By Dylan Williams
Special to WJW
After four years of an administration that spurned diplomacy, damaged our alliances and strengthened our adversaries, President Joe Biden’s vocal commitment to diplomacy doesn’t come a moment too soon.
“Investing in our diplomacy isn’t something we do just because it’s the right thing to do for the world,” the president said in his first major speech on foreign policy at the State Department earlier this month. “We do it in order to live in peace, security and prosperity. We do it because it’s in our own naked self-interest.”
When we invest in economic development in other countries, he continued, we reduce the likelihood of “instability, violence and mass migrations.”
That dual purpose for diplomacy and international aid is on open display in the Middle East, where the contrast between Biden’s nuanced, constructive approach and ex-President Donald Trump’s reckless destruction couldn’t be clearer.
For those of us with a deep and abiding investment in Israel’s security and its long-term future as a democratic homeland for the Jewish people, an appreciation for the value of diplomacy and aid is vital. It’s why we should welcome the Biden administration’s intention to return to the Iran nuclear agreement, to re-establish diplomatic ties with the Palestinians and restore congressionally appropriated aid funds that support the Palestinian people.
Each of these steps will help to repair America’s influence, promote security and help empower moderate voices for peace and diplomacy across the region.
To truly understand the urgency of the moment, one must understand the situation Biden confronts. Over the past four years, Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Ambassador to Israel David Friedman worked to align U.S. policy exclusively with that of the Israeli right. Trump shuttered diplomatic liaison offices with the Palestinians, advanced a pro-annexation “peace plan,” and cut support for Palestinian coexistence and development projects. He reneged on American commitments under the multilateral JCPOA nuclear agreement and reversed decades of bipartisan policy that supported a two-state solution and opposed settlement expansion in the West Bank.
While such policies may have been enthusiastically welcomed by the Netanyahu government and their supporters, they were not in Israel’s short- or long-term best interests — and were disastrous for the interests of the United States. The sudden abandonment of any pretense of supporting fairness or Palestinian rights and self-determination has shattered America’s credibility as an honest broker and reduced our leverage and influence in trying to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The accompanying sharp rise in Israeli settlement construction and de facto West Bank annexation — which the Trump administration effectively greenlighted — will make peace negotiations harder, not easier, and has corroded both Palestinian and Israeli faith that a two-state solution might be possible at all.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s pledge to annex up to a third of the West Bank in the wake of Trump’s plan put Israel’s long-term future as a truly democratic state directly in jeopardy and stirred outrage across the world. The situation led to the worrying suspension of security cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, with the Palestinians seeking to use one of the few forms of leverage they have to deter Israel from following through with annexation. (Thankfully, this has now been restored.)
As a result of increased brinkmanship with Iran, Trump twice brought the United States to the precipice of a catastrophic all-out war, one with the capacity to imperil Israel and engulf the wider region. Feeling freed from obligations under the deal, Iran now has more nuclear material than it had when Trump walked out.
None of this has been good for the United States. None of it has enhanced Israel’s security. None of it has moved the Israelis and Palestinians any closer to peace.
Thankfully, American Jewish voters, as a particularly engaged and values-driven demographic, understand this and overwhelmingly support pro-Israel, pro-peace, diplomacy-first American leadership. Polling has found that a full 75 percent of Jewish voters support a two-state solution, 82 percent oppose unlimited settlement construction, 74 percent support a return to the Iran nuclear deal and 80 percent support America playing a leading, constructive role as an honest broker in the Israeli-Palestinan conflict.
These are the results from the comprehensive survey of Jewish voters commissioned last year by J Street. The survey also found that despite Trump’s transparent pandering, a full 78 percent of Jewish voters preferred Democrats to Republicans. (Following his embrace of Trump, meanwhile, Netanyahu’s favorability sank to –30 percent.)
After four years of failed policies, constant chaos and the pursuit of narrow political self-interest at the expense of our nation’s interests, Biden’s efforts to repair the damage, rebuild the U.S. relationship with moderate Palestinian leaders and reassert support for a two-state solution is a welcome and necessary change — and one that is firmly in line with the pro-Israel, pro-peace preferences of the overwhelming majority of American Jews.
Dylan Williams is vice president of policy and strategy at J Street, the liberal pro-Israel, pro-peace advocacy organization.