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JERUSALEM — This may be President Biden’s first visit to the Middle East since he took office, but he is no stranger to regional politics and diplomacy. Few leaders can match his claim to have known every Israeli prime minister over half a century, starting with Golda Meir in 1973, or his long record of support for Israel.
Mr. Biden’s first visit abroad to Egypt and Israel, as a young senator, was a baptism by fire. The Arab-Israeli war of 1973, also known as the Yom Kippur War, broke out soon after, starting with surprise Egyptian and Syrian attacks against Israel.
Mr. Biden became a staunch advocate of substantive annual economic and military aid to Israel, once calling it “the best $3 billion investment we make.”
He was also a strong opponent in the 1970s and 1980s of the sale of advanced American weapons to Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries, arguing for the preservation of Israel’s qualitative military edge in the region.
In 2007, Mr. Biden told an interviewer that, “Early on when I was a kid, I’d say, when I was a young senator, I’d say, ‘If I were a Jew, I’d be a Zionist.’ I am a Zionist. You don’t have to be a Jew to be a Zionist.”
But Mr. Biden’s dealings with Israeli prime ministers have also been tense. In 1982, he engaged in a bitter exchange with Menachem Begin at Capitol Hill over Israel’s settlement-building in the occupied West Bank. Mr. Begin, a proponent of a Greater Israel stretching beyond the narrow, pre-1967 boundaries into territories captured from Jordan and Egypt, described the discussions as “lively.”
Attending the funeral of Ariel Sharon in 2014, Mr. Biden described the former prime minister — who had championed settlement-building and Israel’s 2005 unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip — as a “complex man” who “also lived in complex times in a very complex neighborhood.”
As vice president during the Obama administration, Mr. Biden navigated some tetchy episodes with Benjamin Netanyahu, a conservative who was in office continuously from 2009 until 2021. When Mr. Biden was in Israel in 2010 in part to push for a resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, Israel’s Interior Ministry approved 1,600 new housing units for Jews in Ramat Shlomo in Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem, an area that much of the world still considers occupied territory. A temporary and partial settlement freeze in place at the time was not being applied in Jerusalem.
Washington viewed the announcement as a slap in the face, and Mr. Biden condemned the move as “precisely the kind of step that undermines the trust we need right now.” Ramat Shlomo has since grown considerably.
In Israel again as vice president in 2016, Mr. Biden strongly censured the Western-backed Palestinian Authority’s failure to condemn a spate of bloody attacks. A Palestinian assailant had fatally stabbed an American graduate student and combat veteran along the seafront near Tel Aviv about a mile from where Mr. Biden was meeting with a former prime minister of Israel, Shimon Peres.
After the Palestinian leadership severed most ties with Washington under the Trump administration, which recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moved the United States Embassy there from Tel Aviv, Mr. Biden re-established contact and restored aid that was cut by his predecessor.
But the Biden administration has not reversed several Trump-era policies that dented Palestinian aspirations for statehood and has sought to lower expectations of any imminent resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
The mutual embrace between Mr. Netanyahu and President Donald J. Trump further damaged the bipartisan support for Israel in Washington that the country has long viewed as a strategic asset, according to experts.
It took Mr. Biden almost a month after his inauguration in January 2021 to make the traditional courtesy call to Mr. Netanyahu, in what many analysts saw as a snub, though the White House denied that any was intended.
Myra Noveck and Hiba Yazbek contributed research.