugees, Jerusalem and future security arrangements. However, the general Israeli determinant of these particular files is based on the premise that there will be no permanent settlement based on the two states or a sweeping annexation of Palestinian lands.
The Israelis, and Bennett in particular, are aware that the recent Gaza war and the subsequent events in Jerusalem, which carried serious repercussions to Arab cities inside Israel and the West Bank, made the US face the reality on the ground, against their will. Washington realized, beyond any doubt, that the lack of stability on the Palestinian scene requires the US administration to engage more intensively, given the busy agenda at home and abroad.
In conjunction with the recent presidential summit, Israel witnessed an increasing tide of recognition that maintaining the status quo inside the Palestinian territories is nothing but an illusion. This prompted Washington and Tel Aviv to focus on formulas concerned with reducing the disputes with the Palestinian Authority (PA), giving rise to the opportunity to share the intermediate goal of achieving a balanced security equation. This would allow Bennett in his meeting with Biden to present a convincing plan to ensure long-term stability and preserve the terms of a future settlement.
Of vital significance is that the US-Israel summit took place despite all the obstacles encountered. Some of the barriers included the Iranian nuclear file, the existence of joint efforts to reach clear understandings on how to define Iran as a country set to reach the threshold of nuclear latency, how to determine Tehran’s passage to the stage of possession of the nuclear bomb and under what circumstances Iran could start working on this path from the point of no return.
In this context, on the eve of the summit, many Israeli circles demanded that the achievement is a strategic agreement and to announce in a joint statement in front of the cameras and on the podium of the White House that Israel and the US will not allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon, or even break into the nuclear club in a short period of time.
Moreover, it has been revealed that the security and military circles prepared a seven-chapter plan regarding the Iranian nuclear file, presenting a joint intelligence picture, to which Biden and Bennett agreed.
Preferably, the two concerned parties should agree on the aforementioned plan to confront Tehran’s file. They should decide on common definitions of the basic criteria to handle the whole tactic, such as determining the nuclear latency, the point that Iranians must not exceed, the motive for moving against them and the alternatives if Iran does not return to the 2015 agreement, or breaches the threshold of nuclear latency.
The summit between Biden and Bennett achieved many privileges for the latter within the Israeli arena, especially in front of his stalking opponents and those attempting to bring him down. However, it does not mean that the outcomes of this summit will be implemented in light of internal obstacles in Washington and Tel Aviv, and external hardships, whether in the Arab region or the entire world.
Adnan Abu Amer is the head of the Political Science Department at the University of the Ummah in Gaza