Republicans Should Insist Biden Submit the JCPOA as a Treaty to the Senate

{Previously published by the JNS}

The Obama-Biden administration claimed in 2015 that the Iran nuclear deal—the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA—was a non-binding agreement requiring only executive action. Critics claimed that it was consequential enough that the U.S. Constitution required that it be submitted to the U.S Senate as a treaty. A CNN politics article at the time asked, “If it looks like a treaty, walks like a treaty, and talks like a treaty, is it a treaty? According to the White House, only if the president of the United States says it is.” The late Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was blunter: “This is clearly a treaty. They can call it a banana, but it’s a treaty.”

So does it still matter that political sleight of hand was needed because the Obama-Biden White House was more than 20 Senate votes short of being able to pass it as a treaty in 2015? The answer is yes. Joe Biden, now U.S. president, intends to fast-track rejoining the JCPOA as one of his major foreign-policy priorities, only requiring Iran to return to compliance with the agreement, acting under the same executive prerogative that former President Barack Obama used.

What is not reported but must not be forgotten is that if Iran re-enters the JCPOA in 2021, it will have no limitations on uranium centrifuge use in just five years’ time (2026). It will have the ability to enrich uranium to 90 percent weapons-grade with international approval in just 10 years’ time (2031). And the pièce de résistance for the Supreme Leader is not a single U.N. nuclear inspector will be allowed at an Iranian undeclared nuclear site in just nine years’ time (2030).

That’s a far cry from the Obama-Biden administration’s promise when they said repeatedly, emphatically, they would not sign a deal that would allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon. Let’s leave aside the elephant in the room: that the Obama team chose not to address development of nuclear-capable missiles—one of the three pillars of a nuclear-weapons program.

Just because Republicans don’t have a majority in the Senate in 2021 and failed to stop Obama from implementing the 2015 deal by executive action doesn’t mean they should be mute. They need to follow their constitutional responsibility and point out to an uninformed American public that constitutional issues were sidestepped six years ago and are even more relevant today for our nation’s security, as we are that much closer to the dates the agreement permits the Iranian regime to become a nuclear-armed bully, immune to attack.

Republicans should ask Biden to follow the Constitution’s intent and finally submit the JCPOA for Senate ratification as a treaty. It should not outsource American security interests to the United Nations as was done in 2015, when the Obama White House used a U.N. Security Council Resolution (2231) to bind America to the agreement, which the legislative branch of the American people had not been given its proper opportunity to consider. It may not make a difference, but it will make an important point.

This is not about politics; it is about the rule of law. According to the U.S. Senate website, “the Constitution provides that the president “shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two-thirds of the Senators present concur” (Article II, section 2). The Constitution’s framers gave the Senate a share of the treaty power in order to give the president the benefit of the Senate’s advice and counsel, check presidential power, safeguard the sovereignty of the states by giving each state an equal vote in the treaty-making process,” ensuring that the arguments pro and con would be made openly.

Two wrongs never make a right. Like Obama, Biden is subverting the intent of the Constitution by not submitting the most critical American international agreement of the 21st century to the Senate as required.

So why did Obama not submit the JCPOA to the Senate? According to former Secretary of State John Kerry, answering a congressional question under oath, said that the administration did not do so because, “I spent quite a few years ago trying to get a lot of treaties through the United States Senate. … And frankly, it’s become physically impossible. That’s why. … So we thought that the easiest way to get something that … could achieve our goal was through a political agreement.”

According to Kerry, “We’ve been clear from the beginning. We’re not negotiating a ‘legally binding plan.’ ” This was outrageous then, and it still has relevance today as the Biden administration has said it will return to the same JCPOA without any plans to amend the profound flaws that have become self-evident in the past several years. Republicans should take the constitutional high road and again demand the president submit the JCPOA to the Senate. There should be no political loophole for something so crucial to American national security.

In 2021, much like as in 2015, the mainstream news media has not done their job, educating the public about the constitutional implications of the approach both administrations have chosen. Instead, they have obscured the constitutional argument because of their political sympathy for the merits of the nuclear deal.

As David Rivkin, a constitutional law expert who worked for former President George H.W. Bush, said: “Any international agreement requiring major undertakings on the part of the United States, such as the proposed Iran deal, must be sent to the Senate for advice and consent. …The Constitution is quite clear.”

In 2015, the administration outplayed the Senate leadership in not demanding a treaty vote, turning the “legislation treaty ratification process under the Constitution upside-down. Instead of 67 Senate votes to ratify a treaty, the bill would require 67 votes to block Obama from carrying out any agreement.”

That’s impressive on a political level, but at the very least, constitutionally challenged. Presidents of both parties over the years have on occasion been autocratic on foreign affairs, asking Congress to give a rubber stamp to the executive branch. However, when something as important and controversial as a nuclear agreement with a leading state sponsor of terror comes to the fore, the correct choice then and the correct choice now is submitting it to the Senate as a treaty, even if the chance to convince Biden is remote.

Dr. Eric R. Mandel is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network. He regularly briefs members of the U.S. Senate, House and their foreign-policy advisers. He is a columnist for “The Jerusalem Post” and a contributor to i24TV, “The Hill,” JTA and “The Forward.”

After Abbas; The Coming War of Palestinian Succession

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Report, the magazine of The Jerusalem Post}

The advantage of a new year is that it offers us an opportunity to understand better the previous year, especially one like 2020 with such extreme highs and lows. For Israel and the world, the pandemic represented a low point that we are all still trying to navigate. In contrast, the normalization agreements with Arab states represented a groundbreaking high to build upon in the new year. Israel’s third and hopefully last lockdown and its stellar vaccine program mean the light at the end of the tunnel to end their pandemic nightmare. Going forward, the new diplomatic agreements have the possibility of reshaping the Middle East for generations, leading to prosperity and stability for Israel and its Arab neighbors in the years to come.

For all of its possibilities, 2021 may still hold even more uncertainty and potential risks than 2020. The most significant security threat for Israel is President Biden’s promise to rejoin the Iranian nuclear agreement (JCPOA). The risk that a northern war with Iran could begin with the killing of an Israeli soldier by Hezbollah, or an over-zealous Iranian-directed response to an Israeli pre-emptive attack, is always on the minds of Israeli security and military strategists.

But Israel’s next major security crisis that seems to fly under the radar of American Middle East analysts is the possibility of the quick and unexpected demise of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The handwriting has been on the wall for some time with lots of false calls that the ailing octogenarian President has one foot in the grave. Abbas is a chain-smoking 83-year-old with significant heart disease who always has a doctor at his side, hidden as a security team member.

Even if Abbas lives on and runs for re-election, the result could favor his nemesis Hamas, as it did in the last election nearly sixteen years ago. The Biden administration should remember that an election alone does not make for democracy, certainly not without the rule of law, freedom of the press and speech, and tolerance for other people and their religions. According to the NY Times, the announcement of elections is “viewed by analysts as a bid to lift his standing with the (incoming) Biden administration.” That could backfire if the results don’t go his way.

A December 2020 Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research Center poll revealed that most Palestinians do not believe Hamas or Fatah would accept the results of an election this spring if they were on the losing side. Over half of Palestinians do not believe the election would a fair or free. A prescription for a civil war whether President Abbas runs again or not.

Suppose tomorrow Abu Mazen passes or there is a contested election. In that case, the potential fight for Palestinian leadership succession could ignite a war between rival Fatah factions that could spill over into Israeli settlements and the nation’s heartland. Not only will factions of Fatah clash, but its bitter Hamas rival will view the chaos as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to overthrow the Fatah led Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, as it did in Gaza during the 2007 coup.

Even if Abbas lives on, a Palestinian election this year as planned could again favor Hamas as it did in the last election 15 years ago. In the crazy world of the Middle East, Hamas, a branch of the world’s leading Sunni Islamist organization (Muslim Brotherhood), receives financial support from Iran’s Persian Shiite Islamists. They would love nothing better than to destabilize Israeli security and place a compliant proxy in Ramallah. “My enemy’s enemy is my friend,” is an apropos description.

The Biden administration should remember that an election alone does not make for democracy, certainly not without the rule of law, freedom of the press and speech, and tolerance for other people and their religions.

Just as Israel is planning for the inevitable transition in Iran when the aging Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei passes from the scene, it must also prepare for the consequences of a chaotic transition within the Palestinian Authority with the changing of the guard. It could ignite a Third Intifada (uprising) with its anti-Zionist participants, Fatah, Hamas, or Islamic Jihad, taking advantage of the chaos to attack Israel.

The cast of characters to succeed Abbas is overwhelmingly a roster of former terrorists, corrupt officials, and long-term party hacks, who will be vying with each other to show who can be more extreme in their approach to confronting Israel. Corruption, violence, and maximal demands will almost certainly be part of any Palestinian candidate’s election platform. No one will win by being conciliatory or pragmatic.

Unlike the Gulf states that have come to terms with Israel’s existence, the Palestinian rhetoric will return to the familiar playbook of scapegoating Israel to explain their predicament. The hard work to prepare the Palestinian people for moderation and explaining there will be no right of return to Israel is something no Palestinian leader can ever utter at this time unless he wants to be assassinated.

Will the next Palestinian leader be part of the last generation of Arafat sycophants, a placeholder until a more consequential leader can be found, or will the playing field shift towards Islamist rule and Gaza style radicalization? If Hamas wins a Palestinian election and takes control of the West Bank, it would be a game-changing nightmare for Israeli security services and the nearly half a million Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria (West Bank).

Unfortunately, the pickings are slim. The most likely non-Hamas candidates include Mohamed Dahlen, Mohamed Shtayyeh, Majid Faraj, Jibril Rajoub, and Marwan Barghouti, a convicted murderer.

Mohamed Dahlen is, in many ways, the most interesting. He taps into the anger of the disgruntled and abandoned Palestinians, especially those in the refugee camps. He was thrown out of Fatah and forced into exile by Abbas, seeking refuge in Abu Dhabi. Before that, he was in charge of PA security services in Gaza, when in 2007 Hamas handed Gaza-based PA loyalists a one-way ticket out from Gazan rooftops. After becoming persona non grata in Fatah, he reportedly was close to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed and was allegedly supportive of facilitating Israel’s normalization agreements with the Gulf state.

A 2020 Haaretz article by Amira Hess asked, “Is Abbas Rival Mohammed Dahlan the Secret Broker of the Israel-UAE Deal? Rumors say Dahlan, adviser to UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, acted as middleman. He is also a favorite of the Israelis and the Americans, who are planning to crown him the next Palestinian leader.”

This could also simply be a strategic move on Dahlan’s part, as he knows he will need the financial backing of the UAE to take power and control the Palestinian security forces. According to the Times of Israel, “Dahlan has spun a web of political and financial connections all over the Arab world: Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and most recently Jordan. He owns a great deal of property and also has connections in Gaza and the West Bank (mainly in the refugee camps).” Although no Israeli politician would publicly discuss who their choice for the next PA President would be, Avigdor Lieberman stated his preference for Dahlen a few years ago.

Economist and current Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh is a frontrunner to lead the Palestinian Authority, PLO, and Fatah, the three titles both Arafat and Abbas held. He has the right credentials as a supporter of the BDS movement to delegitimize Israel and was a vocal supporter of ending security coordination with Israel.

Who would Israel want? Many security officials would be satisfied with the 57-year-old Maj.-Gen. Majed Faraj, the Palestinian intelligence service head. He works well coordinating operations against Hamas operatives in the West Bank, making sure the territories continue to be stable. He was allegedly the target of a Hamas assassination attempt a few years back when he traveled with the previous Prime Minister.

In the category of old-time corrupt cronies is Jibril Rajoub, the former head of Palestinian Security Forces and now the head of the Palestinian Football Association, a position he hopes to leverage for support among young Palestinians.

The last time Abbas seemed on death’s doorstep, the presumptive leading candidate was Mahmoud Aloul, Abbas’s Fatah deputy, the “right-hand man of terrorist Abu Jihad.” His strong resume includes Israeli soldiers’ abduction in Lebanon and ransoming them for thousands of Palestinian prisoners.

According to previous polls, the most popular figure among Palestinians is Marwan Barghouti, a terrorist serving five consecutive life sentences. Not only was he the favored candidate to succeed Abu Mazen, but despite being part of Fatah and the PLO, he has allegedly, while in prison reached a meeting of the minds with Hamas, reaffirming that the primary goal is first to destroy the Jewish state.

How will the new Biden administration, sympathetic to Palestinian aspirations for a state, respond to the transition of Palestinian leadership? Will it revert to the see no evil approach of Bill Clinton when he ignored Arafat’s direct involvement in terrorism after the Oslo Accords? Will the Biden administration simply use the Obama template to pressure Israel, viewing Israel as the illegitimate occupier of the rightful Palestinian victims’ land? Or will the new administration judge the new Palestinian leadership by what it says and how it acts, likely corrupt and anti-Semitic? With so many new administrative appointees being former Obama officials, it is a safe bet that their spots will not change, remaining tied to previously failed understandings of Palestinian aspirations.

Israel is already wary because the Biden administration is looking to create a mechanism to bypass Congress’ Taylor force legislation that compels America to stop funding the Palestinian Authority until it ends its support and incentivization of terror. The next Israeli government will be a center-right, perhaps even more to the current government’s right, that will inevitably clash with the new Biden administration. Yet privately, Israeli security officials want the US to find ways to fund the PA security forces as the best choice for continued stability and cooperation.

Will the next Palestinian leader be more radical than Abbas? Abbas was no angel. His doctoral thesis defended Holocaust denial, and at the 2018 Palestinian National Council, he said Jews in Europe were massacred for centuries because of their “social role related to usury and banks.” Even the ordinarily sympathetic New York Times editorial said, “Let Abbas’s vile words be his last as Palestinian leader.” Yet he did work with Israel and avoided starting another Intifada, something not to be minimized.

Israel may not be so lucky with the next Palestinian leader, even if he is from Fatah, not Hamas. America must remember that our national interests require us to do everything we can to keep the Levant quiet while fostering the rapprochement between Arab states and Israel. American support to encourage an early Palestinian election would be the wrong strategic choice for the region.

Still, it may not have a choice, as Abbas’s departure from the scene from natural causes may create an unstable situation in an instant, even without an election. This reality requires prioritizing pre-emptive planning by the Biden administration in conjunction with the Israeli government and Arab states to manage the situation and not be just reactive. Israel’s temptation is to be focused on putting all of its energies into influencing the Biden approach in rejoining the JCPOA. Israel can walk and chew gum at the same time. It can prioritize Iran while also coordinating its response and contingencies if the struggle for Palestinian Supremacy occurs sooner rather than later.

The writer is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network. He regularly briefs members of the US Senate, House of Representatives, and their foreign policy advisers. He is Senior Editor for Security at The Jerusalem Post/The Jerusalem Report. His work appears in The Hill, RealClearWorld, Defense News, JTA, JNS, Thinc., the Forward, and Israel Hayom, among others.

Democratic Think Tanks on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

{Previously published by The JNS}

If you want to know what the incoming Biden administration thinks about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, read the analysis of Democratic think tanks. A new report from like-minded center-left think tanks one year in the making, “A New U.S. Strategy for the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict” recommends a fresh approach, as it does not foresee a resolution in the short term. What makes it particularly noteworthy is that it was written by senior analysts of think tanks that are the most influential and respected by Democrats in Congress and the incoming Biden foreign-policy team. The report was written by Ilan Goldenberg, Michael Koplow and Tamara Cofman-Wittes, longtime Mideast policy pundits from the Middle East Security Program at the Center for a New American Security, the Israel Policy Forum (IPF) and the Brookings Institute.

IPF policy director Michael Koplow said, “The approach the U.S. has taken for a quarter-century… isn’t going to work until the parties themselves indicate they’re ready to dive in … most of the successful breakthroughs have come when the U.S. comes in at the end, not when we’re initiating.” They correctly conclude that there is almost no chance for final-status talks at this time.

Many non-partisan observers of the conflict argued years ago that American-mediated interventions focused on land for peace was not the path likely to lead to two states for two peoples. In part, this is because it ignores more fundamental problems, especially the Palestinian demand for an unconditional “right of return” of descendants of refugees. This goal is not as some Middle East analysts claim—merely a bargaining chip for future negotiations—but something imprinted on the Palestinian people from the first time they attend a school or pray at a mosque.

In a Haaretz interview, the authors called “for a fundamental rethink of how the United States approaches the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It urges America to avoid actively harmful high-profile diplomatic initiatives in favor of tangible actions that would lead to diplomatic and on-the-ground improvements.” This is welcome if surprising news, as experts who previously recommended a ground-up economic approach were routinely disparaged by many of the writers’ ideological travelers, believing that it favored Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s goal to delay creating a Palestinian state.

The report should be applauded for acknowledging that the current situation is not fertile ground for significant change, recommending slow-walking any new American diplomatic initiatives. However, diving deeper into the report reveals too many assumptions and recommendations to eventually resolve the conflict that ignores its root causes. The writers’ beliefs seem stultified in a strategy created a generation ago that never led to a resolution. It does not fully appreciate how profoundly the region has changed, as much of the Arab world has now ended the Palestinian veto that prevented relations with Israel unless Palestinian demands were met in full. This was most evident when the Arab League in 2020 refused to condemn the Abraham Accords or any nations that normalized relations with Israel.

As JNS editor Jonathon Tobin wrote, “While some American liberals have stubbornly ignored the evidence … (the) Arab and Muslim world understands that the Palestinians have no intention of making the kind of compromises that would enable the implementation of a two-state solution … their political culture is so inextricably linked to their century-old war on the Jews that such flexibility appears to be impossible.”

Koplow underestimates the ground-breaking change of normalization, seeing its primary importance through the prism of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “It’s appropriate to applaud these agreements, but also to figure out how they can redound back into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, on both sides.” He fails to grasp that the best way to resolve the conflict is to marginalize the Palestinians until they give up their unrealistic demands. This includes ending the demand for millions of descendants of refugees to return to Israel, refusing to sign an end of conflict agreement to end all outstanding claims and unambiguously recognizing Israel as a Jewish state. None of these fundamental issues is addressed in their analysis.

The writers follow the Obama playbook, recommending punishing Israel and seeing the Palestinians almost entirely as victims. “The United States should make clear that it will not shield Israel from international consequences,” as when Obama torpedoed the only mutually agreed U.N. resolutions between the parties, UNSC Resolution 242 and 338, orchestrating the passage of UNSC 2334. The resolution undermined Israel’s right to defensible borders as envisioned by the authors of UNSC 242. Israel needs to retain some parts of the West Bank, such as the Jordan River Valley, to remain secure. UNSC 2334 prejudged the conflict’s resolution with a politically motivated anti-Israel reading of international law, making any Israeli presence over the 1949 Armistice line (1967 line) a war crime.

The same faulty reasoning plagued previous administrations—from Clinton to Bush to Obama—seeing Israel’s occupation of the disputed territories as the primary problem without mentioning the Israeli concessions in 1967, 2000, 2001 and 2008 negotiations. The real issue is they fail to address the Palestinian rejection of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state in any territorial dimension.

Center-left think tanks too often ignore the generational brainwashing of the Palestinian people into thinking Israel will disappear if they persist, while Jews have no right to a millimeter of the land. It is a prime reason so many attempts have failed to resolve the conflict over the years. The dream of eradicating Israel has become part of the Palestinian DNA emanating from their mosques, government officials, media and school curriculums. Even Norway, a staunch defender of the Palestinians, recently cut funding to an NGO supporting incitement in Palestinian schools. The worst the authors can say about the Palestinian Authority is that it is “opaque and unaccountable” instead of a more accurate description as “corrupt and a financial supporter of terrorism.” Rewriting history and moral equivalence doesn’t advance American interests or create stability in the region.

The authors state that “the United States should take immediate steps to address the humanitarian crisis and economic challenges facing the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza. Part of this effort should involve the United States restarting its economic assistance programs to the Palestinian people and funding of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), both of which were cut off in the past four years.” Israel knows it is in their interest to help the Palestinian people, but these recommendations without context mislead readers by omitting the sound reasons for funding suspension.

American law (the Taylor Force Act) passed on a bipartisan basis, compels the United States to cut funding to the P.A. because hundreds of millions of dollars a year of U.S. taxpayer dollars finance the P.A.’s support and incentivization of terrorism by rewarding convicted terrorists in jail and their immediate family. There is similar Israeli legislation.

As for America’s decrease in funding to UNWRA, this was done because its raison d’être is against resettling Palestinian descendants of refugees. This flies in the face of the authors’ stated desire for a two-state solution. Restoring funding to UNWRA should occur only if its position, aiming to bring refugees’ descendants to Israel, ends.

The authors ask America to “renew ties with the Palestinian people and their government and demonstrate its commitment to independent ties with the Palestinian.” This “balanced” approach, treating Palestinians and Israelis on equal footing, undermines American security interests that need a strong and secure Israel. Demanding nothing of consequence from the Palestinians is a prescription for intransigence and violence. America can be a fair mediator even if its sympathies and interests lie with Israel.

Tamara Cofman Wittes told Haaretz, “We wanted to take a step back and look at all the core assumptions of American engagement on this issue.” Yet the report revealed no new understanding of the etiology of the conflict. They said, “Three core principles should drive U.S. policy, and the new president or secretary of state should take an early opportunity to articulate them to the world: first, a recognition that Israeli-Palestinian negotiations based on U.N. resolutions and broadly recognized international terms of reference—most importantly the concept of land for peace—remain the only means to achieve a permanent agreement between the parties.”

They fail to see that for the Palestinians, two states means one in the West Bank absent of Jews and a second binational state in present-day Israel with the Palestinian right to an unconditional return of refugees’ descendants—in other words, the destruction of the Jewish state by non-military means. Although they say their approach is new and the United States should step back from the conflict, their demand for “Immediate Actions to Rebuild U.S. Credibility” is Palestinian-centered. In the end, this is simply a repackaged plan that will not create a path to peace because it fails to acknowledge the obvious; it’s the Palestinians who have to change.

In the first six months of the new administration, expect President Joe Biden’s foreign-policy officials to be careful in their public statements, as they will have bigger fish to fry on the world stage. Still, it is more likely than not that they agree with this report’s thesis and the recommendations of “A New U.S. Strategy for the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.”

Dr. Eric R. Mandel is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network. He regularly briefs members of the U.S. Senate, House and their foreign-policy advisers. He is a columnist for “The Jerusalem Post” and a contributor to i24TV, “The Hill,” JTA and “The Forward.”

A Public Service: Dissecting a ‘NYT’ Article on Israel

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Report (The Magazine of The Jerusalem Post}

At first glance, the New York Times news article “For Netanyahu and Israel, Trump’s Gifts Kept on Coming” by Jerusalem bureau chief David Halbfinger seems a straightforward account of US President Donald Trump’s actions that favor Israeli interests. This was in distinction from his predecessor Barack Obama’s actions that favored the Palestinians and were simpatico with the Times’ perspective.

So instead of analyzing a biased news story of which there have been many in the Times, I chose one that most would consider balanced at first blush, especially if you trust the Gray Lady as the ultimate “paper of record.” This exercise in critical thinking is one every reader should perform on all media outlets as an antidote to the pervasive editorialization found in purportedly straight news stories. Hopefully, it will educate those few of us left who yearn for a return to old-time journalistic standards. There is a vast gulf between unbiased reporting and what we experience today.  

Consciously or unconsciously over the last 30 years, The New York Times has moved from traditional news reporting to advocacy journalism, an editorialization of the news to provide its readership with their “correct” understanding of the story. This does not happen all the time, but it is not confined to their Middle East coverage. Many Times investigative pieces provide an invaluable service and are factually in context. Unfortunately, the growing instances of advocacy journalism have crossed a dangerous line, necessitating a warning label be affixed to their news stories – danger, you are reading an opinion, not news.  

Finding the truth amid the Times cherry-picked facts and using like-minded “experts” who reinforce their viewpoint without a counterbalanced perspective requires readers to digest their “news” with a jaundiced eye. This applies to many journalistic outlets from Right to Left. The problem with the NYT is that far too many people read the Gray Lady’s news reporting expecting the unvarnished truth. Therefore, analyzing an article by its Jerusalem bureau chief, one that doesn’t reek of prejudice at first glance, would be a service to their readership.  

The Times’ sad state of affairs was best exemplified this past summer when eight hundred Times staffers’ “safe space” was invaded by an op-ed of US Sen. Tom Cotton, whose opinion was supported by 57% of the American public. Yet they demanded not only a retraction but more consequentially, were allowed to cross the line into the supposed independence of its opinion pages. Never mind this violated the Times and journalistic standards, all because it offended their social justice sensitivities.  

Initially, the Times management defended its publication. Still, it quickly succumbed to the “wokesters” cancel culture, culminating in firing the opinion editor, a person of the left who just wasn’t progressive enough. Shades of the French Revolution’s Jacobins, as the incident was described as an “open revolt” by the Daily Beast.  

The resignation of Times columnist Bari Weiss, who dared not to toe the Progressive Palestinian grievance narrative of her news and opinion colleagues, was the most visible sign of the paper’s rot. The Times editorial and newsrooms’ toxic atmosphere chased away an essential voice from its opinion page, which is precisely what the Times cancel culture set out to do.  

“For Netanyahu and Israel, Trump’s Gifts Kept on Coming” is a catalog of American actions that support the Times thesis that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wagged the American dog. A legitimate opinion, but it is not news; it attempts to influence the reader’s understanding of the information, which is called opinion writing. The description of Trump’s actions as “noteworthy gifts… long list of prizes… nothing short of lavish” are adjectives to advance an opinion. Suppose the article valued Israel’s contribution to US security interests. In that case, it could have used words like shared values, justified and warranted.    

The article says, “Palestinians consider East Jerusalem, which Israel seized in the 1967 war, the capital of their future state.” The reader would be better served if the next sentence said, “Palestinian intentions regarding a division of Jerusalem may be suspect, as they refused to accept East Jerusalem as their capital at Camp David, Taba, and from Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, instead their response was violence or silence each time.”  

The piece continues, “Seeking to compel the Palestinians to drop their demand for millions of their refugees’ descendants to be able to return to what is now Israel – a demand Israel has always rejected – the Trump administration cut all funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which provides aid to Palestinian refugees across the Middle East.” This appraisal omits mention of the Taylor Force legislation that compels the US to end funding because the Palestinian Authority transfers hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to convicted terrorists and their families, some with American blood on their hands. Surely the writer is aware of this, but “the only news printed is one that fits.”  

The Times’ approach to Palestinian refugees conjures up images of desperate stateless people without explaining that Palestinian refugees are treated differently from every other refugee. In effect, it advocates for a Palestinian position instead of the more challenging task of explaining the refugee situation’s complexity. It never attempts to explain the vast majority of Palestinian refugees do not satisfy the international standard (UNHCR) applied to other refugees in the world. Then the Palestinian claim that descendants of refugees should have refugee status would evaporate. Nowhere does the Times explain the contradiction of counting millions of Palestinians who hold Jordanian citizenship as active refugees.  

Opinions belong on the op-ed page under the bylines of the usual Israel critics, Roger Cohen, Paul Krugman, Peter Beinart, or the Times editorials.  
On the issue of isolating Iran, Halbfinger stated, “Mr. Trump’s ordering of the killing Iranian General Qassim Suleimani eliminated one of Israel’s most feared adversaries.” No explanation that this person was one of the world’s most notorious terrorists; instead, this is phrased in such a way as to make it appear that this targeted assassination was a “gift” for exclusively Israeli interests.  

Even worse, it perpetuated the antisemitic stereotype of Israel wagging the tail of the American dog. It omitted that Soleimani had American soldiers’ blood on his hands, providing improvised explosive devices to Iranian supporters in Iraq that maimed and killed hundreds of Americans. Through his Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps., he was complicit in the attack on the American Embassy in Baghdad and on a US base, killing an American civilian.  

As a final example, the article says, “the Trump administration has increasingly equated anti-Zionism with antisemitism.” That is undoubtedly true, but again, the writer insinuates that this is a Trump-invented fantasy. Our State Department and many other democracies use the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism that unambiguously equates anti-Zionism with antisemitism.  

Sometimes photo-journalism is the most striking way to reveal overt prejudice in a news article. The section dealing with “Pressuring the Palestinians” shows a photo of terrified Palestinians on the Gaza border fleeing Israeli tear gas. The image has not been doctored, but does it tell the truth? Hardly. Nowhere in the article does it even make the most meager attempt to explain why Israel’s army released tear gas at these Palestinians. To the Times writers, this manipulation allows them to convince their readers that Israel is the brutal occupier who, without cause, attacks Palestinians as a matter of policy. Anyone familiar with the history knows that the anti-Israel leaders have for many years orchestrated photo-ops to give the appearance of Israelis bullying helpless Palestinians.  

There is no mention of Palestinians sending incendiary balloons into Israeli civilian areas or that the Palestinian people elected a terrorist Islamist government, Hamas, that supports these attacks and whose goal is to destroy Israel. Not addressed were the thousands of rockets over the past 20 years launched to terrorize Israeli civilians, who live with constant traumatic stress, while the Palestinians use their people as human shields.    

A few years ago, I spoke with one of my friends, a chairperson of an important committee in the US House of Representatives. This person is kind and fair, but seemed always to have a limited breadth of facts on the Middle East. When I asked where they got their news coverage, I was told the Times. I tried to explain that I too read the Times as an essential read. Still, I also need to read many other sources of information to form a fully balanced and comprehensive picture of the day’s news.  

So few of us today are willing to go outside of our echo chambers to discomfort ourselves with other “facts” that would challenge our preconceived notions of what happens in the world. A good part of the American populace intuitively knows that today’s news is not balanced. A recent Knight Foundation/Gallop poll revealed, 86% of Americans say that “news organizations advocate political viewpoints rather than report the news free of bias.”  

This is not healthy for American democracy or any democracy. Israel too has its issues with its advocacy journalism masquerading as news. Just open up Haaretz, where I asked a former editor if he was troubled its news articles were opinion. He didn’t deny it, but said if I didn’t like the news, read another paper. This is the paper English-speaking journalists in the Middle East read.  

It is time for the American and Israeli public to acknowledge we are part of the problem. We are so lazy, gravitating to news and social media sources that make us feel better and make us worse citizens. Once we acknowledge that, whether you are a Democrat or a Republican; a Likudnik, Lapid, Sa’ar, Bogie or Blue and White supporter, you need to prioritize making an effort to be better informed. Let your friends know that we are being duped, and demand a change from our media in how we are presented with news.  

The writer is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network, and regularly briefs members of the US Senate, House, and their foreign-policy advisers.

Thoughts on Yesterday’s Capitol Riots

I did something yesterday afternoon that I never thought was possible. I was interviewed by a foreign media outlet* that asked me to explain why rioters entered the Capitol of the United States while being incited by a sitting American President. Armed Americans storming past guards, attacking our Capitol building, busting into congress in session – it’s just plain unthinkable.

I usually try to speak in a conciliatory manner respecting many viewpoints. But in this case, I was clear and unambiguous.  Peaceful protest is an integral part of our democracy, but there is absolutely no place for violence against people or property. I condemned the rioters of our cities this past summer when far too many inexcusably excused their actions, and I condemn today’s rioters equally vociferously, if not more, because the stakes are even higher.

There is no defense of a President encouraging protestors with dubious charges of stolen elections.  There is no defense for stopping the peaceful transition of power that is the foundation of our democracy. Trump has done a great disservice to this nation.

This is not about partisan politics. If you don’t like our elected government, the forum is a peaceful protest and the ballot box in 2022 and 2024.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said, “This was the worst we have seen of America…this was unacceptable. We are so much better than what transpired today. It was appalling to see….Can’t we respect a difference of opinion?”

I couldn’t agree more.

Yet, I am cautiously optimistic. I am an American exceptionalist. I believe we will take back our place as the beacon of democracy, the city on a hill John Winthrop described to his fellow immigrants before landing in New England in 1630, telling them even then, “The eyes of all people are upon us.”


It will take time, patience, and the right leadership. Now is the time for unity, respectful debate, and the end of ad hominem attacks.

*The interview was on Iraqi TV (Rudaw), the leading media outlet in Kurdistan. The link to the segment is not yet available. If you would like to view it when it becomes available, please let me know.

Normalizations Must Be Nurtured and Act as a Model for Other Nations

{Previously published in The Israel Gulf Report}

During a visit to Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, and Dubai two years ago, it became clear to me that the people and leadership of the Gulf States were not only amenable but anxious to develop relations with Israel, harboring no deep resentments. My group included two Israelis with dual citizenship, and when it was revealed they were Israelis, only cordial relations followed. But normalization still seemed a bridge too far to cross in the immediate future.

The magnitude and potential of the new ground-breaking normalization agreements with Bahrain, the UAE, Morocco, and Sudan, should not be taken for granted. Success is not inevitable, as all parties must take extreme care to nurture, maintain, and grow these relationships for regional stability, where predatory nations like Iran will be on the look-out for cracks in relationships to undo this process.

Critics have disparaged normalization as only transactional relationships, not based on interests that are long-lasting. What they fail to see is that almost all international diplomatic relationships are created and sustained not by the goodness of nation-states but with the expectation of mutual benefit to advance both nations’ interests. One exception was the American recognition of Israel in 1948, an almost entirely valued-based diplomatic recognition by President Truman, where his American State department made a strong case to throw Israel under the bus for Arab oil. 

Today’s new normalization agreements are essential for all of the parties’ economic interests and security benefits. First world economies like Dubai and Israel can quickly take advantage of each other’s expertise and access to the world. At the other end of the spectrum, Sudan got off the American terror watch list by recognizing Israel and would be smart to let Israel help advance its third world economy.

Muslim majority nations that don’t prioritize Islamism realize that Israel is a necessary addition not only for economic and security interests but also because it will help advance their relations with America, still the only democratic superpower in the world. Despite its Islamism, even Turkey has maintained strong economic ties with Israel, although Turkish President Erdogan’s neo-Ottoman Islamism and hegemonic goals outweigh the return to a normal relationship.

Today’s new normalization agreements are essential for all of the parties’ economic interests and security benefits. 

Once the taboo of making peace with Israel is not held hostage to Palestinian intransigence, other Muslim nations will follow. However, for normalizations to be long-lasting, they must include the people-to-people interactions that are now occurring with Bahrain and the UAE. It cannot just be the military-to-military or leadership-to-leadership relationships that define the cold peace between Israel, Jordan, and Egypt. 

The new normalization agreements should prompt the Egyptians and Jordanians not just to use Israel for their intelligence and security interests but to put their toe in the water to begin to end the endemic anti-Jewish rhetoric that permeates their government-controlled media, schools, and mosques. It will lead to a more sustainable relationship for their self-interests, based on human interactions between ordinary citizens to break down the barriers of hate. 

Turning Egyptian and Jordanian normalization with the Jewish state warm after years of demonization and scapegoating will require overcoming difficult obstacles and the need for American leadership. They must come to see that the coldness of the current “cold peace” is against their long-term survival. With the rise of political Islamism from Iran, Turkey, and Qatar, and the failing states in Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, and Syria, moderate Muslim nations need Israel as much as Israel needs them. 

The nurturing of the seedlings of reconciliation and normalization could easily be disrupted from both within and outside their countries. At present, the fear of Iran is the glue that holds together the new relationships between the Gulf states and Israel, as well as the cold peace with Egypt and Jordan. But as with everything in the Middle East, new and unanticipated challenges will emerge that will require the creation of crisis teams to deal with all types of contingencies and threats so that the relationships can be kept on a sound footing. 

America is turning east to confront China, and Muslim nations know that they may be more self-reliant than in the past. Cruise missile attacks on Saudi Arabia and Shiite militias undermining fragile states like Iraq are likely to increase, bringing instability and the possibility of regional war ever closer. That is why the normalization process’ success is necessary for the stability of the moderate Sunni nations. They will need to work in concert with Israel when Iran decides to cross a line that could set the region on fire. 

Iran is in Israel’s backyard in the Golan, Lebanon, Iraq, and Gaza, while the Gulf states know that they are no match for Iran if the American military leaves the region. They will need to develop some publicly expressed security alignment with the most effective military force in Israel as a hazard warning to Iran.

Hopefully, President-elect Biden and his new foreign policy team will value the new diplomatic relationships and not neglect them simply because the Trump administration created them. I America wants to pivot east and minimize its footprint in the Middle East, it will need to nurture the new normalization while working to develop new ones. Putting their efforts into a return to Israeli-Palestinian conflict resolution is the wrong path forward for Middle East stability at this time. And yes, transactional relationships are just fine as long as the people to people component is included. 

The writer is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network. He regularly briefs members of the US Senate, House of Representatives, and their foreign policy advisers. He is Senior Editor for Security at The Jerusalem Report/The Jerusalem Post. His work appears in The Hill, RealClearWorld, Defense News, JTA, JNS, Thinc., the Forward, and Israel Hayom, among others.

Do America’s Iran experts understand today’s Iran and its goals?

Ken Pollack, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute said, “For many years, I have assured people that it is easy to be an expert on Iran because there are really only two answers to any question… ‘I don’t know’ and ‘It depends’… Someday we may learn Iran’s true rationale and it may have nothing to do with anything that the United States or the West believes.”

This lesson in humility is in short supply today, especially among those advocating for President-elect Joe Biden to immediately rejoin the JCPOA (Iran nuclear deal).

According to Politico, “A bipartisan coalition of former defense secretaries and diplomats is calling on Biden to swiftly rejoin the Iran nuclear deal.”

In the House of Representatives, the incoming chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Greg Meeks, spearheaded a letter urging Biden to “rejoin the agreement,” which would in effect end sanctions, with “subsequent follow-on negotiations” to address any flaws in the original agreement.

Voluntarily giving up all of the leverage of the punishing sanctions, saying you expect reciprocity and fair play in return, would be equivalent to diplomatic malpractice.

BEFORE WE go headfirst back into an agreement with such profound national security implications for both America and Israel, wouldn’t it be wise for all of the experts, diplomats and politicians to take a deep breath and ask themselves, how much do my political views influence my recommendations? Responsibility dictates that all who weigh in, take the time and ask themselves challenging questions before “swiftly” rejoining what even supporters of the JCPOA call an imperfect deal.

1. Do you believe that rejoining the JCPOA will decrease Iran’s hegemonic ambitions, improve its human rights record, curtail its missile development or decrease its clandestine nuclear work?

2. Do you believe offering carrots such as ending sanctions will be reciprocated, knowing their malevolent behavior accelerated immediately after the JCPOA went into effect in 2015?

3. Do you believe pausing some of their nuclear activity in exchange for an unregulated Iranian nuclear weapons program in the future is a fair trade?

4. Will you call on Biden to impose crippling sanctions for their non-nuclear activities?

5. Do you believe the US will have any leverage for further negotiations if it relieves sanctions before renegotiating?

TO ANSWER any of these questions, you need to ask one more question: Is Iran of 2021 fundamentally different from the vision of Ayatollah Khomeini and the ideals which motivated the 1979 Iranian Revolution?  

Transparency is often in short supply in Iran, so it is anyone’s guess what is happening or what they think. One fatal flaw experts should disabuse themselves of is to believe that anyone other than the supreme leader can make significant decisions independently.

Once Ayatollah Khamenei passes, the extremist Revolutionary Guards’ influence will grow and the next supreme leader will be even more reliant on and under the influence of the Guards’ leadership.

Front-runners for supreme leader include Ebrahim Raisi, whose resume consists of the “mass executions of political prisoners” and the current ayatollah’s son, Mojtaba Khamenei, who was in charge of the crackdown of the Green Revolution in 2009 when millions took to the streets against the regime and were abandoned by President Obama in his hope for rapprochement with the regime.


Although the Iranian leadership’s priority is its survival, its core is revolutionary, which is often discounted by the experts. It views its Arab neighbors with condescension and believes that they should be subservient. The supreme leader’s decisions are based on religiosity and Shi’ite supremacy. Protracted negotiations are simply a tool used to mislead a gullible West and buy time, as they know the West is inpatient, while they strategize with a timeline in decades and centuries.

As Ken Pollack said, Iran’s goal is to dominate the region, promulgating a “philosophy of theocratic governance that he [Khamenei] believe[s] should be adopted by all Muslim nations, if not the entire world… to help them spark ‘Islamic’ revolutions of their own.”

According to a translation by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) of the supreme leader, a “second phase of the Islamic Revolution” will transform all of humanity into “a new Islamic civilization.”

EVEN THOUGH Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen and Syria are now under Tehran’s sway, experts still underappreciate Iran’s expansionist vision. For a religious nation, its ethics are suspect. It claims that it is against Islam having a nuclear weapon but for decades it has clandestinely been building its infrastructure while supporting terrorists of all stripes, including Sunnis, in its quest for dominance in the region.

Add to this a good dose of paranoia, some justified, and one questions how experts on Iran are comfortable granting them a glide path to a nuclear weapon in exchange for a temporary pause in accumulating nuclear material, without an American inspector ever allowed to visit a military nuclear site.

Some recommendations for our experts who are advising Biden:

Veteran Washington Post journalist David Ignatius says, “Sometimes in life, the best thing to do about a problem is nothing, at least initially. As President-elect Joe Biden prepares to take office, that may be the best advice about the Middle East. Don’t hurry to restart nuclear negotiations with Iran. Setting that table will take a while, and our diplomacy should seek to stabilize the whole region – from Lebanon to Yemen – and not just revisit the Iranian nuclear file.”

WITH IRANIAN elections scheduled for 2021, the experts need to end the false distinction between Iranian good guys and bad guys, moderates vs. hardliners. President Hassan Rouhani was declared a moderate by the Obama administration and media, but in reality, he is the most moderate extremist in the Iranian leadership, as he is a true believer in the revolution’s goals.

He is an anti-American hardliner with a more moderate demeanor, who skillfully employs a foreign minister who hoodwinked an American secretary of state and his minions during the 2015 Iran negotiations.

Patience is the byword for the Biden Iran experts who are chomping at the bit to resurrect President Obama’s foreign policy legacy, blinded to the reality of Iranian leadership that will not fundamentally change and will continue to take advantage of Westerners who only see what they want to.

The writer is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network. He regularly briefs members of the US Senate and House of Representatives and their foreign policy advisers. He is senior editor for security at The Jerusalem Report/The Jerusalem Post. His work appears in The Hill, RealClearWorld, Defense News, JTA, JNS, Thinc., the Forward and Israel Hayom among others.

Analyzing Trump’s Middle East Peace

Chronicling latest attempt to untie Gordian knot of the ongoing conflict.

{Published previously by The Jerusalem Post}

Israel’s normalization of relations with Arab Gulf countries occurring before a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, previously presumed a prerequisite by the international community, now opens the door to new possibilities and a fresh approach to resolving the conflict, unencumbered by a Palestinian Authority veto.

As Aaron David Miller, a long-standing Middle East peace negotiator under many American presidents, said, the peace treaties “upended American thinking about the centrality of the Israel-Palestinian dispute long considered to be the core of the broader Arab-Israeli conflict.” The newly developing Arab relations with the Jewish state may now mean that President Donald Trump’s peace proposal, so disparaged by the international community, which failed to anticipate the possibility of such an Arab-Israeli rapprochement, may now deserve a new look. It offered a comprehensive plan and map that prioritized Israel’s security issues along with a contiguous Palestinian state on 70% of the land, albeit with bridges and tunnels. The proposal could form the basis for future negotiations if the PA prioritizes the economic advancement of its people over its desire to end the Jewish state.

Neville Teller’s new book is the first comprehensive examination of the Trump peace plan from its beginning in 2016 to its unveiling in January 2020, “set against the backdrop of a turbulent Middle East.” Any book that focuses on Trump will elicit a strong reaction even before the reader opens the first page. Teller bravely enters the lion’s den, chronicling the first three-plus years of the Trump administration’s attempt to untie the Gordian knot of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Whether you think Trump is the most pro-Israel American ever, as the majority of Israeli Jews do, or you think his stopping Palestinian funding and withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal are bad for America and Israel, as many progressive Americans do, his imprint on the region will reverberate for many years. Whether his peace plan will be seen as groundbreaking or irrelevant is not known.

During the tumultuous Trump years, there were so many policy decisions, some good, such as the US Embassy move to Jerusalem and some bad, such as his abandoning the Syrian Kurds. Therefore, reviewing his years in depth as Teller does is an important exercise in attempting to understand where the region may be headed, as the effects of his policies will echo well into the next administration.

What is fascinating in reading Teller’s excellent review of the region and the development of the Trump plan is how much we have already forgotten or perhaps never knew even occurred in the region since 2016. For that alone the book is worth reading. Teller presents a chronological history progressing toward the ultimate “Deal of the Century” while offering a historical record that will also be appreciated by serious students of the conflict.

WHAT THE Trump team realized and acted upon, but the preceding administrations refused to see, was the reality that the PA was incapable of signing an end of conflict agreement, including putting an end to the right of return for descendants of Palestinian refugees. So the thesis of the Trump team was to first turn to normalization between Israel and the Arab world to provide a cover for the Palestinian negotiators. The international community condemned the Trump plan because it did not follow their two-state formula, which had failed so many times before.

The book was written before Israel and the UAE and Bahrain normalized relations, but the signposts that the region was changing began when Trump moved the American embassy to Jerusalem and the Middle East didn’t implode. The Arab world barely reacted and the Palestinians didn’t launch another intifada.

As Teller writes, Trump wanted to be the one to solve the conflict by using his business experience as a guide, saying, “Deals are made when parties come together, they come to a table and they negotiate.” Trump’s strategy required an Arab buy-in, which is why his team spent the first few years repeatedly visiting the Gulf states, Egypt and Jordan to lay the groundwork for the current normalization agreements and potential new relationships with Israel in the future. But the elephant in the room that motivated the Arab Muslim world to move on past the Palestinians was the shared common interest in thwarting Iran’s quest for hegemony and dominance in the region.

Teller presents the peace process evolution against the backdrop of the Syrian civil war, Iran’s malign influence in the region, and Saudi and Gulf state antagonism to Qatar, while incorporating all the players including Turkey, the PA and Hamas. He describes Trump’s approach to the Middle East as having “one firm objective – to confront Islamist extremism in the Middle East, and not wholly for its own sake, but as one vital element in a determined effort to broker an Arab-Israeli understanding leading to an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord.” Interestingly, Teller says the Trump team “deliberately set no time limit on their enterprise, convinced that painstakingly slow consolidation of each small step along the way was the key to bringing their enterprise to a successful conclusion,” and understood correctly that the 1949 armistice line was not sacrosanct as a border, much less a defensible security line for Israel.

Neville Teller’s Trump and the Holy Land: 2016-2020 is a worthwhile read for anyone who cares about the Middle East, America and the US-Israel relationship. 

The writer is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network, and senior editor for security at the Jerusalem Report/Jerusalem Post.

The Challenges for American and Israeli Democracy

{Previously published by the JNS}

The 2020 presidential election brought America’s fractured society into focus, as America is deciding whether to discard or restore its core societal values for the 21st century. Whereas Israeli Jews, from right to left, are overwhelmingly patriotic, American patriotism and exceptionalism have seemingly been stigmatized by the progressive left. Israelis will soon be going back to the polls, and the outcome will reflect where their society is headed. They are two democracies that share many similarities but also marked differences.

Was the Nov. 3 presidential election a referendum on the soul of the nation—a choice between either the stability of evolutionary change that has served America well for the last 250 years or a call for a revolution against an irretrievably flawed democracy?

Americans ask themselves what we stand for, what American freedom these days, and how to deal with disaffected minority populations?

These are just some of the questions Americans and other liberal democracies, including Israel, face in the age of rising populism, identity politics, right-wing extremism and far-left radicalism.

Israelis struggle to find the right balance between being both Jewish and democratic in a hostile environment, where their Palestinian neighbors and much of their Arab citizenry’s ultimate goal is eradicating the Jewish nature of the state. Can Israeli Jewish particularism be reconciled with 35 percent of its population that are either non- or anti-Zionist—i.e., Palestinian citizens of Israel and the anti-Zionist factions of the ultra-Orthodox?

Americans ask themselves if their universalist exceptionalism is still a beacon of light for democratic aspirations of people worldwide, as it has been since the end of World War II, or a fading light in the 21st century. For some of America’s left that defines the origins of the United States as born in the sin of 1619, when the first slaves came to Jamestown, our nation’s soul is irredeemably corrupted.

Although Joe Biden has become President-elect, he was not given an overwhelming mandate for radical change. His victory primarily was a rejection of President Donald Trump’s ad hominem attacks, fabrications and handling of the coronavirus epidemic, despite his economic policy victories and voice against an entrenched government bureaucracy. The relatively small electoral success was not a mandate to destroy America through grievance-based identity politics, as the “blue wave” never materialized. The U.S. House of Representatives became “redder,” the Senate is likely to stay in Republican hands, and former President Barack Obama’s Attorney General Eric Holder failed in his attempt to turn even one state legislative body from red to blue.

Both Israel and the United States need vibrant democracies for their experiments in democratic governance to continue to succeed. America’s true compass is 1776 and the Republic’s universal ideals, even if it doesn’t always live up to them. Israel’s national compass began more than 3,000 years ago with modern Zionism taking root at the end of the 19th century and fully realized in 1948 with Israel’s birth.

For Israel to fulfill its national vision and express its democratic national soul, it must reconcile how to be fully Jewish while enabling its minority population not to feel disenfranchised. It is a Jewish ideal to welcome the stranger, but it’s hard in practice when the Arab minority continually accuses you of having stolen their land. Israeli reconciliation is magnitudes of order more difficult than fixing a divided America, as Palestinian citizens of Israel do not believe that Israel deserves to exist, while most American minorities want to be part of an improved America, not eliminate it.

Israel is challenged today by allegations of corruption against its prime minister and a dysfunctional parliamentary democratic system that relies on compromise in a toxic political environment, not so different from America’s political stalemate. The gridlock in Israel generated three inconclusive elections, with a fourth on the way. Benjamin Netanyahu has done so much for his country, moving it away from socialism, creating an environment for an innovative economy and normalizing relations with Arab neighbors. His legacy should be one of reconciliation, not division, even if it means stepping aside if that is the verdict of the Israeli electorate or judiciary. No individual is more significant than their nation, even if he or she seems indispensable. A peaceful transition of power was the great legacy of George Washington, who could have been king for life if he chose.

One idea for American democracy might be learned from Israel’s experience. In Israel, citizens from all walks of life are brought together, forming lifelong attachments through mandatory community or military service. In America, this could take the form of a year-long community project—bringing young people of different backgrounds together, working for a common good to feel part of a shared national project. In America, our national service model, whether mandatory or encouraged, could be created with bipartisan support, based on the words of John F. Kennedy, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for the country.”

Whether rich and poor, Israelis come together through their army service, which positively impacts their lives, and a society transformed for the better. Today, small numbers of Arab and ultra-Orthodox young people join the Israel Defense Forces to do public service. Still, the challenge is to create legislation for all 18-year-old Israelis to participate, bypassing the implacable ultra-Orthodox and Arab leadership who intimidate their young from joining in the national project. Quid pro quo, no national service means reduced government services and financial support—just a thought, as it is for Israelis to decide, not Americans.

Biden has an opportunity to bring the United States together or choose to listen to the rising voices of “Justice Democrats” who want vengeance, not reconciliation, and revolution, not evolution. American democracy needs moderation, respect and tolerance—things that are in short supply right now.

American and Israeli leaders come and go, but a nation’s democratic values are eternal.

Dr. Eric R. Mandel is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network. He regularly briefs members of the U.S. Senate, House and their foreign-policy advisers. He is a columnist for “The Jerusalem Post” and a contributor to i24TV, “The Hill,” JTA and “The Forward.”

How should Netanyahu approach the new Biden administration?

{Previously published by the JNS}

In the winter of 2015, one of Israel’s most senior security cabinet officials asked me what advice should he give to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in regard to Speaker of the House John Boehner’s invitation to speak before the U.S. Congress, laying out his case of why the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, was a “bad deal” for both Israel and the United States. My answer surprised him. I told him not to accept the invitation, but to wait a few months until the Israeli election was concluded. I learned later that Netanyahu’s former Ambassador Michael Oren also told him to decline the invitation. This is in contrast to Israel’s ambassador at the time, Ron Dermer, who incensed the Obama administration as the one who “orchestrated the invitation” and wrote much of the speech.

Why is this history relevant for Netanyahu in 2020? There is an analogy to today. He is likely to create conditions in 2021 for a new election to avoid handing over power as promised to Israeli Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Benny Gantz. The Biden administration would likely be negotiating with Iran, once again at a time when Netanyahu’s hold on the leadership of Israel is in doubt, as it was in 2014. This should be kept in mind by the Israeli prime minister before he has his first meeting with the Biden people, and strategizes how he should approach the new administration.

The 2014 visit to Congress was ill-timed, coming before an Israeli election later that spring. If Netanyahu won and formed a coalition, he could then have come later in the spring with a stronger mandate as the newly re-elected leader of Israel with a better chance not to throw kerosene into the fire of American politics. Any newly elected Israeli leader would naturally have asked to come to speak to U.S. leadership. If an audience with the president were denied, it would have been seen by much of the American public as petty politics on the part of the Obama administration. According to an NBC poll at the time, 68 percent of Americans “believed Iran was not going to abide by the nuclear agreement.”

I was and still am a strong critic of the JCPOA, believing that it undermines American and Israeli security interests, being both dangerous and unprecedented in giving a nation on our terror list the right to enrich uranium.

Yet knowing all of that, I still told my Israeli friend to try and dissuade Netanyahu from coming to Congress in 2014, even though I knew that Obama and his team had completely misled the Israelis, keeping them in the dark about the secret negotiations despite assurances that they would be kept in the loop, knowing the JCPOA was an existential issue for Israel’s survival.Top of Form

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Although some blame the frosty relationship between Obama and Netanyahu for his administration’s actions, most think that U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s relationship with the Israeli prime minister was always warmer. However, we don’t really know whether Biden will prove more sympathetic to Israeli interests than Obama was. We do know that he fully supported the JCPOA and was aware of the behind-the-scenes maneuvers to keep the Israelis in the dark.

The Obama administration policy from 2009 on was to create “daylight” between Israel and the United States, and to move closer to the Iranians. Keep in mind it was Biden who told the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America, “Bibi, I don’t agree with a damn thing that you say, but I love ya.” That was 2014—the same year that the administration was secretly negotiating with Iran. So with act two of the JCPOA about to preview, it would behoove Israel and its supporters to review all of the history, mistakes and consequences related to the nuclear agreement.

In 2014, I spoke with the foreign-policy advisers of the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, expressing my concern that they were being outmaneuvered by the Obama administration, which was cleverly creating a backdoor pathway for Senate approval of the agreement with only a minority of the Senate in favor of the deal. I emphasized that the JCPOA rose to the level of a treaty and should be submitted to the Senate as such, which would require 60 senators to vote in favor of its passage, as it was the most significant American foreign-policy commitment of the 21st century. In the end, the Obama administration brilliantly outmaneuvered the Republican leadership and was able to advance the agreement with something akin to an executive order, with only 42 senators in favor. The next year I was told by that same Senate office that when Europeans came to visit Washington, they were astonished that the JCPOA was not passed as a treaty.

If President-elect Biden re-enters the JCPOA or renegotiates a new agreement, will the 2021 Republican Senate try to weigh in? Will Netanyahu try a new approach, having learned the lessons of interfering in American politics? Biden promises to re-enter the deal in his first few months, so time will be of the essence.

The Obama administration took its revenge for the Netanyahu speech before Congress, when a year-and-a-half later, in December 2016, the United States orchestrated the passage of UNSC Resolution 2334, labeling any Israeli presence over the 1949 armistice line (1967 line or Green Line) an international crime and upending the UNSC Resolution 242, the keystone document that previously acknowledged that Israel was never supposed to return to the indefensible borders of 1967.

So how should Netanyahu approach dealing with Biden, knowing he wants to restart the JCPOA in a few months’ time and wants to fulfill his campaign promise to reopen the PLO mission in Washington, the U.S. Consulate in eastern Jerusalem for Palestinian use, and restore some funding to the Palestinians, even if they have to ignore the Taylor Force Law denying American funding to a Palestinian Authority that rewards and incentivizes terrorism?

The two leaders know each other very well. They also have clashed with each other for years over settlement building, most recently when mid-level Israeli officials announced settlement building during a Biden visit to Israel, embarrassing the vice president, who choose to publicly lash out at Netanyahu despite the prime minister’s apology.

Unlike the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump, which not only saw eye to eye with him on almost every issue—with tangible actions ranging from the U.S. embassy move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, to acknowledging that Israeli settlements do not break international law—Biden and his advisers want to promote a more balanced narrative and promote the aggrieved party of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They could, if challenged by the Israeli government, even choose to join the international community in boycotting Israeli goods from the West Bank (Judea and Samaria).

Netanyahu needs to prioritize his goals before engaging with the new administration. There is no doubt that the nuclear deal is the No. 1 issue on Israel’s plate, and there are rumors that the new administration, unlike the Obama one, will actually listen to Israeli suggestions for a new nuclear deal.

The Israeli prime minister’s highest priority is to emphasize to Biden that he shouldn’t rush to rejoin the flawed deal without significant changes to the agreement, as many of its provisions will sunset in less than five years. He must convince Biden that the United States has new leverage with the Trump sanctions in place, which have caused the Iranian economy to be under tremendous strain. The revolutionary regime’s first goal is to stay in power, and it worries about a rebellion from within. This is a great American advantage for negotiations if it is appreciated, as it could force the ayatollah and his minions back to the table.

“Patience, patience, patience with Iran” should be the bywords for the Biden administration, along with the willingness to leave negotiations if the regime’s leaders don’t meet the minimum threshold to truly end the Iranian nuclear program forever.

Netanyahu’s second goal is to continue the normalization process with the Arab world. Getting the Biden administration to prioritize this early on when there is still a window of opportunity for new nations to join will require him to give Biden something back in return. That inevitably will be something in regard to the Palestinians and Israeli settlement-building.

With the Israeli prime minister looking to renege on his deal to hand over power to rival Benny Gantz next year—and another potential contender, Naftali Bennett, gaining popularity from the right—he will be seriously challenged to advance Israel’s long-term goals while advancing his own political interests.

For his legacy, I would urge him to think of the long-term survival of the U.S.-Israel relationship in light of the challenges Biden will face from his own party regarding the Palestinians, Iran and Saudi Arabia, and prioritize the nuclear deal and normalization, offering some carrots to the Palestinians. The P.A. is dysfunctional, and the Palestinian people don’t trust their leadership, now in the 15th year of their four-year term, so even optimists in the Biden administration know that there is a limit to what can be achieved.

You don’t get something for nothing, and if Netanyahu can get 80 percent of Israel’s agenda in line with a President Biden, that is a huge win for America and Israel.

Dr. Eric R. Mandel is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network. He regularly briefs members of the U.S. Senate, House and their foreign-policy advisers. He is a columnist for “The Jerusalem Post” and a contributor to i24TV, “The Hill,” JTA and “The Forward.”