- - Tuesday, July 12, 2022

President Biden’s visit to Israel and Saudi Arabia presents a unique opportunity to usher in a new chapter of mutually beneficial cooperation between Israel, the United States and other key regional actors. 

It is imperative that this visit be used by the U.S. administration to reinforce its unique alliance with the Jewish state and lay the groundwork for advancing peace and stability in the Middle East, not reverting to failed policies of the past, in pressuring Israel to make concessions, while appeasing the Palestinian leadership. 

Arriving in Jerusalem, the president ought to at the outset reiterate the city’s status as Israel’s eternal and undivided capital, in accordance with the will of Congress and the Jerusalem Embassy Act, not seek to undermine this, by making overtures to the Palestinians over a proposed Consulate in the Israeli capital. 

From Israel’s perspective, the main security point of discussion will be Iran, Iran and Iran. The president needs to be unequivocal that the United States will not reenter into a nuclear deal with Iran at any cost while underscoring the importance of developing a regional alliance against Tehran.  

In this regard, it was welcome to hear the White House announce that one of the main priorities of the president’s visit, will be to deepen Israel’s “increasing integration into the greater region” and why therefore his stop to Saudi Arabia is so important. Mr. Biden should seize this favorable moment to safely advance the future of Israeli-Saudi Arabia relations, as part of the broader U.S.-brokered Abraham Accords, which have already created a paradigm shift in the geo-strategic layout of the region. 

During his visit, Mr. Biden is also expected to see a demonstration of Israel’s revolutionary new laser air defense system, Iron Beam, which is capable of taking down drones, rockets and mortars launched by Iran and its proxies, at a cost of as little as $2 per intercepted missile versus $50,000 to $100,000 per take-down using the current Iron Dome system. By signaling his support for American investment (and jobs) in this technology, Mr. Biden could help Israel prevent civilian casualties while improving the United States’ own defensive capabilities. 

Meantime, the Palestinians will no doubt demand that the president arrive with an open checkbook, courtesy of U.S. taxpayers. 

In 2018, Congress, supported by the Trump administration, took the principled step to enact the Taylor Force Act and cut funding to the Palestinian Authority, as long as the PA continued to use those funds for their nefarious “Pay to Slay” program, of paying salaries of Palestinian terrorists who murder Israelis. As PA President Mahmoud Abbas vowed to continue making these payments “even if it costs PA its last penny,” the Trump administration responded to cut some $200 million in direct aid. 

In a Washington Post op-ed ahead of his visit to Israel and the region, Mr. Biden just proudly declared that his administration has restored approximately $500 million in support to the Palestinians. 

However, Mr. President, money is fungible and in the absence of reform by the Palestinian Authority and a tangible commitment to peace, only frees up the capacity for the PA to continue making “Pay to Slay” terror payments with U.S. taxpayer dollars. It cannot be such that your administration, however well-intentioned in seeking to rebuild ties with the Palestinians, is helping to channel money to terrorists, thereby underwriting the murderer of Israelis, as well as American citizens. 

No doubt during the visit, the Palestinians will also turn the death of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, into a focal point. As tragic as her death was, it has been made even more so by the Palestinian Authority’s exploitation of this case, by deliberately obfuscating and refusing to cooperate with Israel. Mr. Biden should simply offer his condolences and then reiterate the findings of the U.S. Security Coordinator, which “prevented a clear conclusion,” given the delay in investigating the alleged bullet and the extent of damage to it.  

Lastly, in his meeting with Mr. Abbas, Mr. Biden ought to also make explicitly clear to the Palestinian people that Israel is not some temporary implant, and that ultimately, any real advancement of peace will be predicated on the Palestinian acceptance of Israel’s existence as a Jewish state, with millennia-old connection to this land. Simply put, we are not going anywhere and must find a way to live together! 

With Iran on the precipice of a nuclear bomb and the Middle East at a critical juncture in time, it is imperative that Mr. Biden uses his first visit to the region as president to seize the opportunities presented before him while avoiding the pitfalls of the past. 

• Arsen Ostrovsky is a human rights attorney and CEO of The International Legal Forum.

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