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Biden’s Israel Problem

Despite new voices in the Democratic Party and within American Jewry, US foreign-policy circles are still wedded to an Israel-knows-best approach to the Middle East. Until that changes, the tail will continue to wag the dog, ruling out a durable, sustainable, and just peace in the Holy Land, and undermining US interests in the region.

LONDON – When asked whether he would insist on a ceasefire after the escalation in violence between Israel and Hamas, US President Joe Biden said that he would speak to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu “in an hour, and I’ll be able to talk to you after that.” Far from a Biden gaffe, the president’s apparent deference to Netanyahu raises alarming – albeit not new – questions about the nature of the US-Israel relationship.

Israel is what scholars of international relations would call “the tail that wags the dog.” Given the asymmetry of power between the two, one would expect the United States, as the superpower that furnishes Israel with $3.8 billion per year in military aid, to lay out the ground rules for their relations. Yet in Israel’s case, the reverse is true.

Since the 1980s, the US foreign-policy consensus has been that Israel knows best how to preserve its security, and that unequivocal US support, not pressure, would induce it to take the risks necessary for peace. Hence, US presidents often defer to their Israeli counterparts on questions of war and peace in the Middle East, even though vital American interests are at stake there. Yet far from giving the US leverage over Israel or advancing the prospects of peace, this approach to the bilateral relationship has ultimately been detrimental to both countries.