Biden Sunk Netanyahu's Plan to Erase the Palestinian Issue

The main components of "the great American deal" for ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are the establishment of a Palestinian state, release of the hostages held in Gaza, diplomatic relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, and a security arrangement on the Lebanese border, making it a dream deal. Any sane Israeli leadership would have adopted it, which is exactly why the current leadership will obviously reject it. In fact, it's already trying to bury it, even before it has been officially presented.

Let us say now: This deal's chances are not very good. The rejectionist front includes the most extreme government in Israel's history, as well as the anti-American axis of Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran and Russia, which has no interest in a Pax Americana.

U.S. President Joe Biden's deal threatens to thwart Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's life project: erasing the Palestinian issue. Any change is liable to rend his coalition. For his failed finance minister, Bezalel Smotrich, whose Religious Zionism party consistently polls below the electoral threshold, resigning from the government due to his opposition to a Palestinian state would be a springboard to a political rebound. National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir also gets stronger every time he attacks Netanyahu.

And yet, when the deal is put on the table, with the help of Egypt, Europe, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, it may in fact create a new reality. The deal's components give Israel, for the first time, a way out of the crisis befalling the country's south and north. The release of the hostages and the return of tens of thousands of displaced Israelis to their homes – two problems the government does not know how to solve – are the immediate carrot. Ending the fighting after several long, exhausting months, and not from a position of weakness, is also vital to the Israeli economy and defense establishment.

Beyond change on the ground, Biden's deal aims for two, interconnected, deep changes: An Israeli-Palestinian arrangement and open relations with Saudi Arabia and, in fact, with most of the Muslim world. This will be the true defeat of Hamas, Hezbollah and the entire Iranian axis.

Netanyahu will refuse. He is already refusing, and driving Biden crazy. But the pressure will increase, because for Biden, it is also a political necessity. Former President Donald Trump is breathing down his neck, and within the Democratic Party the president is hemorrhaging votes to the protest candidates due to his support for Israel.

It will be difficult for Netanyahu to fend off this pressure for the long term. Even if he manages to drag his feet until the year's end and Trump wins the November presidential election, Trump's "deal of the century," a confrontation with the settlers and a Palestinian state will inevitably return to the table. Either way, without a deal, Netanyahu has no idea how to achieve "total victory." It's an empty slogan whose practical meaning is attrition and running in place.

The most important arena, however, is inside Israel. External pressure, heavy as it may be, cannot force Israel to an arrangement. Such a move requires a political change and a government with a different composition of political leaders. A large majority of Israelis want an early general election and change, yet Netanyahu is doing all he can to prevent this, and is keeping his coalition together by the skin of his teeth.

The combination of internal and external pressure may prove decisive. In that event, Israel will find Biden – a true friend – at its side. Yes, he has political interests. But his support for Israel goes far beyond political and strategic considerations.

Biden is a Zionist. Throughout the history of Zionism there have been people like him, who supported and aided the Zionist movement although they were not Jews. "I got in trouble many times for saying you don't have to be a Jew to be a Zionist, and I am a Zionist," the president declared at a campaign reception in Massachusetts in December, referencing remarks he made during a 2010 visit to Israel, as vice president, during which he placed a wreath on Theodor Herzl's grave: "I [had said in a speech some years ago], were I a Jew, I would be a Zionist. And it got a lot of national publicity, how could I say that, until I was reminded by my father you need not be a Jew to be a Zionist." He related that this was part of his own Christian upbringing, that Jews are entitled to their own state.

Biden's support for Zionism, however, stems not just from religious belief, but more out of identification with the suffering of the Jews who were without a homeland, who were persecuted and massacred. Biden is deeply familiar with the story of the Jewish national revival from the ruins of the Holocaust to Israeli sovereignty. When he started his own family, he took his young sons to the Dachau concentration camp to show them the lowest point, but he also brought them to Israel to show them that "the human spirit cannot be destroyed," in his own words.

Biden is better than most Israeli propagandists at explaining why Zionism is the most legitimate movement. He can also point out what harms Zionism and offer a solution that will guarantee Israel's existence as a Jewish and democratic state: the two-state vision. As a seasoned and not-at-all naive politician, he watched how his predecessors failed in their attempts to resolve the long-standing conflict. He doesn't want to drown in this swamp. But Biden believes in the Israeli spirit, perhaps more than some Israelis do themselves. He has proved it since October 7. And an Israeli leadership that reaches out to him will gain Zionism's best ally since Lord Balfour.

Published in Ha'aretz