JERUSALEM – This may be President Biden’s first visit to the Middle East since taking office, but he is no stranger to regional politics and diplomacy. Very few leaders can match the claim of recognizing every Israeli prime minister for half a century, starting with the Golda Mir in 1973, or their longest record of supporting Israel.
Mr Biden’s first foreign trip to Egypt and Israel, as a young senator, was the baptism of a rocket. The 1973 Arab-Israeli War, also known as the Yom Kippur War, began shortly thereafter, beginning with the surprise attacks on Israel by the Egyptians and Syrians.
Mr Biden, a staunch supporter of massive annual financial and military aid to Israel, once called it “the best 3 billion investment we’ve ever made.”
He was a staunch opponent of advanced American arms sales to Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries in the 1970s and 1980s, arguing for maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge in the region.
In 2007, Mr. Biden told an interviewer, “When I was young, when I was a young senator, I used to say, ‘If I’m Jewish, I’m a Zionist.’ I’m a Zionist. You don’t have to be a Jew to be a Zionist. “
But Mr Biden’s dealings with the Israeli prime minister have also been strained. In 1982, he had a bitter exchange with Menachem Begin on Capitol Hill from the Israeli settlement-building in the occupied West Bank. Mr Begin, a supporter of Greater Israel that stretches across the occupied territories from Jordan and Egypt across the narrow borders before 1967, described the talks as “alive”.
Attending Ariel Sharon’s funeral in 2014, Mr. Biden described the former prime minister – who had settled-building and Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005 – as a “complex man” who “lived through complex times.
As vice president during the Obama administration, Mr. Biden navigated some intriguing parts with Benjamin Netanyahu, a conservative who held office continuously from 2009 to 2021. When Mr Biden was in Israel in 2010, Israel pressed for a resumption of the Palestinian peace talks, with the Israeli Interior Ministry approving 1,600 new housing units for Jews at Ramat Shlomo in Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem, an area that still occupies much of the world. Temporary and partial settlement freezes were not enforced in Jerusalem at the time.
Washington saw the announcement as a slap in the face, and Mr Biden condemned the decision as “a step that undermines the confidence needed now.” Ramat Shlomo has grown considerably since then.
As Vice President again in Israel in 2016, Mr. Biden strongly condemned the failure of the Western-backed Palestinian Authority to condemn the bloody attacks. A Palestinian assailant fatally shot an American graduate student and a combat veteran on the beach near Tel Aviv from where Mr. Biden was meeting with former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres.
After the Palestinian leadership severed most ties with Washington under the Trump administration, which recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moved the United States embassy from Tel Aviv, Mr. Biden re-established contact and restored aid cut by his predecessors.
But the Biden administration has not changed many of the policies of the Trump era that undermined Palestinian aspirations for statehood and sought to lower expectations of a resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
Mr. Netanyahu and President Donald J. The mutual embrace between Trump has further damaged bilateral support for Israel in Washington, which, according to experts, the country has long viewed as a strategic asset.
After Mr. Biden’s inauguration in January 2021, it took almost a month for Mr. Netanyahu to make the traditional courtesy call, which many analysts saw as contempt, although the White House denied it had any intentions.
Myra Novek And Hiba Yazbek Contributed to research.